Is 5G the answer to everything?not sure what that saying means? Click here). 5G has a tremendous amount to offer, but it’s going to be a long, complicated journey that is not being helped by the amount of loose-talk there is about it right now. Read on to understand how the hype will turn in to reality, or skip straight to how 5G will be used in the coming months and years, and some of the health concerns here.
Historical context of the hype
I was involved in the launch of 2.5G, 3G, and then tracked, measured and influenced the rollout of 4G, and the funny thing is that the same things just keep happening with each G that follows.
The problem is that until these new capabilities are built and being used by many, it is rather difficult to imagine all the creative and game-changing things that they could be used for. For example, when “the internet came to mobile” with the launch of 2.5G (then properly with 3G) the ideas floating around the industry ranged from what, at the time, would have been considered dull to the absurd. However, at the absurd end of the spectrum, I don’t think many people envisioned anything close to what we take for granted today.
Here’s a couple of slides I produced for a recent presentation for my InnovationScouts business to local businesses in Reading, UK.
The purpose of this slide it to say that the history of technology is littered with examples of where big, futuristic ambitions, dreams and visions drive enthusiasm and investment toward a promise of what could be (black line), but the reality (orange line) is often someway short of the promise, at least for a while. However, the amount of change that is achieved is still significantly more than what would have been achieve without the big dream. And as the next slide shows, the big dream will come to reality in time.
3G and video calling
In the early 2000s when I was at Vodafone, much of the 3G business case revolved around two-way video calling. We take that for granted today, with Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime, but it took a lot of time, effort, trial, error and money to get there.
The first step was to create mobile phones that had cameras, then colour cameras, then an ability to take and share photos. Before 2003 this was a wild dream, but the work we did made it possible and now there are billions of photos of food floating around the world’s internet. You’re welcome 😉
But that was still quite a way from two-way video calling. The next big step was when Apple launched the iPhone 3G in 2008, but it wasn’t until the next version of 3G with a new flavour of technology called “HSPA” (which if you want to know, stands for High Speed Packet Access…you asked!) was launched that we actually saw things like Skype and FaceTime take off on mobile phones. That was in 2010. It wasn’t until 4G was launched, the whole ‘app’ market had evolved (something we were just not ready for in the early 2000s) and another six years later that two-way video calling really became mass market with WhatsApp’s one billion users.
What to expect from 5G in the next few years
Like previous generations, the vision of what 5G will be is full of amazing, exciting things.
In the last year as the build up and hype reached fever-point it’s all been about remote robotic surgery (Read about my experience of this here), autonomous driving, cloud gaming, and new possibilities for virtual reality, augmented reality and holoportation – I’ve personally been involved something similar to the video below, and it is really quite amazing .
How does this fit with 5G?
Sci-fi has been talking about the ability to holographically project yourself from one place to another for decades, but many things stood in the way. There have been companies working on this kind of 3D image capture for a while, but up until recently it was too expensive for anyone other than high-end movie or TV productions to afford.
The video above shows how little technology is now needed to capture a real-time 3D image of someone, and that’s great. But the amount of data captured every second is enormous, so transmitting this from one place to another is still an issue, let alone to your mobile phone. And this is where 5G could come in.
5G offers the promise of immense speed and very low delays. With 5G holographic videos calls could be possible. This, however, is really still the “promise of what could be”, as shown in the diagram above. The near term future of 5G for most of us will still be exciting, but not so science fiction.
However, the thing with 5G is that technology has already gathered significantly more pace than when 3G or even 4G was launched, so the time it takes to get from the first instances to these more sci-fi examples will be shorter than ever. I won’t get on to the topic of Exponential Growth, but please read this article if you’re interested in how fast technology is evolving.
Read my next article to find out more about how 5G will be used in the near future. From industrial applications to home broadband.