Regius Professor Rahim Tafazolli, director and founder of the Institute of Communication Systems and 5G Innovation, based at the University of Surrey has warned that industry, government and consumers were being too hasty in proclaiming the new 5G frontier.
Professor Tafazolli is the government’s go-to man when it comes to mobile technology and his words carry weight. In a speech to the Westminster Forum on Monday he outlined what to expect in the future and the reality that companies were struggling to match the hype.
We are rushing 5G. tThe promise is not there yet, to be honest. It is to relieve the capacity problem. In the big cities 4G is already at capacity. The message could be to consumers, you’re going to run out of capacity.- Professor Tafazolli: Westminster Forum
5G represents a huge potential and is not simply an upgrade. So far every generation of mobile network, including 4G, has been about connecting people. And while 5G will likewise be designed to connect people, more importantly it will also be about connecting things.
And what makes 5G such an exception to previous forms is that it has been built from the bottom up to guarantee a reliable signal with low, predictable latency – the lag between an action and a reaction over the network. This is something neither wifi or 4G has been able to do. 5G will enable much more in-depth automation.
Take for instance the autonomous car. The vehicles will need to communicate reliably with each other, and the smallest delay could prove disastrous, hence 5G should provide the fabric of guaranteed connectivity.
But, as one delegate at the Westminster Forum pointed out, every new G iteration resulted in some degraded performance for consumers, at least initially. 2G when it came had inferior voice to analogue, while 3G phones heated-up and 4G was initially launched without the 4G IP voice functionality in it.
So, there are many, many issues 5G has to overcome before becoming a reality.
This year should see the first real-life version of 5G, probably in China. In fact, according to many in business, 5G may be the making of China which has been implementing a massive plan to upgrade its fibre cable system. Because, despite being a wireless system a 5G network will rely heavily on fibre-optic cabling.
At present the reality is that 5G is more a marketing term used to describe a network everyone is frantically working to create. But, as Professor Tafazolli outlined, despite the overhype, the promises and excitement generated, 5G will, when it eventually gets here, be a real game changer.
Image: Mohammad Hassan