Iinterest in 5G and its potential reshaping of current wireless landscapes has been growing for a couple of years now. Telcos in the U.S., Europe, and China have naturally all expressed interest in driving the next generation of wireless technology. But it’s less a matter of interest than of capability, i.e., how to make a new wireless standard a reality. Verizon, one of the U.S.’s largest telcos, is the latest to announce that it will begin field trials of 5G in 2016 with the aim of rolling out the new technology within the next couple of years.
The company acknowledges that 5G shouldn’t be a reality in the U.S. until around 2020, but says it is expediting the process by partnering with other tech giants including Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung. It says it is creating “5G network environments, or ‘sandboxes,'” in its Waltham, Massachusetts and San Francisco Innovation Centers. In the company’s statement, Roger Gurnani, executive vice president and chief information and technology architect said:
5G is no longer a dream of the distant future…We feel a tremendous sense of urgency to push forward on 5G and mobilize the ecosystem by collaborating with industry leaders and developers to usher in a new generation of innovation.
While any collaboration in this regard is commendable — after all, it is only a matter of time before 5G is in demand as 4G has been — there are some significant roadblocks when it comes to Verizon (or any U.S. telco for that matter) supplying the U.S. with such wireless speeds.
Spectrum, in particular, remains a fraught issue. U.S. telcos are constantly embroiled in drama over who gets to buy what spectrum and for how much; for example, Dish was caught in a firestorm this summer over its manipulation of the spectrum-auctioning process in which it garnered millions of dollars in discounts by using smaller companies to purchase its waves. Additionally, there is currently no standard for a 5G network, so Verizon’s forum of tech companies will no doubt start seeing to that. But it’s worth noting that one of the anticipated challenges with the advent of 5G will be the much bigger strain on bandwidth capacities — something with which U.S. telcos already struggle.
Given these obstacles, the lack of standards, and the many items that must be in place before any sort of 5G network can become reality in the U.S., Verizon seems to be preemptively setting up its brand as a type of thought leader in that space. Of course it behooves the company to associate its brand with the next big thing — something it aims for in its perpetual rivalry with AT&T. And it has proved itself as the 4G leader in the past. But it is also not alone in its teasing of the future of wireless protocols. AT&T has spoken over the last year of its ambitions for 5G, although generally it echoes other telcos — that such a network won’t be available for at least 5 years if not more. Intel, while not a telco, has unveiled prototypes of new devices that would operate on such a network. Overall, even without Verizon’s hype, all eyes seem to be on the fifth generation wireless system.