After several months of hearing about 5G launches, the reality is setting in. And, at first glance, it is not a pretty sight. As distinguished industry analyst Teresa Cottam points out, 5G customers in the leading-edge tech economies are going back to 4G – over half a million in South Korea alone.
And, yes, as Teresa says, you read that right.
It does make you wonder about 3G, 4G, 5G and, waiting in the wings, 6G.
It will take until the end of next year to see whether 5G really lives up to its hype, with the introduction of ‘standalone’ 5G.
So far, the only real examples are coming from the business sector, and even these are not filling us with optimism. The difference between delivering an access network for consumers and delivering a custom-built private network that must support critical infrastructure and operations are two entirely different challenges.
The question is – do we need another ‘G’ and, more importantly, will we need another ‘G’ in nine years?
It was a telling moment, a couple of years ago, at one of those conferences we used to go to, that an operator (in fact the top technical guy at a Very Big Operator) commented that the arrival of 5G meant that he didn’t have time to do all the things he wanted to do with 4G. Will the same fate await 5G?
The other lesson we have learned from 5G is how we are capable of overhyping a technology, to its detriment, while setting timescales for launch which have little to do with when the technology will be ready to go, at scale, and more about a thoroughly contrived ‘race’ that helped no-one, not even the investors.
So, setting aside the rant about hype and technology, what should we do about ‘6G’? 5G is/was meant to the transformative technology, the game-changer, and it may well prove to be so.
Do we need another transformative, expensive technology before we have fully explored the last one? Or made as much money as we can on it?
Of course, technology should never stand still and, of course, there will be breakthroughs that will, at some point, enable greater innovation and transformation. But, it must be counter-productive to keep hyping technology and timescales to attract and keep investors.
Maybe it is about labels. Maybe we should leave the ‘next G’ in the University labs for longer until we are sure it is properly incubated and ready to go, at scale. Wait until roll out is two years’ away and the ‘upgrade’ will have tangible and immediate benefits.
Then let the hype begin.