February 11, 2015 — One of the biggest marketing worries, for any company or any product is, is the fear that the excitement will wear off before the product becomes available. It seems that such may be the case for 5G. It has had a flurry of hype for the last couple of years, yet reality says it “may” be here by 2020. The balloon is starting to deflate. Much of the 5G noise is starting to see a “ho-hum” response. So, what do shrewd marketers do? They create a perception that things are progressing. Offer something new or different to rekindle interest.
That is exactly what Huawei did. To keep the momentum towards 5G going, they came out with an interim solution they call “4.5G.” Cool…at least they are trying to offer something in the next-generation wheelhouse that will keep confidence in 5G going.
Their 4.5G is impressive, IMHO, ~10 milliseconds latency (as compared to ~75 milliseconds for LTE), 6 gigabits per second (Gbps) downlink data rates (vs. 300 megabits per second (Mbps) for LTE), and the capability to support 100,000 connections within a single square kilometer. And, it is practical. It is further up the food chain than LTE or LTE-A, but isn’t held captive to the lofty 5G promises, (and 5G is almost guaranteed to have its home in the millimeter-wave spectrum, which will require a paradigm shift in technology).
There are some issues, however. First of all, what technology will be used? Will it be backwards compatible with existing LTE? Will Huawei get any support from vendors or cooperation from standards bodies? It is unclear at this time. Other players are worried that this may push 5G deployment out even farther than 2020, especially if it works well.
There is a lot at stake here. 5G has been a difficult sell so far. There is little hard data on what exactly it will be. It really hasn’t even been defined well, yet. Michael Peeters, wireless CTO at Alcatel-Lucent made an interesting statement about 5G recently. He cautioned that “5G should not become a technology dumping ground for the industry.” And noted that wireless companies are throwing pretty much everything that was not included in earlier technology evolutions into 5G. That is not a good thing.
Not alone in this approach, a company called ZTE has come up with “pre5G.” In their case, a Massive MIMO base station has been “setting new records in single-carrier transmission capacity and spectral efficiency,” according to ZTE.
5G will come. However, we need innovation in the mean time. According to the company, it has achieved peak data throughput more than three times that of traditional base stations. The average data throughput exceeds conventional systems by at least five times. And this using existing 4G standards with no modifications to existing air interfaces.
“Being a pre5G technology, ZTE’s Massive MIMO solution is delivering exponential advances to 4G networks without modifying existing air interfaces, making it possible for carriers to provide a 5G-like user experience on existing 4G handsets in an accelerated timeframe,” said Xiang Jiying, chief scientist at ZTE, in a prepared statement.
Well, it works. And noise in the industry is saying that is will be comparable to the Huawei offering.
But the point here is that there is real fear that 4G and the flavors of LTE just won’t have the capacity to keep up with what is coming down the pike. Well, I tend to agree. Streaming media is catching fire. The fear is that it will bog down spectrum like nothing we have seen so far. And the existing networks will rapidly become overloaded – long before realistic 5G is even a blip on the radar screen.
My hat’s off to you Huawei and ZTE. At least you are trying to be practical and deliver something that is next generation and addresses the impending data tsunami, rather than pinning all hopes on a yet-to-be-defined platform.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of AGL Small Cell magazine.