5G Is Coming, But Not Soon

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No matter how fast your connection speed is, it could always stand to be faster. And the people who make it their business to see that telecommunications networks do get faster are also keenly aware, and they’re apparently already at work on the next big thing. While most of the world is off enjoying their 4G and 4G LTE smartphone connections, or playing catch-up by trading in their 3G dinosaurs, the term “5G” is already being floated.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, we might not see its arrival for quite some time. Years, in fact. According to Rahim Tafozolli, director for Surrey University’s Centre for Communications Systems Research and professor of mobile wireless communications, if you’re holding out for 5G you’re going to be waiting for quite some time. Citing technological limitations and the incredibly high electricity costs of running existing 4G networks as just two of the many roadblocks to pushing the outside of the connection envelope, Tafozolli claims 5G probably won’t be widely available until the year 2020.

Eight years is an eternity when measured by gadgets. In 2004, the original Motorola RAZR and Nokia 2600 were the top-selling handsets. But the reality is, 2020 is just around the corner. And there are some who are betting big money on Tafozolli and his associates to actually pull it off. Recently, it was announced they are set to get a mega-sized grant equivalent to $56 million dollars from the UK government, with a slew of high tech companies pitching in like Samsung, Huawei, and AIRCOM International (to name a few).

The mission: to develop a spectrum- and energy-efficient network that will be capable of reaching speeds of 10 gigabytes per second.

What’s the Hurry?

If you’re perfectly satisfied with your lightning-fast 4G LTE phone, you’re probably asking “What’s the big rush?” Good question, but we’ve got an even better answer: traffic. A quick peek over your shoulder at the worldwide masses knocking each other over to snatch up the latest and fastest smartphone technology — whether the Apple iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy Note II — should be clear indication that the networks serving the multitudes will eventually experience critical mass. Think of it this way. A six-lane freeway offers plenty of room if you’ve only got a hundred thousand commuters a day. But start pouring millions of cars onto that same road, and you’re going to create a serious bottleneck.

But don’t take it from us. Ask the Prof. In a recent interview with GigaOM, Tafozolli himself said: “Mobile data traffic is increasing exponentially, year-on-year. The amount of spectrum that we have now is not sufficient to carry all the traffic. We are soon going to run out of capacity, even with LTE, unless there is a huge amount of spectrum made available — and if we are doubling traffic every year, then even twice the spectrum [currently available] is not sufficient.”

While Tafozolli’s Centre for Communication Systems Research has already been poking around for years trying to figure out a way to make 5G a reality, things really haven’t started coming together until now, but even then there’s lots to be done before the tinkering can begin. “We’re bringing all the major stakeholders together and we are going to decide on the advanced technologies and test them end-to-end,” Tafozolli said. “Once we are happy with the set of technologies that we have developed, in terms of performance, then we will push that particular technology towards standardization.”

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