Never in the history of the mobile phone has there been so much hype about a new technology ahead of its launch than there is with 5G.
It seems mobile phone operators, handset manufacturers, and equipment vendors are locked into a massive global game of one-upmanship, seeking to claim to be the first to achieve something groundbreaking with the technology. But the stakes are high – the mobile industry also desperately needs 5G, whether for new revenue sources, market share, or to drive growth.
Since mobile phones first appeared in the mid-1980s, the industry has launched several new “generations” of network and technology. Those early analogue “brick” phones of the 1980s were replaced by the 2G (1990s) GSM, digital, and international roaming service. 3G (2000s) offered improved internet connectivity before 4G (2010s) delivered a truly broadband experience into our hands.
5G is now the fifth generation, but despite considerable media attention and focus on its massively enhanced data capability (downloading a HD movie in less than a minute), focusing on its speed alone is to miss the point of its significance.
Ultimately, it’s simply not sustainable to keep launching a new technology every ten years or so. There are license fees to pay for new radio frequency spectrum bands, new network infrastructure to build, and an increase in the management costs associated with integrating new technology with existing infrastructure – while keeping all of the other previous generations of network operational. UK operators, for example, continue to support 2G, 3G, and 4G while preparing to launch 5G.
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