The media reporting focussed on the revelations that the UK's 4G coverage is worse than that of Albania and Peru (a claim since questioned by Ofcom) and hailed 5G as the opportunity to put things right.
As the authors of a paper that contributed to the NIC's final report, we've watched the media fall out with interest. We don't share the global obsession with next generation labels, but we are interested in the recommendation that the government appoints a digital champion, or cabinet minister, to take responsibility for the UK's digital future. Because connectivity is as important to consumers and business, as gas and electricity. And because it's our conviction that we can't wait for 5G in 2020 (and beyond) to 'put things right' – we need to get the basics right now.
Getting real about 5G – Simon Fletcher, CTO, Real Wireless
These days 5G is wheeled out as a panacea for everything, even before requirements are locked down and while technologies (harmonised or not), data speeds, devices, and applications are still being defined.
Nevertheless, much recent debate assumes connectivity must be improved and that 5G is our best hope of making it better. But is it really? The headline-grabbing part of the NIC report was the bit that pointed out that as things stand the UKs infrastructure has a long way to go to establish a platform to deliver 5G. Now it's certainly true that a coherent plan for 5G rollout is needed and that the UK doesn't seem to have one yet. "5G offers us a chance to start again and get ahead," says the report. Well, we undoubtedly need to get the planning, investment and roll out of future networks right, but that's not the same as laying all our expectations on the shoulders of a new still-to-be-defined technology.
In fact, it's not necessarily the case that we need to 'get ahead' in the race to 5G rollout, this may not be the best way to deliver the communications services UK consumers need and businesses required for improved productivity in the Digital Economy. Personally, I think we should call time on aligning successive generations of access technology with the requirements and evolution of the overall connectivity roadmap. 6G, 7G…10G anyone? I pray not.
Rather than new technology chasing a global raison d'etre, we'd be better off regularly assessing and consistently delivering the right levels of connectivity to meet the unique and in many cases urgent demands of specific markets and sectors. In short, it might well be that South Korean consumers are crying out for some pre-standard iteration of 5G, but right now it's certainly not a craving that's front of mind for many UK businesses or consumers.
What Real Wireless does is to help businesses, communities and, indeed, service providers to maximize the capabilities and value of the broad range of wireless technologies at our disposal right now, today. And any support we can get from policy makers in delivering that mission will be gratefully received.
Who needs ultra-low latency? William Webb, Regulatory & Spectrum Expert
One of the 'generational' shifts associated with 5G is the promise of near-zero latency. Now for most engineers the reduction of latency is generally seen as a necessary good, which is why putting latency at the heart of the 5G value proposition is so rarely questioned. But when it comes to making the business case for 5G, it's important to start making judgements about how much value can be attributed to ultra-low latency and the use cases in which it is mission critical.
It also means making a call about when such applications are likely to achieve the critical mass necessary to deliver significant and sustainable returns that justify investment.
Latency has fallen across the cellular generations. It was around 500ms with 2G, perhaps 100ms with 3G and around 30-50ms with 4G. As surveys have noted, falling from 100ms in 3G to 50ms in 4G has improved user satisfaction. Further improvements may be both harder to deliver and have less impact and ROI associated with them.