The future of wireless is always arriving.
Each and every day.
The Future of Wireless is always arriving.
It comes always fresh off the press, like the People’s Daily…
It comes daily in both home – office, and on the road too. It comes whether you like it or not.
And it comes with a certain urgency about it. The urgency, if you really think of it.
And to see this in action — you just need to keep your eyes and ears open, and unfold the greasy sheet of the Daily Newspaper after you finish your fish & chips, and look at the headlines screaming in 12 point Chinese characters.
Or just look at the news articles and the adverts about telephone service facing you.
And that’s great — if you live n China, but if you don’t happen to read the People’s Daily, you need to either pray to the wireless God, or Look for him up high in the sky to see his footprint.
Because to see the Future its just a question of knowing where to look. And in order to hear it coming — you need to be able to tune out the noise to focus on the signal, and then tune in to hear what you really need to hear…
Let’s go for example to my old haunts on Changshou Road in Putuo district of Shanghai, and let’s stop looking at the brightly lit displays of the various stores and at the new yet cracked pavement with the occasional fruit skin, that you need to carefully avoid stepping on, because we all know how engine-less human flight, spills, and ballet splits take place when one steps on the proverbial banana-peel.
Let’s all stop looking at the beautifully disguised and enhanced faces of the sales girls, or on the “slightly-dirty” pictures anywhere your eyes turn, and instead start looking towards the sky…
But let’s not look for the air pollution, the particulate numbers, or for signs of am elusive sun. Let’s not look for the errant drones filming the street, because we may see things we don’t like… But instead of all that, let’s look for the antennae on top of the tall office structures all around you.
Because all around Changshou Road in Putuo district of Shanghai west — one can see all manner of weird homebrew experimental wireless bases, smart antennae, and lots of other wireless pops — things that are clearly not of commercial manufacturing production, and they look scramnbled together, or assembled out of spare parts of official units mixed with ham radio operators wirelines.
At least that’s what I think when I am looking at simple beacons of unlicensed wireless broadband, and the odd space age, or science fiction objects that resembles UFO saucer, or the Meccah meteorite “the Kaaba” that all the Muslim people pray at… Or even, when they circle the ancient cloth draped home of the meteorite black stone, during the pilgrimage of Hajji.
So something similarly “space-agey” is the rectangular draped object you can see on top of the tallest office block on this road, in the heart of Shanghai’s Putuo commercial district, near the subway station.
This “ghibli” look-alike, is a box that houses inside of it a full array collection of 128 miniature antennae, that do more than any other multiplex antennae we have today, on any structure fixed on earth…
Now let’s move to New York and see if we find anything like it. In lower South Manhattan, you can catch a glimpse of an antennae that looks like a video camera on a stand, but jerks around and has a strange, hornlike protrusion where the lens should be. It blasts a narrow beam of radio waves at buildings so they can bounce their way to the receiver.
In the south of old Blightey we can even see the campus of the University of Surrey in Guildford, England, which is full up with 44 antennae, that form virtual wireless cells that follow a device around.
These antennae are the vanguards of a new generation of wireless technologies. And since I built some of the first wireless mobile antennae for the first and earliest generations of the Mobile Cellphone communications revolutions while I was still going to College and then built some more all the way to the Wi-Fi revolution and now for the 5G convergence — I am thrilled to see these new mini-behemoths popping up.
Because for me that’s my new “Ghibli” and am rather proud of it. Proud because not only I have contributed to this development but because we also have been able to help the Big TelCo executives to see the light ahead of commercialization…
And although the previous batch of antennae, transmission bandwith, speed and signal propagation, was collectively called “fourth generation”, or 4G, and its still being rolled out in many countries around the world — our humble group, representing the avant-guard of the future of wireless industry — we have already started winking to the wireless Telcos, and inviting them to come ride the next wave.
This is the time for the 5G, and for the 6G, all the way to 7G and beyond. We learned our lesson well enough and now we only do incremental Innovation so that the Market can follow us and not get left behind.
Even old stalwarts like AT&T, the US’s second-largest mobile operator, said they would begin testing to see if prototype 5G circuitry works indoors, following similar news in September from Verizon, the number one. South Korea wants to have a 5G network up and running when it hosts the Winter Olympics in 2018; Japan wants the same for the Summer Olympic Games in 2020.
ANd now when the industry holds its annual jamboree, Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona this month, it appears that 5G will top the agenda of “What the Future holds.”
Mobile telecoms have come a long way really in the creation of wealth. Just look at China Mobile and Vodafone to get an idea. But they also know how to waste more money than God. Just look at them preening back in the early 2000s, when 3G technology made web-browsing feasible on mobiles, and Telco operators splashed out more than $100 billion on radio-spectrum licenses — only to find out the hard way, that the technology most had agreed to use, was either completely inoperable or much harder to implement than expected, and needed a brand new set of tools that hadn’t even been invented — let alone being used and tested at Telco Utility scale before.
So they wrote that future off along with the cash and waited for the next evolutionary step. Mighty Darwinian if you ask me…
The advent of 5G is likely to bring another splurge of investment, just as orders for 4G equipment are peaking. The goal is to be able to offer users no less than the “perception of infinite capacity”, says Rahim Tafazolli, director of the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey. Rare will be the device that is not wirelessly connected, from self-driving cars and drones to the sensors, industrial machines and household appliances that together constitute the “internet of things” (IoT).
It is easy to dismiss all this as “a lot of hype”, because it always is and because vaporware is always preceding hardware and software in this industry. But when it comes to 5G, and although most of it is still up in the air, as it rightfully should be in Wireless Comms, and we haven’t even agreed on a standard — let alone which band of radio spectrum and which wireless technologies will be used — we are optimistic.
I am also keenly involved in the choice of standard that will be used and therefore which particular standard the makers of software, hardware, and network gear and handsets, will have to comply with. Sure by yesterday the Telcos and other Telecoms firms have reached some unwritten consensus on a set of rough “requirements” but that is not a Standard we will abide upon, by a long shot. Mainly because the most important “Standards” are the connection speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second and “latency” of below 1 millisecond.
Yet the momentum to jump on the bandwagon and use this version 5 of Vaporware, appears to be real. Already Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo, are front-runners in wired broadband, and Olympic games are an opportunity to show the world that they intend also to stay ahead in wireless, even if that may mean having to upgrade their budding 5G networks to comply with a global standard once it is agreed behind the curtain, in the “smoky-room” amongst the cigar and champagne totting boys.
Let’s all remember that both AT&T and Verizon invested early-on in 4G, and although they lost a bunch of money — they would like to lead again with 5G in the US alone. Today the market for network equipment has peaked, as recent results from Ericsson and Nokia show, so the hardware makers are nervous because they need a new generation of products and new groups of customers, just in order to survive.
On the demand side, too, pressure is mounting for better wireless infrastructure and better service for customer quality of call and wireless experience. The rapid growth in data traffic will surely continue for the foreseeable future, but what types of data principles will be used – nobody knows. According to one estimate, networks need to be ready for a 1,000-fold increase in data volumes in the first half of the 2020s. And the radio spectrum used by 4G, which mostly sits below 3 gigahertz, is running out, and thus getting more expensive. A spectrum auction in America last year raked in $45 billion.
But even if the big Telcos agree to fund this evolution — the path to a 5G wireless future will not be smooth. It is not only the usual Telcos who will want a Big Finger in this mother of all networks, it is also the upstarts, the new Startups, and the established innovators, like Apple, Google, and Facebook, and weirdly Microsoft. And then you have everybody else. Major Communication, TV, and Cable behemoths, and their related Media companies, will want priority to be given to generous bandwidth, so they can stream content with ever higher resolution. Netflix and Amazon will jump in the fray too. And then most ISPs, and even most IoT firms will need much more bandwidth, because they will want their sensors to run on one set of batteries for years, so they will want the 5G standard to put a premium on low power consumption. Online-gaming firms will worry about latency because their players will complain if it is too high. And all of them hate the Government, and all other agencies and then all together they frown upon the hoi-polloi, who invariably will come knocking with demands of their own to be include as well so they can claim to have a seat in the Big Table too…
In essence its all a big-top three-ring Circus full of red shoe clown and elephants dancing around without a ring Master, and bellowing in unison forming a huge Cacophony, before a decision on a standard is arrived at.
So methinks, let’s go back to the smoky room and save everybody some time and stomach acid.
I know this is undemocratic, and all but my long experience all the way back from the First Cellular standards and from the discussions about the old Wi-Fi standard and how we called it — we best short circuit this process if we want a reasonably decent Standard to emerge instead of some turkey like the F-35.
Back in the Wi-Fi early days, we had civil truthful discussions for the Common Good and we got to make huge Progress. Because whereas in the beginning of the 802.11 IEEE wireless protocol standard discussions, there were five to ten people within IEEE talking in the Room — by the end of the discussions for the Wi-Fi standards we were up into hundreds, and all of them with hidden or rather obvious corporate agendas. Thank God we had free formed the DNA by then and the Open Source nature of Wi-Fi could not be rolled back, yet it was memorable that when we were discussing the conclusion for the 802.11 standards of 802.11G and F and D, etc, we had literally had many hundreds of engineers from individual companies battling it out with hundreds of engineers from competing Big companies like Intel or Microsoft, or Cisco, and that is when the Old Timers, the Innovators, we simply walked away form this religious pissing war.
And because we didn’t listen to them and maintained Wi-Fi as ano open source standard and an open source public bandwith — all the engineers from the Big Companies got pissed and left and went out and started a competing standard called WiMax…
You know how well that went down. I still ask Engineers from those days “How well this Wimax thingie works for them?” and they hate my guts for that bit of Levity and Humour.
Thank God that by the time they ‘engineers” had arrived we had already named our wireless protocol standard “Wi-Fi” because the assorted “Engineers” would have called it something akin to “WhatsamacallitIEEE802.11bcadfuckthisandletsgohometodiewirelessly…”
We all know how binary and easily depressive engineers get and we can anticipate their behavior and their smoking habits of weed and doritos, and therefore am advocating that this time around they should again be kept far away from Standards discussion. We’ve got to do this even if it involves a cattle prod or tazers, but I’ll leave this job up to the Texas boys of Qualcom. An easier way to distract the Engineers is to put a sign next to the meeting door telling them that in the roof of the building they distribute “Free Weed” and “Free Beer” and then have them climb up to the 78th floor and decamp there… Doritos will also be provided with hot sauce.
Yet today only because the most important set of new actors, are information-related technology firms — we will allow some creative talent from the likes of Apple, IBM, Google, and Samsung who already have a big interest in selling more smartphones and other mobile devices, but also IoT, and Cloud services which are tipped to generate the next big wave of revenues for them and for many other companies.
Take Google as an example, because it already operates high-speed fibre-optic networks with Wi-Fi endpoints at the network pops, in several major American cities — it may be tempted to build a wireless network itself, because it has shown a subtle interest in the 5G standards building process already. Let’s remember and keep in mind that back in 2014 Google bought Alpental Technologies, a startup which was developing a cheap, high-speed communications service using extremely high radio frequencies, known as “millimetre wave” (mmWave), the spectrum bands above 3 gigahertz where most of the 5G standard is expected to live.
To satisfy all these actors will not be easy. Questions over spectrum may be the easiest to solve, in part because the World Radiocommunication & Telecommunications Conference, as established by UN international treaty, will settle them. In the last gathering, in November, however they failed to agree on the frequencies for 5G, but it is expected to do so when it next meets in the fall of 2019. let’s recognize that this is more than three years away and by that time we will have in practice so many versions of the standard that we’ll all be sick of it.
Naturally the “Law” follows the Business Practice so what works well will emerge as the winner and whether your company likes it or not — You will be obliged to built product based on that as dictated by the unseen Market Force. For a CEO this is not just an Economic Decision — it is a sensible Common Sense one. As for the Engineers — F… forget about them.
Of course it is likely that companies like Google will also like to carve out space in the mmWave bands. Tests such as the one in Manhattan mentioned above, which are conducted by researchers from NYU Wireless, have shown that such bands can be used for 5G, because although they are blocked by buildings, and walls and cars, and billboards, and multiple apartment units and office blocks, before they reach the final user, and although even then they are bounced even by thin obstacles, they can be made to bounce around all of them.
Non Line Of Sight Signaling is a bitch of course — but we have solutions. These solutions mostly come from DARPA research and they have validated the point of advanced technology n radio frequency propagation, well enough to be used in civilian lives.
As the big companies today — for the first time there will not be competing sets of technical rules, as was the case with 4G, when LTE, now the standard, was initially threatened by WiMax, which was bankrolled by Intel, a chipmaker.
Nobody seems willing to play Intel’s role this time around. That said, 5G will be facing a strong competitor, especially indoors: smartphone users are increasingly using Wi-Fi connections for calls and texts as well as data. That means they have ever less need for a mobile connection, no matter how blazingly fast it may be.
So is this an Evolutionary incremental Innovation or a Revolutionary step?
Technology divides the industry in another serious way too:
Choice of Wireless Standard to support.
One camp of contestants wants 5G to take an evolutionary path, use everything they have and make it better. It includes many existing makers of wireless-network gear and some operators, which want to protect their existing investments and take one step at a time. On February 11th, for instance, Qualcomm, a chip-design firm, introduced the world’s first 4G chip set that allows for data-transmission speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. It does the trick by using a technique called “carrier aggregation”, which means it can combine up to ten wireless data streams of 100 megabits per second.
Another opposing camp, favors a revolutionary approach: to jump straight to cutting-edge technology. This could mean, for instance, leaving behind the conventional cellular structure of mobile networks, in which a single antenna communicates with all the devices within its cell. Instead, one set of small antennae would send out concentrated radio beams to scan for devices, then a second set would take over as each device comes within reach. It could also mean analyzing usage data to predict what kind of connectivity a wireless subscriber will need next and adapt the network accordingly. This is a technique that the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey wants to develop and so does Kingston Uni, Imperial, and Cambridge as well.
And a third camp favors a rather unusual model: Integrate whatever exists out there in Network Gear, Resources, Network endpoints, and Bandwith, and make an agnostic Wireless Standard. Am certainly the writer of this One Standard that allows unfettered access to all systems and I bask in the glory of my creation because MIT, Tsinghua, and Shanghai University are also eager to work on this as well… and as it turns out I know that they already do in a stealth mode with the first StartUps peeking and swinging through the ballpark fence.
One of the most outspoken representatives of both the revolutionary camp and my camp is China Mobile. Mainly because I have the ear of the Executives in charge because am the first foreign investor to be allowed to take a stake in the company upon Liberalization, and also because the Chinese wireless networks are no longer sustainable. As designed the current wireless Mobile Network antennae are using increasingly more and more energy to push each extra megabit of data and connectivity through the air, without any improvements on transfer speed and latency even when more bandwith becomes available due to better compression techniques.
China Mobiles’ interest in differentiation is because of simple necessity. As the world’s biggest carrier, with 1.1m 4G base stations and 825m subscribers more than all the European operators put together, problems with the current network architecture are exacerbated by China Mobile’s titanic scale.
Some sceptics suspect there may be an “industrial agenda” at work, that favors Chinese equipment-makers and lowers the patent royalties these makers have to pay, but that is always the case with China. The more different 5G is from 4G, the higher the chances that China can make its own intellectual property part of the standard.
Whatever the motivation, Ms I’s vision of how 5G networks will ultimately be designed is widely shared. They will not only be “super fast”, she says, but “green and soft”, meaning much less energy-hungry and entirely controlled by software. As with computer systems before them, much of a network’s specialized hardware, such as the processor units that sit alongside each cell tower, will become “virtualized”—that is, it will be replaced with software, making it far easier to reconfigure. Wireless networks will become a bit like computing in the online “cloud”, and in some senses will merge with it, using the same off-the-shelf hardware.
Discussions have already begun about how 5G would change the industry’s structure.
The most important question is whether wireless access will become a mere commodity. Isn’t this the most persistent nightmare of those few long term value Big Investors in Telcos?
According to estimates, operators’ share of total industry revenues has already fallen below 50% in America, with the rest going to mobile services such as Facebook’s smartphone apps, which make money through ads.
The switch to 5G could help the operators reverse that decline by allowing them to do such things as market their own video content. But it is easier to imagine their decline accelerating, turning them into low-margin “dumb pipes”. If so, a further consolidation of an already highly concentrated industry may be inevitable: some countries may be left with just one provider of wireless infrastructure, just as they often have only one provider of wireline Telecom services, or electricity utility, or even water utility.
If the recent history of ICT after the fall of the Berlin Wall and to this day’s rise of cloud computing is any guide, then it’s easy to see that the likes of Dell, HP and IBM are like the old Soviet Union telecom utilities struggling to keep up the network-equipment operating and t might take them ten years to give people a home telephone — but eventually they will, even though the consumer might be dead by then. Now these old fashion businesses and even the equipment makers will also get squeezed. Ericsson and Nokia today survive the tidal shift of technology, because they earn their keep from services alone. Both of them make nearly half of their sales by managing networks on behalf of operators, and not by building anything of value.
But 5G may finally bring about what has been long talked of, the first stage convergence of the makers of computers and telecoms equipment, as standardization and low margins force them together. Last year Ericsson formed partnerships first with HP and then with Cisco. Full corporate mergers could follow at some point.
Convergence will lead us to using something other than the Amazon “dick” inside the house in order to bring us the 5G signal from the outside, as well.
That’s when those big, ugly, and cumbersome mobile-phone masts, with the cell side antennae will also disappear, or change, so that they will look either “alien” or just “natural” disguised into the landscape and cityscape and thus become much harder to see but far more efficient in use and service.
All the wireless Telcos’ antennae will also become far more numerous indeed, but they will also shrink by an order of magnitude, or two, or ten.
And that will help because it doesn’t matter the size the style, or even the color of your cat — so long as it catches mice. And the new antennae will literally catch the mice “signal” far better and all around, in your home, and in your office, and also all around where you move and live. These new “cats” will catch the signal so well that they will clear the neighborhood from the pestilence of “white noise” and stick with the clear signal everywhere where you are…
And this new wireless will start to leapfrog the developed states in favor of the developing ones, where less legacy infrastructure already exists. Am saying this because near my home in Shanghai I’ve seen deployed all manners of variously shaped antennae, whereas I’ve seen nothing deployed in either London or Seattle that rivals these new wireless networks.
And because besides the “Kaaba” rectangular array that China Mobile is testing in Shanghai, it is also experimenting with smaller, subtler “tiles” that can be combined and maybe become embedded into the lettering on the side of a building, or even in the very skin of the building itself. They also treat out the multiple pigtail antennae arrays all bunched up in a black box too. And several other designs that play out the signal with zero latency while it multihops over all the buildings and the structures in their path…
Although am an expert — I can’t even decipher what these antennae look like on the inside without breaking the covers apart, and maybe in this sense, the future of mobile telecoms and wireless internet will be rather more difficult to decipher if not outright invisible.
But one thing’s for certain:
Wi-Fi still rocks….