Roger Nichols

5G myth and reality: What will really be commercialized in 2020? Part V: Wireless Tactile Internet and the Promise of Remote Surgery

Blog Post created by Roger Nichols Employee on Sep 8, 2016

Now to finish my series on predictions, let us turn to one of the more exciting concepts in 5G: the mobile and tactile wireless Internet. The terrible triumvirate of technology, policy and business model is once again aligned against this one for 2020.


Roger’s claim: Wireless tactile Internet will not be commercial in 2020.


The objective of 1 millisecond end-to-end latency for virtual reality, automated semi-autonomous vehicles, and even “remote surgery” (every policy-maker’s favorite), has the trappings of science fiction. While I believe the applications will someday reward the investment, the combination of low latency and very high reliability represents significant technical challenges at all levels of network and UE implementation: air-interface, network protocols, front-haul, and backhaul technologies all require complete redesign.


The industry has actually moved away from such KPIs. I do not know if anyone has noticed, but when it comes to voice, the quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE) of all of our telecommunications systems is significantly worse than it was even five years ago. The mix of latency problems and reliability problems is obvious to those of us who regularly use our employers’ systems for teleconferencing with our mobile phones. And recall my comment about VoLTE in my introductory post.


One could argue that the automotive industry will aggressively drive these needs as it moves to autonomous vehicles. But automakers adopt new communications technology at a deliberately slow pace, braked by a huge installed base and justifiably heavy regulation.


If anyone wants to see how fast the automotive industry will move to 5G, just take a quick look at two topics. First, recall the protracted delay in shutting down the AMPS cellular system in the US: launched for voice in 1983 and ultimately used also for in-vehicle roadside-assistance services, it held on like grim death until 2008—the year the first LTE standard was adopted. Second, consider Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC): today, the auto industry is slowly adopting DSRC, a technology based on circa-1999 standards. As 2016 slides past us, the US DOT is only now considering passing a rule to mandate DSRC. A compelling presentation by NXP at the recent Brooklyn 5G Summit suggested even DSRC would not be mainstream in automotive until well after 2020.


I can also foresee enormous challenges with business model and policy issues once companies want to take full advantage of high-reliability and low-latency mobile communications. Investments will be significant and they will likely come in unexpected ways (foreshadowing a future post regarding entertainment as a significant driver). And I cannot wait to watch the circus that will evolve just in my own country around the Affordable Care Act and the insurance lobby when our government starts to wrangle the issues around remote surgery. As with mobile, multiple-access mmWave systems, the wireless tactile internet will come, but is going to be very much paced by that difficult triumvirate of technology, policy, and business model.


The quote “Predictions are difficult, especially about the Future,” has been attributed to at least two famous people and I cannot wrap this note without using these words as disclaimer. In at least some of the cases I have described, I hope I am proven wrong. My intent is not to criticize the brilliant people working to move these technologies from vision to commercial reality, but to take a run at the hype generated by the equally brilliant people who have to build outbound marketing programs in the interim. Your mileage may vary…