Following on the theme from Roger’s recent post Blessings and Curses: Firsthand Commentary on the State of 5G Wireless Conclaves, I was invited to take part in one of the most enlightening 5G events I’ve encountered. It was the first of two 5G debates in London organized by Cambridge Wireless, a UK-based community bringing the mobile wireless community together to solve business problems.
The debate took place in the prestigious “Shard” building in central London and was chaired by Prof. William Webb, last year’s president of the Institute of Engineering and Technology. One of the things that distinguished this debate from so many others is that it was a stand-alone event, attracting a diverse audience not typically seen at industry conferences (e.g., the ones in which debates are often curtailed just when they get interesting). The three other panelists alongside myself were Howard Benn, Samsung’s head of standards and industrial affairs; Paul Ceely, head of mobile strategy at British Telecom (which recently bought operator EE); and Joe Butler, director of technology at UK regulator OfCom and, for this debate, representing the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission, which is tasked with planning the UK’s critical infrastructure.
The theme of the first debate was “What’s left for 5G now that 4G can do IoT and Gbits/s speeds?” while the second had a business focus: “Will operators see increased ARPU from 5G?” A short video of the first debate and a full transcript is available here and the second debate is here.
Each panelist gave a short opening statement. Given the recent political environment in the UK, I led with the good news that “5G will be much easier than “Brexit,” and this raised the first of many laughs in what was a good-natured but insightful debate. I gave my reasoning that we have engineers who actually understand 5G whereas the world of politics and economics is populated with those who get by with subjective opinion. That said, I pointed out there is a lot of noise in this 5G space so it is important to know the credentials of those giving advice: are they based on commercial self-interest and hype or are they based on observation of reality backed by physics? After all, at the end of the day, 5G has to work before it can be commercially successful.
The debate covered a number of areas in sub-6 GHz territory, through to millimeter-wave developments, IoT and network evolution with NFV and SDN. But the key moment for me started when Joe Butler described his frustration with current infrastructure: “If I get on the train from Brighton to London, which I do on a very, very regular basis, I would dearly love to be able to make a phone call that lasted longer than 30 seconds!” After the laughter died down, the chairman used the opportunity to conduct one of many quick polls of the audience. In this one he asked for a vote in favour of 10 Mbps ubiquitous connectivity vs. delivering blindingly fast, 100 megabits (or even gigabits) a second in pockets of places and also some super low-latency services. The answer to the first question was spontaneously unanimous as can be seen in the picture below captured from the video.
So this means the second debate on the 5G business case will not be short of opinions.
The next opportunity for me to interact with the wider 5G community will be at an upcoming IWPC workshop in San Jose hosted by Verizon and focused on the role millimeter-waves will have in 5G. On this occasion I will be delivering a high-level technical paper called “Modelling what matters” that will ask important questions about the focus of current research into 5G. In particular, what concerns me is whether there is sufficient research targeting the design and test of 5G “new radio” to mitigate the spatial dynamics of millimeter-wave radio propagation. More on that later…