5G hype: the solution looking for a problem?

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The fifth generation of cellular technology is a solution looking for a problem, if you ask Saar Gillai (pictured), startup advisor, angel investor and a Mobile World Congress veteran. Gillai, who led various areas of networking and cloud solutions at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., sees a bit of hype and a bit of reality in 5G technology but feels the industry must first think about the problems it is trying to solve with the emerging network standard.

“It’s much more of an evolution than revolution, and people need to understand there is no fundamental shift. What 5G offers is more bandwidth,” he said.

The promise of 5G means more network capacity and lower latency. However, Gallai explained, “There are no secrets in wireless.” Wireless technology, rooted in physics, uses radio frequencies. “It’s not like Ethernet where you add 1 meg to 10 megs and all you have to do is run Moore’s Law and you’re good,” he said, pointing out that if it were this easy the industry would have much larger data transfer capabilities in wireless technology.

Most of the frequencies used for wireless communications today are sub-5-gigahertz, which have better range but less capacity. There are also a limited number of signals to commercialize. Gillai gave the example of a company as large as AT&T having a set number around 60 megahertz — its entire capacity for the U.S.

Alternative technologies being considered for wireless innovations include millimeter waves, which “have more capacity, but they do have other problems. They don’t go through walls,” Gillai explained.

Obstacles ahead

While the Internet of Things is the hot topic behind 5G potential, it is most likely that networks will not be able to handle its multi-billion endpoint capacity until the end of the decade. The truth, according to Gillai, is there is a wireless problem when it comes to the provisioning of 5G.

The first issue? Networks are not agile. “If you add in NFV [Network Functions Virtualization], you create agility. It’s true that NFV is for virtualization, but it also creates agility and automation. Many of the networks, including 3GPP are a decade old,” he said.

The second issue is the lack of scale, or capacity, which Gillai believes can be helped with software automation and  NFV functions. IoT will eventually add up to 100 billion devices on networks by 2020, he added. “[When] the network becomes more dynamic, and the backend has to be more dynamic, that’s the backend problem,” he stated.

While the industry touts 5G networks are 100 times faster than current 4G LTE connections, the International Telecommunications Union will not have a standard in place until 2020, Gillai pointed out. Factor in legacy issues that ultimately caused the Federal Communications Commission to open all frequencies above 24 GHz for 5G, and years are added to the network update cycle.

Despite the mounting challenges for 5G’s market maturity, progress is being made behind the scenes specifically with NVF and the onboarding work needed to build out networks, along with those critical operational technologies necessary to modify systems for the future under construction.

Currently, Gillai, a venture capitalist, is working with startups and consulting on amazing projects that include revolutionary new wireless protocols and applying cloud to different problems.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the Mobile World Congress 2017.

Photo: SiliconANGLE