Much has been speculated about when 5G is actually going to be available. Considering the way we’re creating and consuming data, it is easy to agree that a new and better mobile Internet infrastructure can’t get here soon enough.
The Ericsson Mobility Report, lays out the numbers with stark clarity. Today some 7.4 billion mobile subscriptions are active, and that number continues to rise by about 3 percent per year. In some developing regions of the world, that growth rate is trending at four times the average rate. With all devices accounted for, the cumulative annual rate of growth of wireless data usage is projected to be 45 percent through 2021. That will equate to some 28 billion connected devices, and total data usage approaching 6 billion exabytes per month.
Our increasingly connected infrastructure is going to be a huge component of this usage. The Ericsson report notes that devices that are part of the Internet of Things are “expected to surpass mobile phones as the largest category of connected devices” as early as next year. IoT devices, ranging from industrial sensors to consumer weather stations to autonomous vehicles, will increasingly dominate that growth curve, as these are devices that by definition are designed to be “always on,” continuously connected to the internet. Some IoT devices consume massive amounts of information. A single autonomous vehicle today can demand up to 40 terabytes of data for every eight hours it’s on the road.
You get the idea. Mobile adoption and usage are absolutely exploding, with no end in sight. And that would be fantastic if the network could handle that kind of traffic. With 4G/LTE networks already reaching capacity, the industry is looking ahead to the next big Thing and 5G promises to be just that.
A Technology Yet Unborn
What is 5G? As you have probably heard, it’s a much faster, lower latency data network than the one we currently have. The catch is that the technology behind 5G is somewhat of a mystery, mainly because it is still being invented.
Currently, 5G has no generally agreed upon definition, existing only in a smattering of white papers and draft resolutions created by a variety of standards bodies and industry consortia. While big wireless carriers are already talking publicly about their 5G rollout plans, fundamentally very little 5G equipment has been installed, and no 5G wireless devices have been created.
Realistically, true 5G won’t have any presence in the market until 2020 at the earliest, and even then, the technology will be wholly incompatible with existing equipment. (One expert has estimated that a 5G handset, if produced today, would cost at least $1800 to build, so there’s work to be done.) Ultimately, 5G will face years of slow growth before it becomes mainstream and for decades it will have to co-exist worldwide with Wi-Fi, 4G, 3G and even 2G networks.
Ready or Not, Change Is Coming
Unfortunately, the world doesn’t have a decade to wait for 5G to find its footing. Consumers will not abide slow and increasingly congested networks on their mobile devices, and they aren’t going to twiddle their thumbs in wait for 5G to finally materialize.
We need a new mobile internet to meet consumer demand and power the infrastructure that is developing with or without it, and frankly we need it today, not in 2021.
The good news is that we have options, and by turning the very devices that are using all of that data – namely connected vehicles and autonomous vehicles – into decentralized providers of mobile internet services, we have the chance to not only improve the wireless network as we know it today, but the ability to enhance data services by reimagining the very way the internet works. Why tie consumers to fixed radio tower installations, with their inevitable dead zones and heavily congested regions, when mobile access points give providers the ability to reposition these towers on the fly creating a much more flexible and resilient network?
Our future internet needs are going to be a dramatic departure from what they are today. It’s time for the infrastructure we use to meet those needs to evolve as well.