The 5G will wait a while longer
After Bouygues, it is now the turn of the operator SFR to question the urgency of deploying 5G. The auction is scheduled for September 2020 because the French government needs money. National operators do not question the timetable. Nevertheless, they seem perplexed about the short-term value added of 5G. Beyond the colossal investments required to deploy this technology, the real brake on the expansion of 5G lies in the lack of credible business cases. In 3 points, here is why 5G will wait a few more years before being commercialized.
“5G is the fifth generation of mobile telecommunications standards. 2G enabled the mobile phone boom, 3G enabled smartphones and social networks, and finally 4G brought higher speeds and put the video format in our terminals” Achour Messas
The 5G aims to connect objects (industry 4.0, vehicles, medicine, building…) to the internet. Among the technological contributions of 5G, we will discuss 3 characteristics of this new technology: edge computing, ultra high speed and massive IOT.
Are we ready for this technological leap?
Edge computing consists of deploying servers as close as possible to the users in order to create a “decentralized” architecture. The purpose of edge computing is to reduce processing time and the amount of data transported. This low latency, less than a millisecond, is a fundamental element for the industrial deployment of the autonomous car, for example: the road infrastructure and vehicles communicate in real time. Communication times are as fast as possible. 5G is most likely the technological answer to this problem.
Nevertheless, a motorist leaving the north of France can ask his vehicle to drive to the south, west or east, which means that the entire route must be covered by the 5G network without any white zones. However, in 2020, while 99% of the population is covered by 4G, only 80% of French territory is covered by 5G technology (source: operator data). As a reminder, the deployment of 4G started in 2008. Will the autonomous vehicle therefore be able to be deployed on a large scale without a 5G network? Or should we wait for the industrialization of the autonomous vehicle to deploy a national 5G network? Any resemblance to the old story of the chicken and the egg is not fortuitous.
Consumer use cases not very convincing
Since the end of 2019, Orange and the French public railway company SNCF have been experimenting with ultra high-speed broadband thanks to a 5G installation in the 26GHz band at Rennes station (Brittany, France). This experiment uses Sony terminals that support these new frequencies. The latter allow a significant increase in data rates, at the expense of the range of radio waves. Thus, this experimental network has a range of 10 to 20 meters, forcing the user to be positioned close to the relay antenna. The SNCF would like to test the downloading of multimedia content before accessing trains so as not to saturate the Wifi network. We take a step back in time: back in 1991 when you had to be near a bi-bop terminal to be able to make a phone call.
Thousands of connected objects per square mile?
Massive IoT is not a priority for operators because other technologies exist to connect objects to the Internet. Wifi and bluetooth are particularly well known, but other more mature technologies are used to connect water meters or waste containers to the internet. These LPWAN technologies are called LoRa, SigFox, NB-IOT… The LoRa alliance claims 137 public network operators in 157 countries.
The 5G still lacks real business cases, it is probably urgent to wait. As regards IoT, incumbent operators are competing with private networks deployed by integrators or local authorities. In a context where the entire population is faced with the challenges of the energy and climate transition, there is probably better to do than to deploy a 5th generation of mobile telecommunications, which will undoubtedly be even more energy intensive than 4G. Finally, although still in the boxes, this new technology is mobilizing more and more opponents. 5G is scary and it may take more than promises to allay the fears of critics.