Who Benefits from 5G?

The Financial Times (FT) ran a somewhat mixed piece on the future of 5G. The thesis is that telecom operators are anxious to realise the financial benefits of 5G deployments but, at the same time, these benefits were always expected to come in the forthcoming years; there was little, if any, expectation that financial benefits would happen immediately as the next-generation infrastructures were deployed.

The article correctly notes that consumers are skeptical of the benefits of 5G while, also, concluding by correctly stating that 5G was really always about the benefits that 5G Standalone will have for businesses. This is, frankly, a not great piece in terms of editing insofar as it combines two relatively distinct things without doing so in a particularly clear way.

5G Extended relies on existing 4G infrastructures. While there are theoretically faster speeds available to consumers, along with a tripartite spectrum band segmentation that can be used,1 most consumers won’t directly realise the benefits. One group that may, however, benefit (and that was not addressed at all in this piece) are rural customers. Opening up the lower-frequency spectrum blocks will allow 5G signals to travel farther with the benefit significantly accruing to those who cannot receive new copper, coax, or fibre lines. This said, I tend to agree with the article that most of the benefits of 5G haven’t, and won’t, be directly realised by individual mobile subscribers in the near future.2

5G Standalone is really where 5G will theoretically come alive. It’s, also, going to require a whole new way of designing and securing networks. At least as of a year or so ago, China was a global leader here but largely because they had comparatively poor 4G penetration and so had sought to leapfrog to 5G SA.3 This said, American bans on semiconductors to Chinese telecoms vendors, such as Huawei and ZTE, have definitely had a negative effect on the China’s ability to more fully deploy 5G SA.

In the Canadian case we can see investments by our major telecoms into 5G SA applications. Telus, Rogers, and Bell are all pouring money into technology clusters and universities. The goal isn’t to learn how much faster consumers’ phones or tablets can download data (though new algorithms to better manage/route/compress data are always under research) but, instead, to learn how how to take advantage of the more advanced business-to-business features of 5G. That’s where the money is, though the question will remain as to how well telecom carriers will be able to rent seek on those features when they already make money providing bandwidth and services to businesses paying for telecom products.

  1. Not all countries, however, are allocating the third, high-frequency, band on the basis that its utility remains in doubt. ↩︎
  2. Incidentally: it generally just takes a long, long time to deploy networks. 4G still isn’t reliably available across all of Canada, such as in populated rural parts of Canada. This delay meaningfully impedes the ability of farmers, as an example, to adopt smart technologies that would reduce the costs associated with farm and crop management and which could, simultaneously, enable more efficient crop yields. ↩︎
  3. Western telecoms, by comparison, want to extend the life of the capital assets they purchased/deployed around their 4G infrastructures and so prefer to go the 5G Extended route to start their 5G upgrade path. ↩︎

The Problems of Domestic Labelling

While not related strictly to technology, Forbes has a good breakdown of why Kobe beef that is sold outside of Japan is (effectively) never the famed Kobe beef that myths are written about. It’s a good, direct, blunt piece. The kind of journalism I think we can, and want to, all support.

It (re)raises important questions that implicate technology. Wireless technologies are sometimes called “4G” but this is only true under revised ITU regulations. Originally 4G technologies were meant to be transformative – they referred predominantly to LTE and beyond – but this was revised in 2010 to refer to “3G technologies substantially better in performance and capability than earlier 3G technologies.”

Similar legal issues arise around the definition of public domain: with different international bodies possessing different copyright terms, the variance could lead to jurisdictional disputes around what is(n’t) public domain. Such disputes may lead to the removal of content if it happens to be stored or accessible in nations with the more onerous copyright terms.

These are just two areas where ‘labelling’ is important. In all three cases – beef, wireless speeds, and copyright – it’s legal terms that enable variable terminology associated with common goods. For consumers in a globalized world, who are often unable to spend the time to track down the ‘truth’ behind the labels, such labels can be incredibly confusing. We can do better, and we should do better, and find a means of rectifying confusions that arise from domestic labelling.