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Time to say goodbye to the ‘G’s

May 25, 2023 | More and more events are starting to address and discuss the needs of 6G, even though we as an industry have not fully deployed, much less optimized, 5G. The wireless industry seems fixated on ’the next big thing’ and promising that all will be well…with the next generation.

6G has not been defined and the standards are years off. In the meantime, we will deploy 5G-Advanced and probably 5G-Advanced-Plus (or something – we are bad at naming technologies in this industry). But for some reason, we insist on looking far ahead, even though it undermines the current technologies and immediate plans for deployment.

In my opinion, it is time to end the 3G/4G/5G train. Just stop! No more 5G-Advanced, no 6G. Let’s make 5G the last G we ever talk about.

So what do we replace it with? How about the 3GPP standard release numbers? After all, they define 4G and 5G by the different releases – the last 4G release was 14 and 5G started with Release 15.

Using this approach would have several advantages:

1. Reducing confusion for the consumer and enterprise alike – no more trying to work out if a device or service is ’true 5G’ or whatever.

2. Industry marketing folks, especially those in the mobile operators, would have to focus on the benefits and capabilities of their services and products and not just say ‘we have the best/fastest 5G’ or the ‘best 5G coverage’. Points of differentiation would change and, hopefully, become clearer.

3. Devices, services and enterprise solutions would be selected and purchased based on value and merit. There is some evidence at present that buyers tend to want 5G just because it is better than 4G, i.e. a higher number! This is not always the case, but moving away from 4G/5G/6G would enable vendors to more closely match the solution to the business needs and not simply offer the highest number.

4. This proposed approach is not new – the same approach is used in software releases. For example, my iPhone is currently running iOS 16.4.1 while by Mac has macOS 13.3.1. Why did I select this iPhone and this Mac? For their capabilities, a price/value comparison, and the ability to complete the tasks I needed. I know I will need a new iPhone soon (it is old) when it can no longer support the next iOS release. But that is OK. I know I will get a better camera, faster processor, etc. – in other words, increased capabilities. I may decide I need a new iPhone sooner than being dictated by the software release, but that decision will be based on capability, not if it is 5G or 6G or whatever.

5. Using the generation number (4G and 5G) is inherently confusing for non-techies. For example, Wi-Fi uses the 5 GHz band (and soon 6 GHz) and some Wi-Fi routers have SSIDs named ‘5G’. I can attest from personal experience that this causes confusion with some family members, as in ‘I have 5G in my home!’ No, you are using Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz band. So ‘Generation’ gets confused with ‘GHz’.

6. End the hype cycle. Well, we can hope this will happen :) We are especially good in the wireless industry at hyping whatever-comes-next and promising a host of new capabilities, even though they are usually ill-defined and with questionable business value. By having incremental, release-based improvements, the industry would focus on specific features and functions that are valuable today and can be implemented now.

This would not be hard to do. After all, the market is dominated by a handful of MNOs and network equipment vendors. If one or two decided to simply drop 5G, the change would probably, hopefully, ripple through the entire industry.

So, despite the fact that iGR just published a series of reports on ‘5G Revenues’ in the various regions of the world, let's try and make 5G the end of the Gs. Please :)

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