I think I should go back to writing about Telecom, like I used to do, once upon a time. It was related to nascent activism around the tracking of broadband roll outs, and I saw the technological landscape change from dial up to DSL and eventually fibre roll outs. I have never been a fan of wireless broadband-it is jittery and has latency built in. I am not sure how 5G will radically transform it despite the promises.
I still strongly favour the proprietary BlackBerry compression technology, which worked marvellously well on the 2G networks-especially the “push-email”. The current sorry state of the emails by use of email trackers and “graphic heavy” templates makes it impossible to use. Besides, Gmail and other “free options” are designed to completely ruin the email experiences. BlackBerry crashed and burnt at the altar of technological obsolescence and poor marketing. Nevertheless, it is a reminder that successive generations of wireless iterations have done nothing substantial for end consumers. 5G will not radically transform access to websites or video calling, except faster download of movies.
Therefore, I find the debate between stand-alone and non-standalone 5G networks futile. In essence, a non-standalone 5G rides on 4G spectrum. In other words, it’s a “souped” up 4G with a different spectral availability. A stand-alone 5G, on the other hand, is “pure-play”, requiring significant investments (“capex in industry speak”) and “powerful radios” (energy intensive). However, this allows for the significant benefits of 5G-lower latency and network splicing. The issue is there is no ecosystem to take advantage of 5G, unless you want to step into “metaverse” or “immersive gaming” that requires additional expense and will require significant marketing spends.
What is the way for healthcare? A stand-alone 5G will try to tap into enterprise spends, instead. I don’t see that happening in most economies as of now, and this will remain on fringes. Drone delivery or inspection will require use case scenarios to justify initial spends for return on investments. Network splicing for remote surgeries might provide some initial excitement, but will remain on the sidelines. Let’s see how this evolves. I am curious.
A little context here:
SA, for instance, enables such opportunities as remote surgery, robotics, autonomous cars, machine-to-machine functions and drone applications, to name a few. That is because SA networks offer ultra-low latency — which refers to the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer. The use cases being developed on SA networks could be a key revenue earner for telcos beyond merely offering applications based on speed.
But running an independent SA 5G network needs support from a low spectrum band (below 1 GHz) and that is where 700 MHz is considered the best globally for 5G (see table). As minister of communications Ashwini Vaishnaw said, it will help provide ubiquitous coverage across the country, especially in remote villages, and also help roll out 5G services faster.
The best way to achieve universal net access is through fibre reach at the last mile and public WiFi access. It’s cheaper and efficient. 5G handsets will require economies of scale for handsets till they become useful. Don’t be fooled by analysts projections (which remains a black hole on how they arrive at optimistic projections).