I have been looking at the promise of broadband networks for the past 10 years, and I’d admit that it has been anti-climatic. The vast swaths of fibre and the dug up roads were a source of excitement for me because it promised to lay the wonders of the Internet at my doorstep. Robotic surgery and telemedicine were guaranteed in 2006. I’d admit that we are nowhere near the lofty goals.
Why? Because there is no commercial value inscribed in this. A simple use case scenario for follow-up of patients through telemedicine would be impossible to implement because “most users” are utterly unaware of interacting with technology. It requires “research” in the user interface to make it more accessible.
As such, while the tone of the quote below is highly cynical, it doesn’t miss the mark completely. 5G is overhyped for autonomous vehicles and robotic surgeries.
We’ve noted for a while that the “race to 5G” is largely just the byproduct of telecom lobbyists hoping to spike lagging smartphone and network hardware sales. Yes, 5G is important in that it will provide faster, more resilient networks when it’s finally deployed at scale years from now. But the society-altering impacts of the technology are extremely over-hyped, international efforts to deploy the faster wireless standard aren’t really a race, and even if it were, our broadband maps are so terrible (by design) it would be impossible to actually determine who won.
The idea that we’re “racing China to 5G,” and need to mindlessly pander to U.S. telecom giants to win said race, has also become a mainstay in tech policy circles and tech coverage for two or three years now. We’re at the point where 5G (like the blockchain or AI) now exists as a sort of policy pixie dust to be sprinkled around generously by lobbyists and K Street beggars looking to wow luddite lawmakers, even if the underlying arguments often make no coherent sense. When 5G is fused with overheated national security concerns, it becomes even more incoherent.
We need to make a commercial use case scenario for underserved communities. It requires financial engineering, political will and some imagination to see its benefits percolate down. However, we also need to be cognizant of the fact that end-users need to be receptive towards it. Or else, it would fall in the trap of an intractable chicken-and-egg situation!