Madden: 5G should focus on cost reduction too

Joe Madden mobile experts

     Joe Madden

Every time a new "G" comes around, the engineers try to define what it means in terms of technology. This worked fairly well for 2G, 3G, and 4G, where each generation involved a new way of scrambling the bits for highest spectral efficiency.

But 5G is different. We're getting close to physical limits on pure spectral efficiency, and more investment along those lines would be wasteful. It's worthwhile to take a moment and ask ourselves:  What do we really want to achieve with 5G?

The top OEMs are starting to publish some of these "radar" charts which illustrate how performance will improve between eight and ten different dimensions at the same time. The next big thing could be to improve single-user data throughput to 10 Gbp, and to reduce latency below 1 ms, and to improve energy efficiency by a factor of 100. In some of these fantasies, there is a naïve idea that 5G will improve ALL of these dimensions at the same time.

Did anybody notice that cost is not on the list of things to be improved? My view is that 5G should focus primarily on cost reduction, and other factors such as throughput or latency are simply a way to get the job done.

Steve Jobs isn't here anymore, so there's nobody to tell us what applications people want to use in 2025. We don't know. But we do know one thing--machines and people are going to communicate differently:

--Machines can be patient, they don't mind transmitting twice if necessary, and they don't move around a lot. There are exceptions, but most applications should fit this description.

--People move constantly and get annoyed with any glitches or delays. People will charge a battery, and will pay for a device that they use every day. 

 Should we really expect one technology to satisfy both of these requirements?

In fact, the main distinction between machines and people may be this: Much of M2M communications can succeed with current wireless transmission cost, but the terminal cost needs to be reduced. For human communications, the cost per bit needs to come down but the terminal cost is okay. Aren't these two things fundamentally different?

At the end of the day, the main thing that IoT and human applications have in common is the need for cost reduction. Let's avoid getting carried away by dreams of magical technology.  Instead, let's focus on cost-optimized solutions for two distinct markets.

Joe Madden is Principal Analyst at Mobile Experts LLC. Mobile Experts is a network of market and technology experts that provide market analysis on the mobile infrastructure and mobile handset markets. He provides market forecasts for handset, DAS, small cell, and base station markets, with in-depth research down to the nitty gritty details of frequency bands and power levels. Mr. Madden graduated, cum laude, from UCLA in 1989 and is a Silicon Valley veteran. He has survived IPOs, LBOs, divestitures, acquistions, and mergers during his 24 years in mobile communications.