From 4 to 5


Short for fourth-generation cellular technology, 4G was designed to zap video and other gobs of data from cell towers to smartphones. Having easily accessible 4G on AT&T and Verizon networks helped entrepreneurs test ideas like Snapchat. It also persuaded people to use data-intensive smartphone apps, when they might have lacked the patience to wait for Instagram videos and pictures to load on slower 3G networks.

“The proverbial guys in the garage have a shot” to test business ideas if the newest wireless technology is available, says Roger Entner, lead analyst at telecom research-firm Recon Analytics. “If the network is not there, they don’t have a shot at all.”

In a study commissioned by U.S. wireless trade association CTIA, Mr. Entner concluded that America’s 4G leadership led to roughly $125 billion in revenue for U.S. companies that could have gone elsewhere had the country not been at the technology’s forefront. He says the 4G launch increased wireless-related jobs in the country by 84%, to 4.6 million in 2014 from 2.5 million in 2011.

Fifth-generation technology promises to be even more transformative. Consumers won’t notice a difference until they upgrade to phones compatible with 5G technology, which won’t become widely available until at least 2019. But when 5G is fully functioning in several years, it will be so fast that people can download full-length movies on their phones in a few seconds instead of several minutes currently. The data will travel nearly instantaneously, perhaps fast enough to mimic human reflexes to help self-driving cars avoid accidents. In fact, some auto experts say, 5G could be crucial to the success of autonomous vehicles.

The technology could also reshape the landscape for telecommunications firms. If people can download huge amounts of data at ultrafast speeds, wireless connections could be powerful enough to replace cable and internet providers that need to plug wires into homes.

What’s more, 5G will allow many more objects to connect to cellular towers, enabling the long-promised Internet of Things, in which everything from home appliances to implanted medical devices are connected to the network.

“The most important issue is enough capacity,” says Marty Cooper, the former Motorola executive credited with inventing the cellphone. “5G is going to be an important element in running factories.”

WSJ again:

Trump has said the U.S. must win the 5G race by becoming the first major nation to set up a wireless network using the new technology. U.S. officials say 5G, which promises to zip gobs of data around networks much faster than today’s systems do, will provide the infrastructure for futuristic commercial and military inventions: driverless cars, flying battlefield drones, automated factories and web-connected pacemakers.

That potential—and Huawei’s prominence—worries U.S. officials, who have essentially banned Chinese equipment from U.S. wireless networks since 2012. Huawei is the world’s biggest telecom-equipment company and holds more patents for 5G standards than any other company. U.S. officials say Beijing could order Huawei to tap into the hardware or software it makes to spy or take control of internet-connected objects. Huawei and the Chinese government say such a thing would never happen.

The Commerce Department order earlier this month made it difficult for U.S. suppliers to sell components to Huawei, though some companies have a temporary exemption. If those suppliers lose a chunk of revenue from Huawei, they might have to slow operations to stay profitable.

An official at one Silicon Valley supplier of Huawei said a slowdown in its manufacturing was possible and could result in short-term revenue losses. But the supplier expects rival telecom-equipment makers, such as Cisco, Finland’s Nokia Corp., Sweden’s Ericsson or even China’s ZTE Corp., which currently doesn’t face the same Commerce Department restrictions, to step up purchases of popular components that Huawei can’t buy.

We haven’t been following the 5G story, but we heard Spengler discussing it as a national security matter, so we’ll try to pay closer attention.

Bonus nuttiness: insanity proceeds apace.

One Response to “From 4 to 5”

  1. Neil Says:

    Most articles about 5G talk about its use in cell phones, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to be the primary usage, and I’m not sure phones will use it much at all. The EM wavelengths at which 5G operates are readily absorbed by the human body–meaning that if you’re holding your phone in your hand, it won’t work. They’re talking about having multiple antennae and selecting which one to use based on how you’re holding your phone, but that seems pretty clunky to me.

    I’m pretty sure that IoT will be the primary use case. There are some pretty nifty potential applications for 5G there. The problem is that all of your IoT stuff will depend on the cell provider to function. Also, you can kiss whatever privacy we had goodbye, whether you use the products or not. Surveillance will be so pervasive that your absence from surveillance will be as telling as the surveillance is.

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