India might still be contemplating the advent of 4G, but in many parts of the world the chatter has moved up a notch to 5G. One thing that was clear from a session on 5G technologies at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco was that 5G would mean much more than faster internet. And in that sense it will be game-changing. Or should we say life-changing?
Here is how the 5G world will be like, or should be like.
Let us start by defining what is 5G? For the consumer, it will mean ultra-high data speeds, ultra-low latency, and new devices and form factors. But behind all this will be mobile edge computing with serious processing power being added on the base stations. That will be crucial, because 5G will be a network transformation in more ways than one.
The network will have no option but to transform. For unlike 4G which is driven by video, 5G will be driven by the Internet of Things. That means the network will have to be intelligent enough to understand how to allocate its resources—a capability it does not have at the moment. To use an example shared at the session, it will have to figure out that a self-driving car needs a fraction of a millisecond response every time and maybe not the toaster. That means it will have to be content-aware, user-aware and location-aware.
Any lack of context would mean wastage of precious bandwidth as the service runs the chance of allocating more bandwidth where it least requires it. It can also not afford to be neutral when it comes to data—that could again lead to wastage. The neutrality will have to be limited within ‘swimlanes’, but not all use cases. The regulatory framework will need to evolve to keep pace with this entire change. As service providers start optimising their networks for this new age, voice will start going away and that bandwidth will start to be reallocated for data.
Meanwhile, the base stations might move to drones or balloons to ensure that the network becomes ubiquitous. The conversation will shift from the Internet of Everything to the Internet of Everywhere. That is where this technological shift will impact us the most. This new revolution will take access to connectivity and through it access to knowledge to vast sections of the population and entire geographies that had been cut off for so far. The effect this could have on economies and communities, or even countries, could be transformational.
But it could also change the way our society functions. Everything will be connected and by everything we mean the farm that produces food to the refrigerator that stores it. There are some fears, not unfounded, that even humans might choose to be connected. But even by conservative estimates, we are looking at least 50 billion connected devices by the end of 2020. To put that in perspective, there are over 15 billion connected devices in the world at the moment according to rough estimates. And the 50 billion will not include the billions of sensors that will be reporting on everything from body temperatures to water levels in rivers.
Intel is ‘starting early’ and hopes it will be the driver for 5G. So the silicon giant has already started bringing its assets together and is putting crucial partnerships in place.
Aicha Evans, corporate vice-president and general manager of the Intel Communication and Devices Group in the Platform Engineering Group, says leapfrogging to 5G will be driven by necessity while adoption will be driven by convenience. So don’t be surprised if the first drone base stations make their flights to rural Indian villages with no connectivity at all. Taking this image further, Sandra Rivera, director, Market Development, Intel Corp, says the drone or balloon will act like a postman, visiting the village daily to download updates for the residents and to upload what they have over the past 24 hours. And we should not miss the point that the connected device might be the only device with power in some of these locations.
It is surely a world we are unfamiliar with, but will be a bold new world for certain.
(The author attended IDF15 in San Francisco at Intel’s invitation)