No, 5G Will Not the "Best" Network for Every Use Case

We should not be surprised when, inevitably, there are criticisms of 5G networks because 5G fails to be a single network that supports every application and service, equally well. In fact, no single network ever has done so. The telegraph network did not support voice. The voice network did not support video or data communications.

Even a hundred years ago, when the only application was analog voice, the fixed network did not work well in rural areas, for example.

By the 1960s and 1970s, satellite networks began to deliver long distance voice traffic, especially in isolated and remote areas. As additional applications created new markets, networks proliferated.

Cable TV, satellite TV, mobile networks, specialized business data networks (X.25, internet protocol, ISDN, SONET, ATM, frame relay) always have co-existed with the broad consumer voice networks.

That 5G “does not do everything,” for every geography, customer, application, device or business model should be a given. No network ever has done so.

Nor, by design, is 5G expected to do everything, everywhere, at lowest cost and highest efficiency. By design, 5G will embrace a network of networks approach, virtualizing access in many ways, for example.

But 5G also will use new frequencies (millimeter wave) that require small cells, which also means 5G will not--everywhere--be a replacement for 4G. Millimeter waves are the antithesis of low-band (frequencies at 800 MHz and lower).

Since 5G also is expected to underpin new machine-to-machine communications, we already see the rise of specialized narrowband networks designed to support low-bandwidth communications that are bursty and need to travel longish distances, without consuming much power.

Already, it seems, 5G is not the best way to support many M2M apps and devices (though 5G architects are working on those problems). So, no, 5G is not a panacea for every communications geography, customer or application. No, it will not be the single network to do everything. No network can do so.

On the other hand, 5G might be the “best network” approach for some important new apps and revenue sources, in some places. Some of those requirements apply to people, some to machines. Because 5G uses assets on a virtualized basis (access and core), it might be the “best” approach for any number of apps and use cases, even when it is not the “5G” access network doing the work, but some other wireless, mobile or fixed platform.
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