With 6G on the horizon isn't it time to get sensible and stop the hype cycle?
The CW Talks series gives the CW community a chance to discuss significant technology, market & societal issues with business decision makers and leading members of the academic community. They allow reflection on key issues and, as with all CW activity, the aim is to critically examine and discuss the underlying techology and business models. Each event is typically held in the style of a debate, with expert speakers presenting opposing arguments on a specified topic. Delegates are then invited to challenge these positions and share their own insights in the open forum.
When ETSI started to standardise cellular in the 90s and developed GSM it described it as “second generation” to differentiate it from the analogue systems that existed at the time. In the wider world no one noticed, except that phones suddenly became affordable for everyone and people discovered the joy of texts.
When the next generation started to be standardised though, there was a sudden fashion for spectrum auctions which raised spectacular amounts of money for governments and “3G” was on everyone’s lips. Suddenly cellular got interesting and its profile was raised even though 3G didn’t deliver the promise of mobile internet until the standard adopted HSPA and became unrecognisable. (Oh, and Apple launched the iPhone of course.)
4G then arrived to put right the 3G air interface design, and to some extent fix the network protocols, and meanwhile we all bought smartphones and started using them to watch TV, consume social media, browse the web and sometimes make phone calls.
If one was cynical, 5G was needed to persuade the operators to spend another wedge of cash on more infrastructure, consumers to upgrade their phones, and regulators to auction more spectrum to raise money for exchequers. From 3G onwards the industry has pushed the hype level to get traction, but with 5G this created conspiracy theories about how 5G caused COVID-19 and was part of a great plot to cull overpopulation and get us all to accept microchips being injected in vaccines so governments (or Bill Gates?) could control our thoughts…
Now we are starting to think about 6G, but perhaps the time has come to get sensible and stop the hype cycle? Each successive generation is mainly “just another air interface”, with some additional optimisations of the networks. Perhaps we should just focus attention on incremental improvements where they are needed to some mundane things. We could fix the internet protocol stack to reduce bloat (and maybe reduce the need for more spectrum); recognise that you don’t need more technology to fix rural coverage you need more infrastructure; and do something to reduce the insane complexity of handset radios.