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Do we need 5G?

5G is coming in a few years although it is not yet clear the direction its roll out will take since it will not be depending as for the previous Gs from the Network Operators push but will be based on a more general roll out endeavour. Image credit: The Buzz Surrounding 5G. Hughes Systique

Do we really need 5G?   The short answer is NO.  The long answer is YES.

It is NO because we are living pretty well without it and all the innovations that are being planned, in Industry, Health Care, Smart Cities, Entertainment, Health Care, Transportation…. you name it, are being planned taking into account today’s available technologies. And they will come, even if 5G will remain just a fuzzy word.

There is nothing special about 5G.  Innovation is a way of life in this last hundred years, and innovation is leveraging on what is existing, not on what will -may be- exist. This is normal. If you are an entrepreneur and your goal is to hit the market with your stuff, the first thing you have to make sure is that your “stuff” can really be deployed, hence that you have what it takes to make a splash. You are innovating on existing technology. Yes, good and visionary entrepreneurs are looking ahead. As Wayne Gretzky said  “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  But you have a plan B and you follow that plan B ready to strike with plan A if it becomes feasible.

Hence in every industry progress requiring communications is just now shifting from assuming the existence of 3G to betting on the availability of 4G. Nothing is being rolled out assuming 5G. It is yet too fuzzy a concept and too far in the future to sustain investment relying on it.

We can make progress in any area using today’s available communications systems.
Do we need Samsung 8 or the iPhone X? NO. Would we like to get one… Yes, at least many would say so. It is a nice to have, provided I can afford them, but it is not a must, particularly not in terms of communication needs. Clearly people craving for the Samsung 8 or iPhone X are not doing so because they have problem in today’s communications tools. Yet, we can be sure that millions will flock into the latest bandwagon.

Of course, once you start to have a significant adoption of those newest phones someone will start exploiting those very special functionalities creating applications that will not “run” on older phones. Those applications “need” the new phones and after a while, provided many new phones are being used and many people use those applications, you come to the point that those new phones characteristics are indeed “needed”.

Likewise for 5G. After a while, probably somewhere between 2025-2030, some of its features will be exploited to the point of changing the way industry, transportation, health care… is operating and at that point you can say that Yes, 5G is needed.

In the following posts I will take a look at a few segments and discuss 5G in those applications areas.


About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.