Smart cities and Tech Evolution - XIV 5G

5G is made possible by the tremendous advances in processing capabilities that turns terminals, like smart phones, into network nodes creating networks at the edges that can manage a much broader spectrum in parallel. Credit: Ericsson

We won’t be discussing 5G if Moore’s Law hadn’t kept working for 50 years. 5G requires a tremendous amount of processing capacity delivered at a scant power need budget. A 5G smartphone will be like a supercomputer at the end of the nineties but using one  millionth of its power need. We do not have this kind of chip today (the iPhone 6s compares to the Fujitsu NWT NAL Supercomputer deployed in 1995), but we will by the end of this decade, and we’ll get better ones in the next decade. So a fully fledged 5G won’t be available by decade end, or as marketing people will probably say (since some has started to “sell” 5G this year) we will have advanced 5G in the next decade.

Why does 5G needs all this processing capacity and this low power consumption?

There are several reasons:

  • smartphones will have to work on a broad range of frequency to make the most of the radio spectrum locally available;
  • smartphones will have to solve the interference issue hence circumventing the Shannon limit;
  • smartphones will have to become network nodes, creating meshed networks at the edges. As such they will need to operate even when the smartphone owner is not using them;
  • smartphones will become service nodes delivering services to other smartphones and to the ambient;
  • smartphones will become open sensors and a fundamental component of the IoT;
  • smartphones will become a synergistic part of our body interacting with our body and with the ambient, on one side monitoring our bodies like a black box, on the other side augmenting our bodies capabilities.

You have surely noticed that this list of “reasons” focuses on the smartphones (more generally I could have said “terminals” to comprise tablets and other devices, including vehicles…) and never once mentioned “the network” as a driver. The wireless network wil clearly need to evolve, and Wireless Operators will have to plan,  invest and deploy, bu tthe driver will not be their networks. The tail will most definitely wag the dog.

In a way Municipalities can have a greater role in 5G deployment than Wireless Operators. Municipalities can both become providers of part of the required infrastructure, can foster the deployment of infrastructures by private parties and can surely act as a glue among them all. Remember, 5G will be a cluster of several technologies glued together by devices and services.

In this sense a Smart City can become a living test bed for 5G, something we are starting to look at at EIT Digital, and an accelerator.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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