There is no such thing as 5G

John C. Tanner
11 Jun 2013

Forget about 4G. That's old news. The real story is 5G. And it is coming. In just seven years.

So says Samsung, which announced in May that it had developed "the world's first adaptive array transceiver technology operating in the millimeter-wave Ka bands for cellular communications" that "sits at the core of 5G mobile communications system and will provide data transmission up to several hundred times faster than current 4G networks."

What that actually means is this: Samsung has figured out a way to make cellular networks plausible in the 28-GHz band, and is calling it 5G so that, if everyone adopts Samsung's technology as the next upgrade after LTE-A, Samsung gets to say they invented 5G.

Or something like that.

My paraphrasing is based on the fact that - for me, anyway - the suffix "G" has become increasingly meaningless. LTE isn't even "4G" if you ask the ITU, which says that "4G" (under IMT-Advanced) is LTE-A and Wimax 2.

Yet the term "5G" has already been tossed around to describe both of those technologies, as well as 802.11ac (which is Wi-Fi, not cellular), because everyone accepts that LTE is 4G. Regulators in the UK and the European Union have started making plans for 5G but no one's sure what it will be yet. In the case of Ofcom, part of their 5G frequency plan includes digital dividend spectrum in the 700-MHz band.

So it's fair to say that the Samsung "5G" announcement is partly a marketing stunt to link the brand with "5G" and get some nice SEO metrics.

That's not to say they haven't achieved something impressive. What they've done - potentially, anyway - is found a way to make millimeter-wave work as a RAN access technology.

This is a fairly big deal, because so far, in terms of cellular, millimeter-wave (which sits in the 30-300 GHz spectrum range, so technically Samsung's technology is somewhere between millimeter-wave and microwave) has been thought of primarily as a backhaul solution, particularly for small cells. But millimeter-wave just doesn't have the propagation to work at the power levels where cellular access technology operates.

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