Virtualisation of the network through slicing is appealing for IoT and enterprise applications – but many of these benefits can be realised in 4G or previous incarnations using innovative core network architectures and creative thinking.
Under the hood, the reinvention of the underlying signalling protocols and architecture intrinsic to 5G is touted as facilitating integration and innovative use cases – but it’s still hugely complex, mysterious and inaccessible for most practical purposes. Vendors (who are instrumental in the redefinition of these standards) are of course rubbing their hands with glee as customers rebuild their networks yet again. Then there are the spectrum implications and the knock-on effects on coverage which present another set of challenges and costs.
From an engineering perspective there are of course significant benefits to 5G – particularly when it comes to utilising a cloud-based architecture for the core network - with corresponding benefits to scalability, agility and efficiency. And, there is no getting away from the fact that future use cases – such as connected cars – will require 5G to deliver on the performances promises. It is the future – that is not in doubt.
However, LTE/4G is far from being on its ‘last legs’ – and 3G/2G are not dead yet or even ready to fully retire. Many benefits associated with 5G can be realised with these earlier technologies by applying 5G-style thinking, and there is significant longevity and untapped value in these previous generations of technology if we shade our eyes from the glare of 5G for a moment. The old, loyal dogs remain ready to learn new tricks.