Qualcomm on Monday announced a detailed concept of a 5G use case involving not just the millimeter-wave spectrum that's an inevitable part of the new telecom equation but also sub-6GHz bands. The company claims that combination can replace broadband and has already developed it to the point of a reference design.
The move toward fixed-wireless access technologies is anything but surprising seeing how such setups are essentially the first "real" thing the industry can deliver, not because of standards being half-baked (they won't change a lot between now and complete commercialization) but because the infrastructure is far from ready to support them on a massive scale.
Some countries are closer to deployment than others, with the United States, South Korea, Japan, China, and Australia presently investing in 5G technologies most aggressively. And yet gigabit-grade wireless speeds reachable from the streets of one's city will only become a reality long after broadband is threatened by 5G, some analysts believe.
At the same time, others are skeptical about FWA solutions from the price-to-value ratio and believe deploying such technologies will require hardly offsettable losses in many developed nations, the U.S. included. The commercial viability of FWA has been a topic of heated debates for years now and while the relatively straightforward nature of the technology already makes it a somewhat realistic near-term goal, the example of Verizon and its 5G Home network shows that pursuing it is still far from a simple affair, with negative publicity being just one of many concerns stemming from those initiatives.
No, 5G Home isn't based on any standard the 3GPP so much as gleaned at and while the final product will certainly be faster, reliability remains a concern, regardless of whether Verizon can be blamed for its self-proclaimed "5G" degrading the public perception of the new standard by a significant margin of not. Qualcomm's Monday press event saw company officials argue that its FWA tech will have no issues competing against any contemporary rival, including fiber connectivity.
With a reference design meant to help manufacturers ease themselves into the world of fifth-generation networks, Qualcomm will be expecting them to embrace the technology and ensure proper testing takes place, paving way for optimization and truly mobile communications.
How long that period "between Gs" lasts for remains to be seen but according to initial estimates, don't expect anything shorter than a year and a half. The smartphones that do get released in the meantime are likely to exhibit some issues with battery life and possibly even stability, as was the case with every wireless network update that preceded the 5G jump in the modern era. The new wireless standard is particularly cumbersome in terms of processing and requires much larger modems in order to be properly leveraged. What that means is that devices designed to utilize it will either be physically thicker or use lower-capacity batteries in order to look the part of their predecessors, which will in turn negatively impact their autonomy.
Smartphone makers are naturally underplaying those concerns but the fact that remains is that buying 5G handsets released in the next twelve months or so will be risky business and if Qualcomm's own near-term plans are any indication, you won't even need them in order to take advantage of the first truly widespread application of the new technology – FWA, i.e. better broadband for your home.