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What is 5G? It’s whatever marketing wants it to be

Posted by Darren Willsher on 11th November 2014

Anyone with even a passing interest in telecoms will have noticed the deluge of stories on 5G in the last few months. From the UK’s 5G research centre through to companies claiming all manner of firsts, it seems as though every other story suddenly has some sort of 5G angle.

And why not – it’s a nice sexy topic (well, sexy for telecoms) and since there was much excitement over 4G, surely 5G will mean that whole 4K movies will download before we’ve even asked for them and the entire internet will be at our fingertips?

No one knows

The first issue with 5G is that nobody really knows what it is yet. 5G doesn’t mean a set speed or ability to download anything quickly. It’s actually a complicated set of standards and architectures that need to be defined and agreed, and the fact remains that it’s still very early days in this process.

In fact just last month a rep from Alcatel-Lucent called the race for 5G “ridiculous”, pointing out that the enhancements in 5G may be completely different to those currently being discussed.

You may also be wondering why the industry is talking so much about 5G networks when a lot of the UK is yet to see 4G, and you’d have a point. Many parts of what was defined as 4G are yet to appear in most networks, particularly in the UK, and even the basic 4G networks are still being deployed.

Not the point

Yet this all misses the point – while those in the know will be spending the next few years arguing over the finer points of what 5G actually is (there’s still argument over 4G), the fact remains that the first 5G networks will be whatever an operator’s marketing department decides to make them.

Looking back to some of the first 4G networks in the US, we saw claims of 4G for a network that was essentially just a quick version of 3G and there’s still debate over whether anything pre LTE-Advanced is actually true 4G.


With the massive amounts of investment required in upgrading and maintaining networks, operators are going to need to think up an easy way of telling subscribers about the changes they’ll be seeing – a point made recently by Keith Dyer.

While LTE-advanced and terms such as carrier aggregation might mean good things to the industry, they’re just not going to get consumers excited. 5G on the other hand is something consumers automatically associate with improved speeds and features. That’s why, even if we won’t see ‘real’ 5G networks for at least another 5 or 6 years, we’re likely to see the term creep into adverts much sooner.

photo credit: johaneko

Darren Willsher

Darren has been with Wildfire for six years and is one of the driving forces behind the agency’s telecoms and networking portfolio, with experience working on a range of international, multi-channel accounts including CSR, Picochip (now Mindspeed), Real Wireless, The Small Cell Forum, Samsung and Allied Telesis.