Are you underwhelmed by 5G?

5G has promised us speeds that would allow us to stream a 4K resolution video while on the move. We were promised that it would provide super fast downloads, and many of the biggest telecoms networks have made some variation on the claim of having the fastest, best, or most expansive 5G network available. Yet, in the USA, most 5G users have been underwhelmed, writes AJ Dellinger in Forbes.

Speedcheck research sheds light on how regulatory decisions, geo-political tensions, and suboptimal network configurations have resulted in 5G download speeds that were only 2.7 times faster than 4G speeds. This is rather less than the 100x faster as promised. Worse still, Speedcheck states “in 1 out of 8 US cities where 5G was available last year, 4G-connected users could browse the Internet faster than 5G-connected ones, leaving many 5G-phone owners puzzled.” It adds, “A more in-depth analysis of the same data reveals that 5G users experienced substantially faster connections in only 69% of the cities where the new technology was deployed in 2020, and in the other 31% of cities, “the new cellular technology was either slower or only moderately faster than 4G.” These results certainly don’t encourage anyone to buy a 5G- enabled phone just yet.

Why is 5G not delivering on its promises?

In the USA regulatory decisions about 5G came late to launching the necessary C-band frequencies (that is airwaves between 3.4GHz and 4.2GHz) which are key to the technology. So the US networks had to rely on lower frequencies, which work over long distances but deliver slow speeds.

Then there was the issue with Chinese-owned Huawei, which America deemed a national security risk. This meant the deployment of 5G was put on hold in many places, as networks had to find other suppliers, which delayed the commercial launch of 5G.

Lastly, there were sub-optimal network configurations. The majority of the initial 5G deployments in the US were Non-Stand-Alone (NSA), meaning that the new networks were aided by existing 4G infrastructures and this resulted in a 4G-like experience for consumers.

However, the US may experience a turning point in 2021 as the US Federal Commission Communications (FCC) completed a spectrum auction that will provide an injection of highly desired C-band spectrum (that is a mid-frequency) for 5G deployment in the country. These new frequencies should finally bring the dramatic shift in 5G performance – fingers crossed, phones at the ready!

The practical uses of AI and 5G

There has been, and continues to be, a lot of talk about the advantages of artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G. Not everyone is convinced, and there is a swathe of people who fear both technologies, although often for different reasons. Perhaps they would be more convinced about their benefits if they grasped the practical uses.

Smart automation is one of them. Automation’s aim is to reduce human error, as well as maximise productivity. In the case of ‘smart automation’, AI provides the ‘smarts’ by analyzing a series of tasks and streamlining them. By combining this with 5G, mobile service providers would be able to “offer simpler activations, higher performance and the rapid deployment of new services, according to Will Townsend and Moor Insights. This would increase revenues and provide an enhanced user experience, thanks to more reliable network connections.

Townsend also believes that AI would “enable network operators to move from reactive to proactive issue resolution.” The technology would allow them to evaluate huge amounts of data when troubleshooting any network anomalies, while “5G should enable networks to better handle these predictive functions’ complexity and support significantly more connected devices.” Townsend also thinks, “one of the most significant impacts of AI in mobile networks will be the reduction of subscriber churn.” That is interesting, as building and retaining a customer base is critical for telecoms companies.

Both AI and 5G will undoubtedly speed up digital transformation in businesses. The need for this has become more apparent in 2020, with legions of employees working from home. As a result, the networks have been under significant pressure “from a scalability, reliability and security perspective.” What has ensued is connectivity infrastructure providers are embracing AIOps for its potential to supercharge DevOps and SecOps.

Lastly, AI and 5G in both the consumer and enterprise markets will vastly transform the user experience. For example, “AI has the potential to reduce the number of subscriber service choices, presenting the most relevant ones based on past behaviour,” Townsend says. This will in turn build greater loyalty among subscribers, as well as more monetization opportunities for the operator.

In conclusion, there is a great deal of synergy between AI and 5G. It will mean mobile networks are not simple the means of access to data. AI promises to also “improve new device provisioning, deliver high application and connectivity performance, accelerate digital transformation and provide exceptional user experiences.” As Townsend says: it’s a win-win for everyone.