EDITOR’S NOTE: Since I am in Los Angeles this week for the Mobile World Congress Americas, I thought it might be fun to pull up an old column I wrote many years ago as the Technical Editor of RF Design. This column is dated August 2000. Funny, change 3G to 5G and my how the more things change, the more they stay the same. While 5G will happen, just at 3G did, the issues remain, largely, the same.
August, 2000 — Do I have your attention? Recall that, in January, I penned a column taking a rather controversiallook at the future of third-generation (3G) wireless. I pointed out the rising opinion that 3G is just a hyped platform being promoted by the players because they need to sell the technology to justify its further development.
I said it is an archetype of the technology trying to create the demand, instead of the market driving the technology.
Well, I’m at it again. In a recent issue of eWeek, I came across an interview with Martin Cooper.
For those of you who may be new to the RF industry, Cooper is widely credited with being the father of the cellular industry. He is also one of the people I admire most in this industry.
So, when I read that Cooper thinks 3G is a hoax (can you tell that I happen to agree?), I felt my existence, as an editor, justified.
For a long time, I have held the position that 3G, or 4G, or 4000G, or whatever, is too convoluted in its current state. I think the players are promoting smoke and mirror technology, supported by vaporware.
Cooper states “nobody has yet explained to me what 3G does, that is significantly better than 2G.” He’s right. Current digital-based data services are extremely bandwidth limited. A proposed 3G channel with a 10 megahertz bandwidth really only has a raw data rate of little over 1 Mbps, after you subtract out the overhead – hardly a data rate to raise my heartbeat to begin with.
Next, you have to share this paltry data rate with lots of users. Hasn’t the reality of 56 kbps modems sunk in yet? And how many of us have become full DSL speed demons, in spite of what the telcos are wanting us to believe (ditto for cable modems)?
So with more and more skepticism and less and less reality, where is the future of wireless communications, really?
For one thing, the players have to start getting real. It’s time the major players behind GSM, TDMA, CDMA 2000 and other digital formats to sit down with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and other involved parties, take off the sparring gloves, bite the bullet and lose the politics.
It’s beginning to look like no one is going to win this battle. And, it’s time for everyone to work together on a common subsystem that can accommodate a digital infrastructure. The players need to build a low-level hardware layer that is fully interoperable with all of the hardware. It doesn’t matter what software is stacked on top of it, or what services it can offer. It’s not who, it’s what!
Believe me, I’ve written a number of articles dealing with an eye to the future of communications. But when I look back at stories I wrote five-years ago, I find that while the potential is there, the sad reality is that the products and services aren’t.
Here’s a great example. Our editor recently lost his cell phone in Boston. After getting back to Denver, he signed up for the latest and greatest offerings from Sprint. One of the services was access to the wireless Web. Well, after a quick five-minute setup to access it, he couldn’t. He thought it was because the Sprint system was busy. To be fair, the next morning he came to me and said he was finally able to access it. He wanted to show me, but I got tired of waiting as he attempted to enter his logon by using the keypad. I could have grown a new head of hair while waiting for him to enter any significant information on a telephone keypad! I’m sure the system would time-out long before I could log on.
And forget about multi-function Web services. Simple, reliable voice calls are still far from prime-time ready. Not a day goes by that I don’t either get dumped by the system or get a “busy” notification. It is hard for me to believe that the next generation of wireless devices is going to make such a quantum leap that it will provide a solid platform for bandwidth hungry services such as streaming multimedia.
I tolerate spotty service and digital dropout for only one reason – the convenience. However, I would hardly accept it if it were my primary means of communication. If you think I’ll accept such poor reliability with things like Web access, think again.
And, I still have to wonder who thinks that tiny 3 inch x 5 inch screens with 10 or 15 lines of text, or minimal graphics capability will be a viable platform for Web surfing and interactive multimedia.
Thanks Marty. You are a powerful ally in a world where making a statement such as “3G is a hoax” is considered blasphemy. If the next generation wireless purveyors had their way, we would be burned at the stake!