Talk turns to 5G

After falling in love with the Bobolat Play connected tennis racquet yesterday, today started with another sporty revelation: the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea could be powered by a 5G network.

So while EE has been trumpeting its achievement of getting Wembley Stadium 4G connected, in a few short years a whole Olympic site could be 5G-ready. EU digital economy commissioner Gunther Oettinger also opened today’s conference programme with a speech entitled Road to 5G, in which he said that the future network infrastructure would become “THE infrastructure” – that will keep people always connected to a seamless online experience and “a perceived limitless capacity”.

“With 5G, telecom operators should be able to provide specialised network services to a series of new industry partners: from the automotive, to rail, health or energy sectors,” said Oettinger. “To guarantee that connected cars will be able to react in less than 1 millisecond and avoid collisions. Or that tele-medicine will save lives and not be stuck in traffic.”

With talk like that, it’s fair to say that today’s hype topic is 5G. And it’s very cool talk. The discussion is starting that will take the benefits of mobile connectivity far beyond the elimination of Kevin Bacon’s “buffer face”. We’re talking about the kind of infrastructure that could make driverless cars a reality. Or that could transform the NHS with real monitoring of our vital statistics. Or virtual personal assistants that really understand who we are and what we need at any given time.

Given that 3G and then 4G launched amid a stink of confusion, disappointing devices, and poor connectivity, mobile operators are understandably a bit taken aback by all this talk of 5G. Orange CEO Stephane Richard delivered a keynote this morning that shared Oettinger’s excitement about 5G really driving the “Internet of Everything”, but warned against getting ahead of ourselves. “Hang on everyone,” he didn’t say but probably thought. “We’ve just spent a fair few quid on getting people to use 4G.”

And it’s important to realise that today’s 5G hype is just that. It’s talk. Huawei and Qualcomm differed wildly in their discussion of the technology – Huawei keen to appear as though it’s powering ahead, while Qualcomm stressed that the technology isn’t even defined properly yet.

For me, though the start of this discussion is exciting. Lessons can be learnt from the patchy 3G and 4G rollouts. And by the time 5G rolls out, both the brains behind it and the consumers set to benefit from it will be so much more ‘native’ to mobile in their lives than any other time in the past, and hungry for Internet of Everything innovations.

We stumbled upon one such innovation from Ford at the show. It’s a prototype ebike that hooks up to a smartphone app to direct cyclists through busy cities. It’ll work to direct you, help avoid collisions, and take into account real-time traffic info and whether you’re best off folding up the bike and getting on the Tube.

5G will make stuff like this possible, so while it’s just talk for now, it genuinely has the potential to transform.

Share your thoughts of 5G, or whatever else has got you thinking at Mobile World Congress today – connect with us on Twitter @yodelmobile, and join our #mobilemarketingUK LinkedIn group.