Five “G’s” for 5G
Fifth generation or 5G wireless technology is the hype-fest of the year. But even hype can convey a reality. What is the real future of the five G’s?
Let me provide a relevant array of G’s as ever-increasing domains of the world economy are provided with sensors and wirelessly linked.
The first G is gigahertz, billions of cycles per second of electromagnetic radiation. Although some alleged 5G services from T-Mobile and others operate in the 600 to 800-megahertz spectrum bands, these are really fake fives. Compared to 4G links, which can run in the 2.4 to 5 gigahertz bands, megahertz 5G enhances chiefly the marketing.
In spectrum, the rule is that the higher the frequency the greater the bandwidth or capacity to bear information but also the greater the power needed to transmit it, and the shorter the distance the signal can reach. Capacity increases at the cost of coverage.
Defining 5G in general is a move up spectrum to millimeter waves between roughly 30 and 300 gigahertz with wavelengths in the millimeters. These high-powered frequencies can carry as much as 100 gigabits per second of information with delay or latency of under 10 milliseconds. They can connect hundreds of thousands or even millions more devices or “things” such as cars per square mile, but require thousands more and smaller antennas than 4G. Real 5G can operate at frequencies such as 26 to 28 gigahertz and even 60 gigahertz.
The second G is “G-spot,” the sweet spots for investment opportunity in this technology transformation as networks move up spectrum and become more powerful and pervasive. Perhaps the best 4G investment was Skyworks (SWKS), the supplier of power amplifiers and other devices for cellphones that have to convert signals in the picowatts into voices and images that users can process and understand. The noise-free precision of cellphone transceivers and amplifiers is a miracle indispensable for future networks. 5G and related technologies offer many analogous new investment opportunities in analog signal processing and low power electronics. Such as the third “G.”
The third “G” gallium arsenide, silicon germanium, and other “three-five” and two-six” chemical elements that will replace silicon in applications using millimeter waves. Gallium arsenide, for example, is four times faster than silicon and uses less power. The move to exotic materials means more business for foundries such as TowerJazz (TSEM) that can produce these chips in volume.
The fourth “G” is grids and graphics. And here is the rub. For indoor uses, 5G has a complement and rival called WiFi6. Wi-Fi has been pioneering mesh technologies that impart more coverage to its 6 gigahertz and WiFig 60 gigahertz links. These mesh networks promise to enable 3D graphics, augmented reality and virtual reality images that can improve the verisimilitude of communications, perhaps even crossing the uncanny valley between existing digital representations and reality. Growing ever more important in gaming and Internet platforms, these experiences are more suitable in indoor locations than in mobile outdoor applications.
A fifth “G” of 5G is General Robert Spalding, a fellow at the Hudson Institute and an aspiring 5G Paul Revere who rode through Washington last year warning of 5G as a Chinese Trojan Horse. Influential in the Trump Administration until he started urging something like government ownership and control of telecom, he made 5G seem like a “weapon of mass destruction.” From it in any future conflict, said the General, would emerge armies of bristling hackers and saboteurs. Particularly menacing would be Huawei equipment, alleged to hide “backdoors” for Chinese spies under an explicit law requiring all Chinese companies to cooperate with the nation’s Intelligence services.
One More for Good Measure
General Spalding had a point. If the US government wants to police military telecom systems such as missile control networks and naval communications, it should pay US and allied companies to provide the technology and test it. Capitalism is not a suicide pact. For defense and intelligence applications all governments sponsor specific projects and shield them from dependence on possibly adversarial suppliers.
Stopping trade with world-leading Chinese telecom gear makers, however, on the basis of an Intelligence cooperation law not fundamentally different from US laws would cripple US technology companies. Barring microchip makers, for example, from the world’s fastest growing technology market would crimp their profitability and progress. Thus, General Spalding’s 5G protectionism would damage US technology and security rather than enhance it.
Meanwhile, the sixth “G” is WiFi6 and 6E, the enhanced Wi-Fi standard that operates in the new 6 gigahertz band opened in April by the Federal Communications Commission for unlicensed use. Doubling the spectrum available for unlicensed uses, such as Wi-Fi, this new band opens a new horizon for entrepreneurial creativity in wireless communications.
Wi-Fi with its unlicensed bands and shared spectrum favors entrepreneurial innovation and technical advance in a way unsuited to heavily standardized and government guided exclusive 5G spectrum bands allocated in FCC auctions. One of the flaws of 5G is its attraction to governments and regulators.
WiFi6 is the arena for the inventors and improvisers who have always pioneered in new technologies.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy