5G marketing echoes the hype around 3G and 4G: ICANN CTO

5G has 'some interesting potentials', but whether the hype can become reality will depend on telcos being able to recoup the costs , says ICANN's David Conrad.
Written by Stilgherrian , Contributor

In theory, 5G mobile technology will provide higher bandwidth and greater availability, and cover large swathes of previously untouched territory.

"I have some scepticism," says David Conrad, chief technology officer of the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

"A lot of that feels to me like some of the same arguments you heard with 4G and 3G going back. It's all part of a marketing effort," Conrad told ZDNet.

5G has "some interesting technology" and "some interesting potentials", but according to Conrad, the fixed amount of 5G spectrum is "incredibly expensive". Telcos would have to recover those costs by charging end users.

"Whether that translates into reality depends a lot on how it gets deployed, and what the operators choose to do, in terms of making it available," he said.

Conrad is also sceptical of predictions that the internet would become balkanised into a series of regional internets -- a Russian internet, a Chinese internet, a Western internet and so on.

"Things like that are in my view less likely because it begins to impact the network effect that you have with the internet ... that the advantage of a network grows with the number of interconnections that you have," he said.

"If you sort of partition yourself off from that you're actually reducing the value the network actually brings."

That doesn't mean we won't see efforts "to constrain traffic, to filter traffic", however.

The so-called Great Firewall of China (GFW) is the most obvious example, but many countries are attempting to limit the content available to its citizens.

Australian authorities have been ordering telcos to block gambling sites and terrorism-related material. The Singapore government has blocked news sites under its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).

"In many countries there are pressures by national governments, whether it's the government itself ... or they're individuals who believe there are certain parts of the internet that shouldn't be seen or be made available," Conrad said.

"There's a natural pressure for that to happen, and governments react to pressures... Politicians always have to, you know, be seen to be doing something."

IoT moves from beyond being 'just a security nightmare'

Conrad detailed further predictions at last month's Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies (APRICOT) in Melbourne.

He believes that by 2045, in 25 years' time, "internet connectivity will be largely mobile, high bandwidth and low latency".

"We are moving right now into 5G, whatever that marketing term means. In about 10 years we should be at 7G maybe 8G and that will do something, I don't know what." Conrad said.

"It seems unlikely that we'll be able to create more spectrum. For some reason the powers that be decided that spectrum is sort of fixed. But there'll probably be new technology advancement that is actually make 7G, 8G actually mean something."

He's fascinated by the possibilities of low earth orbit satellite methodologies such as SpaceX Starlink, OneWeb, Amazon's Project Kuiper, and China's Hongyan system.

"They're low earth orbit so you don't need a whole lot of transmission power to send. You would be able to have devices with relatively low battery consumption that will be able to receive those," he said.

Google's Project Loon plans for a network of stratospheric balloons is similarly interesting.

"What that implies in terms of regulatory environments is actually probably going to be a whole lot of fun to watch."

Conrad also believes that the Internet of Things (IoT) will move "from beyond being just a security nightmare to actually being able to provide some useful stuff".

"I actually believe that tech advances will mean that you don't need to have specialised devices with minimal stacks. They will actually be able to have a full stack, as much as you need to actually provide devices," he said.

"If Internet of Things security scares you today, just imagine having full stack Internet of Things devices all over the planet."

Disclosure: Stilgherrian travelled to Melbourne as a guest of the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) whose conference was held in conjunction with APRICOT.

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