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Who is Samsung trying to kid? There will NEVER be a 5G network

Not just satellites nobbling 'fifth-gen' smartmobes

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Analysis There will almost certainly never be a "5G" mobile broadband network, but that hasn't stopped Samsung using the trendy moniker to describe its 1Gbit-per-second wireless experiments.

The South Korean giant managed to achieve that data transfer rate through two kilometres of air in the 28GHz radio band, thanks to some advanced antenna boffinry. The Android smartphone maker declared it a "5G" breakthrough.

Too bad such an ultra-high-speed mobile internet service will never exist under that name in all likelihood. Let's look at what we have today: "3G" is already a regional term - quite how it works depends on where you live in the world - and the definition of "4G" has fragmented to the point where some network operators won't bother using the term at all.

Slapping "5G" on the outdoor experiment is just a headline-grabbing technique that means nothing - and that's a shame for the boffins at Samsung who have probably done something quite clever that has been obscured by the hyperbolic claim.

The technology in question allows the use of the relatively unpopulated 28GHz band, mitigating atmospheric signal loss with 64 dynamically adjusting antenna elements. Impressive stuff, but hardly enough to justify the language with which gadget maker announced it:

"Samsung’s new technology will allow users to transmit massive data files including high quality digital movies practically without limitation" explains the announcement, focusing in on the adaptive antenna which apparently "sits at the core of 5G mobile communications" which will enable "a wide range of services such as 3D movies and games, real-time streaming of ultra high-definition (UHD) content, and remote medical services".

But don't throw away your existing kit just yet because even Samsung reckons 5G isn't going to happen until 2020, and that's assuming one accepts Samsung's definition of what "5G" is.

The newspapers and telly news led with the "5G" breakthrough claim, although some clever chaps at the University of Surrey managed to get a word in to explain that Samsung's demonstrated radio tech was just one piece of a phone network jigsaw. Those academics should know: they're spending more than £11m in government cash, along with private sponsorship, to find out what technologies will dominate the future iterations of wireless connectivity.

The next generation is already here: known as 4G or 4G LTE, it has been deployed in the US in the 700MHz band; the UK is waiting for Freeview TV to shift out of the way to free up the airwaves for 4G networks. The Wi-Fi Alliance wants the "4G" name for its 802.11ac wireless networking, New Yorkers are trying to put 5G in the even-higher 80GHz band, and Japan claims 5G should rightly run at 11GHz.

Some networks are even calling LTE Advanced "5G", despite the fact that LTE Advanced is a collection of technologies several of which haven't been developed let alone deployed.

Getting terrestrial connections working at 28GHz is impressive, but unlikely to be used for mobile phones any time soon given its lack of penetration through solid materials - Samsung has it working through the atmosphere, but pushing it through walls and buildings is equally important.

The 28GHz band is filling up with satellite communications, as such signals that spend most of their time in a vacuum and are strictly line-of-sight, but there is lots of unused bandwidth in the upper bands waiting for the right technology to utilise it.

Mobile signals need to penetrate buildings, or bounce off them to find a reflected route, so a combination of high and low frequencies along with reflection techniques will be needed to provide ubiquitous coverage. The 28GHz slot may well prove useful, but not any time soon and not "and the core of 5G". ®

Bill Ray is a former telecommunications engineer and a long-time mobile technology correspondent at The Register.

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