How 5G Is Shaped By Narrative and MythOur perspective powerfully influences how we see things
We all use narratives and sometimes myths to organize our thinking. According to WikiDiff,
… the difference between narrative and myth is that narrative is the systematic recitation of an event or series of events while myth is a traditional story which embodies a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon…
It is important to be aware and careful of the narratives we use. It is even more important to be reflective of the myths we follow. Myths, with their attendant belief systems, have a greater impact on our perceptions and actions than narratives. The stories we use to frame our understanding of the facts about a topic highlight some areas but blind us to others. We should think about topics that matter using a variety of perspectives in order to avoid getting trapped by the shortcomings of our preferred perspective. Each narrative or myth draws attention to some areas and possibilities but mutes or totally hides others.
The vision for 5G (5th generation) mobile wireless, IMT-2020, was developed in the ITU-R (International Telecommunication Union – Radio), building on its successful guidance of 4G and earlier mobile radio services. In 2015, the ITU-R published Recommendation M.2083, “IMT Vision – Framework and overall objectives of the future development of IMT for 2020 and beyond.” Here’s the opening sentence of the document’s scope section:
This Recommendation defines the framework and overall objectives of the future development of International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) for 2020 and beyond in light of the roles that IMT could play to better serve the needs of the networked society, for both developed and developing countries, in the future.
As this statement makes clear, 5G started with a vision based on a set of beliefs, values and value judgments about how future mobile communication might best serve society. These beliefs are axiomatic and adopted by faith. There is evidence to support these beliefs but they cannot be proven. All great visions are based on beliefs about what is good and bad. Those pursuing a vision do so based on their faith in the vision.
The vision arises from a myth. For the ITU-R, it is their beliefs about social needs and how mobile communications might benefit society. It includes a consensus view of what will be technically possible by 2020. The vision then gives birth to one or more narratives. For IMT-2020 one narrative is that the parameters chosen will faithfully implement the vision and benefit society. A second narrative is that IMT-2020 will support a variety of business cases. The belief is that companies that invest their resources to developing products and services for IMT-2020 will benefit financially as they also serve society.
In his book, The 5G Myth: When Vision Decoupled from Reality, William Webb takes exception to what he views as unrealistic hype. His preface begins,
The first edition of this book was published in November 2016 – a time when the anticipation and expectation from 5G was enormous. The term “5G” permeated almost every major announcement from the wireless telecommunications industry; governments, politicians, and international bodies all wanted to be associated with the future vision it promised. The book attempted to bring some pragmatic reality to a world where hype and optimistic thinking appeared to predominate.
As Webb demonstrates, there is room to debate the validity of the myth and the narratives that guide the development of IMT-2020.
The ITU-R focused on three service categories in a 2015 white paper and then again in a white paper in 2020:
· Mobile Broadband
· Massive machine type communications (mMTC)
· Ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC)
It measured 5G using eight parameters that are important for those services:
· Traffic capacity
· Peak data rate
· User experienced data rate
· Spectrum efficiency
· Connection density
· Network energy efficiency
The figure below is Figure 1 from IMT-2020 Usage Scenarios:
Specific services within the triangle of the three general service categories are:
· Gigabytes of user data in a second
· 3D video and ultra-high-definition (UHD) screens
· Cloud based services for work or play
· Augmented reality
· Industrial automation
· Mission critical applications
· Self-driving cars
· Telephony and voice services
· Smart home and buildings
· Smart cities
That this list is not complete is obvious from the failure to mention the use of mobile wireless for healthcare delivery. More important is the failure to mention currently unknown innovations that will arise. Every generation of technology has created the potential for entirely new and unthought of innovations. People are creative. Innovations are a regular occurrence. Some innovations prove extremely popular or profitable and grow with explosive speed. There are both foreseen and unforeseeable consequences to every new use of technology.
We are not particularly good at predicting the future. We can observe an effort like 5G, IMT-2020 and see the resources being put into it. With fair confidence we can predict that 5G will be developed and deployed. However, as 5G is deployed there will be innovation, unforeseen consequences, societal changes, and exogenous events.
Enabling 5G is the impressive growth of computing power in the wireless network. Processors and software are not only faster than previous generations but they also have capabilities that earlier generations totally lacked. Wireless communication devices are increasingly software driven and because of that, they are adaptable.
The first mobile devices were hardware-based devices with fixed functionality. 5G devices are software-based devices with flexible functionality. This new generation of devices can be radically changed through a software update.
The computing capability of new generations of wireless devices provide a fertile area for innovation. Creative people explore the new ideas that might be enabled by the greater computing capability of these devices. With the advances of IMT-2020, the computing capability need not be in the device itself. The heavy calculations and analysis can be done in the cloud, with the device receiving the results. Hence, small battery-powered devices can behave as if they contained tremendous computing power.
Arrogant ignorance is the failing we want to avoid. We cannot know the future. We may be able to predict some aspects of the future. We must plan based on our best estimates. However, none of us knows what society will be in 5 or 10 years. What may look greatly beneficial today may prove to be very harmful. We need to carry our predictions with humility and a significant degree of uncertainty. We must be ready to adapt, to review our beliefs and adjust them.
The mythology followed by the ITU-R in creating IMT-2020 has resulted in the form 5G mobile communications is now taking. The collective belief of those participating in the development of 5G is that it will benefit both society and the companies that invest in the development of 5G products and services. To a large degree these beliefs may prove to be true. It is also certain that there will be surprises. The society that will receive 5G is different from that which existed when IMT-2020 was planned. Flaws in the vision and planning will be revealed. Unintended consequences will develop. The value in knowing one’s myths and narratives is that they are more easily adjusted as the future unfolds.
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