As cell phone usage proliferated in the early years of the 21st century, so did news articles, conferences, trade shows, and other events public information about mobile technology. The table in the first figure indicated that a few carriers initiated 4G service in late 2010, with other carriers launching their 4G businesses in 2011. Less than a year later, some publications and organizations were talking about early work on 5G.
The ITU, a key standards organization, has published its timeline of 5G committee meetings. The ITU adopted the name “IMT-2020” for this work, saying, “In early 2012, the ITU-R embarked on a program to develop ‘IMT for 2020 and beyond,’ setting the stage for 5G research activities that are emerging around the world.” The first ITU committee meetings for discussing 5G were held in 2014. Draft reports on technology trends, feasibility, and a “Recommendation Vision of IMT beyond 2020” were released in 2015.
Since 2015, many carriers, equipment suppliers, university laboratories, and other organizations have publicized their work on 5G, including laboratory and field trials. Some groups have expressed a competitive motivation, saying they wanted to remain at the forefront of international work on 5G. Many groups emphasized that 5G would be linked to new business areas such as IoT and would have potential for new services and new revenue streams.
As noted previously, the GSA statistics on carrier projects suggest that 5G is moving as rapidly or possibly more rapidly than 4G did in its transition from trials to deployment. But it seems that the news is carrying more articles about 5G in the past two or three years than were carried about 4G eight to ten years earlier. This may result from the frequent association of 5G with IoT, autonomous vehicles, and other advanced technologies that are also in the news.
The table shows the number of Google search “hits” or items found. This tally is not rigorous or scientific, but it provides some measure of 5G as a “hot topic,” compared with other telecom technologies, and other advanced technologies. The table shows “all items” found along with “news items.” The latter refers to instances where the key word appears in a news publication, a blog, or the news pages of a company’s website. We have duplicated these Google searches for the same key words in each of the last three years. This experience shows that key words associated with products, especially consumer products, get many hits. A search for “smartphone” for example, resulted in over three billion items, and over 1 billion news items.
Google’s search function itself has been the subject of recent news articles, and Google has said that it is continually revising its algorithm. This means that the results from one year to the next may reflect changes in the search algorithm rather than changes in the actual amount of publicity. For example, the table shows significant jumps from 2017 to 2018 in the number of news items found for most topics. For most of the technologies queried, this jump was about one order of magnitude – far greater than the increase from 2016 to 2017.
Acknowledging the imprecision in using a web search engine to quantify publicity on different topics, we offer two tentative conclusions. First, 5G has approximately as many hits and slightly more news items than LTE, which has been in trials for deployment for about 10 years longer. Second, 5G appears to be as prominent in the news as other telecom technologies and other advanced technologies. These conclusions together may suggest that 5G will bring a more prominent shift in communication network capabilities than 4G.
The World Economic Forum (WEF), based in Geneva, Switzerland, has promoted the view that the world economy is entering a fourth industrial revolution, and 5G networks are a key element in this shift. According to WEF presentations and publications, the world’s main industrial revolutions can be summed up as follows:
The WEF is an independent, not-for-profit organization with a staff of 600, including many industry leaders, economists, former political leaders, and financial experts. The WEF’s members and partners include major corporations, financial institutions, scientific organizations, and other non-profit organizations. One of the WEF’s activities is the well-publicized annual conference for world business leaders and politicians in Davos, Switzerland. In addition to this, the WEF organizes many regional meetings, working groups, and topical events. The WEF also has projects to provide information and governance, to promote policies and support government decisions, and to educate investors and other decision makers.
For communications network operators and cable manufacturers, it is not critical to agree that a group of today’s advanced technologies represents a fourth industrial revolution. The key point here is that communication networks and especially 5G networks are widely seen as instrumental in other industries. Going forward, these networks will carry new types of traffic, will link new types of devices or “end-users,” and will carry vastly more traffic.
A 2017 publication from the WEF (The Global Risks Report 2017) included a list of 12 key emerging technologies:
ICT company executives have said they expect the first three technologies on this list to rely extensively on 5G technologies. The fourth item, additive manufacturing, and some of the other items will require storage, transmission, and real-time use of large digital files. These items therefore may need the capacity, mobility, or ubiquity of 5G networks. Other items, such as energy capture, storage, and transmission, may not need the bit rates and latency of 5G networks but may benefit from the density (number of users per area) of 5G.
A WEF paper based on its January 2018 annual meeting reported the following forecast: “Economists estimate the global economic impact of 5G in new goods and services will reach $12 trillion by 2035 as 5G moves mobile technology from connecting people to people and information, towards connecting people to everything.” To put this estimate in perspective, we note that the 2017 GDP of all countries in Western Europe totaled $18 trillion. Or, the 2017 GDP of all countries outside of North America, Europe, and China totaled $13 billion. The substantial contribution of 5G means that mobile telecom in general will make a greater contribution to world GDP than current mobile technologies.
The WEF also cited a 2017 research paper, “How important are mobile broadband networks for global economic development?” completed with the University College of London and published in June 2017. The paper said, “on average, a 10 percent increase of mobile broadband adoption causes a 0.6–2.8 percent increase in economic growth, depending on the model specifications. In 2016 alone, this equated to anywhere between US$500 billion to $2 trillion worldwide.” The WEF says, “Today we are on the brink of the next big technology shift: 5G. As with all major advances, 5G is discussed with everything from exaggerated scepticism to overstated excitement. We are excited.”
The source of the WEF’s excitement: the characteristics of 5G that allow 5G to support human communications as well as machine interactions. Specifically, the latency and high speeds will “allow factories to cut cables to their machines and put more intelligence into the cloud,” as noted in the WEF’s paper. [Note: italics are from this article’s editor. “Cutting cables” likely refers to communications and control cables, but not power cables.]