April 15, 2021

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5G is not just a radio

5G continues to generate headlines. All the talk about 5G radios is
interesting, but those radios are only part of the 5G story. As I dig
deeper, the story becomes stranger and stranger, with the radios distracting
us from the issues of 5G networking protocols and policies. I'm concerned
about the risks of accepting the idea that we need a 1970s style
telecommunications network. It's the triumph of marketecture over
architecture. Why isn't that story being covered?

There is a risk in treating the Internet as just another telecommunications
service (relegated to the slow lane). It's just the opposite—or should
be. A phone call is just an app and not a network service. What happened to
all we've learned about best-efforts packet connectivity? Why is our policy
at odds with reality? The consequence is to limit our ability to communicate
and innovate.

Another risk is expertise creep. I respect the expertise of radio engineers.
But that doesn't mean that they are experts in the software and business
protocols for connected devices and applications. Remember that telecom
engineers told us we needed a special network for voice until VoIP
happened. Today we're again being told that we need a special network for
applications such as video and connected devices even though we're doing
just fine without one. More to the point, we're doing just fine because we
can innovate outside of the network, and that's a problem for the legacy
business model. Requiring a SIM cheap creates unnecessary dependencies and
opportunities for failure.

I could go on, but there is so much weirdness that I wrote a whole column
asking why the IEEE has fixated on 5G as the one future. For the deep dive
into 5G https://rmf.vc/IEEE5GPast.