Samsung made some noise this morning with the announcement that it has successfully tested "the world's first 5G mmWave Mobile Technology" network. According to the press release, Samsung's "5G" technology enables "data transmission at speeds higher than 1Gbps" — that’s over 10 times faster than current LTE speeds. But what is 5G? And what does Samsung’s test actually represent?
The test relies on the 28GHz band — a wavelength traditionally inaccessible due to instability and poor range — and utilizes a complex antenna array to deliver impossibly high data speeds. Although Samsung’s technological advance here appears to fix the instability issues, range is still a problem. A Samsung report (hosted by IEEE) on mmWave says the technology has a tiny range, often more comparable to Wi-Fi than the large throw of a mobile network. Samsung itself claims a 2km (1.2 mile) maximum range with its mmWave test, a figure that is likely to fall dramatically when buildings are involved.
The high speeds Samsung demonstrated are also far from unprecedented. Such speeds have already been reached in a 2005 field test by Japan's NTT DoCoMo using 4G tech, followed by a 5Gbps peak transmission in 2007. These tests do little more than show the peak performance levels of technologies — 1Gbps was supposed to be the peak target for LTE Advanced, an iteration of LTE that's coming next year — and today's announcement, 5G hubris aside, is more about the viability of mmWave than anything else.
"5G" is literally meaningless
It's not a big surprise to see Samsung set up these kinds of tests — it's a major supplier of infrastructure equipment to the wireless industry, and the company claims its technology will be commercialized by 2020.
Indeed, there's every chance that we'll see mmWave become part of our carriers' networks at some point, but what of "5G?" It's literally a meaningless term: no international standards body such as the ITU has defined what 5G is, what it could be, or how fast it should be. Samsung says "5G mobile communications technology is the next generation of the existing 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network technology," claiming that it should reach "data transmission speeds of up to several tens of Gbps per base station." That's all very well, but it's not Samsung's job to define industry terms. As we learned with 4G, however, you can never have too many Gs, and we're likely to see plenty of other companies jump on the 5G bandwagon before long.