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It seems that I have always been ahead of my time. I had to wait nineteen years before Niagara was harnessed by my system, fifteen years before the basic inventions for wireless which I gave to the world in 1893 were applied universally. – Nikola Tesla

The Mythological 5G Smartphone

Why is everyone so excited about the latest Apple announcements for a new 5G smartphone? What do the new iPhone 12 series or the latest Android products from Google or Samsung really have to offer consumers when it comes to 5G?

I say, nothing at all.

The Canadian government has not even decided upon the spectrum for most of 5G technology as of yet, and they delayed the spectrum auctions even further (they say due to COVID, but I fail to see the logic of that argument?)

The mid band auctions are now rescheduled for June 2021 and the high band for the millimetre wavelength (mmWave) spectrum is now rescheduled for November 2021. Each process takes about five to six months to complete, so it will not be until 2022 until any winning Canadian mobility carriers have access to this mid and high band spectrum. Then, they need to build it all out in the major markets in Canada, so perhaps it will be 2024 to 2025 at best before it is available for consumer applications.

Which begs the question – “How can Apple say that this new iPhone 12 series of products are ready for the mmWave spectrum when we have no idea what that even is in Canada?”

In the USA (and Korea, the nice one), the high bands are known as 28 GHz and 38 GHz, so maybe Apple assumes that Canada will do exactly as the USA is doing (this logic has some merit), but the rest of the world appears to be going with 26 GHz, so will Canada follow Europe or the USA? I will refrain from commenting on the Canada-USA relations these days other than to say they are not as healthy as we have seen in the past. So, this makes the European approaches to 5G more compelling these days.

This is why I think it is a bad decision to buy any 5G smartphone now. The latest Android versions do not even accommodate the high bands at all, just low and mid bands. At least Android gets it and does not make false promises or ask the consumers to risk their money unwillingly on unknown spectrum.

So, will your new smartphone already be obsolete by the time real 5G cellular arrives in Canada? If Canada departs from the USA spectral plan or if you purchase a phone that does not permit the high band, it may be truly useless in a few short years.

The low band (under 1 GHz) is what Bell, Telus, and Rogers are deploying today and it is already capped at 25 Mbps in Bell’s Aliant roll-out underway in the Maritime provinces, which is what we already get in 4G. Why change to a 5G model if there is no speed advantage? What am I missing here?

These new smartphones start at over $1,000.00 CAD each, so it is a lot of money for something that we already have with the Apple iPhone 11 series or older models. For me, this Apple news, is not so newsworthy at all from the 5G hype perspective.

To add insult to injury, I have been told that the new Apple 12 series of the eminently popular iPhone will not even include the always standard cable and AC power adapter. Why? They say it is a movement towards being more ‘green’ but we all see it as a movement towards greater profits.

Apple please! Do not hide your unfathomable greed behind some trumped up ecological action. Absolutely no one is fooled and the extra $50+ to buy it as a mandatory accessory is unconscionable.

However, with the sole exception of the new camera features, which appears to be rather extraordinary, I see little common sense to spend money on these phone for the sake of 5G and its promise for enhanced performance.

As a diehard amateur photographer, I am very excited about these exquisite camera capabilities. It would be tantalizing to get my hands on these new still image and video capabilities. No argument from me on this point. However, the 5G hyped aspects are utter nonsense at this time.

It needs to be said that Bell and Rogers still hold a small chunk of mid band spectrum (2.5 GHz to 2.7 GHz) and they plan to start using it in 6 months or more for 5G. Once this swath of shared, lower mid band spectrum is deployed, download speeds can anticipated to be as high as 50 Mbps.

The frequency bands for 5G networks come in two sets. Frequency range 1 (FR1) is from 450 MHz to 6 GHz, which includes the LTE frequency range. Frequency range 2 (FR2) is from 24.25 GHz to 52.6 GHz. The mid band is generally assumed to be from 2.0 GHz to 6.0 GHz or in the sub-6 GHz range, which is the name for FR1 and the mmWave spectrum is the name for FR2.

The 5G media hype around 1 Gbps or the fantastical 10 Gbps is very far away and will likely never be realized for individual consumers. This is a theoretical maximum speed to be ‘shared’ amongst ALL users connected to the same cell tower. So, practical maximum download speeds of 300 Mbps to 400 Mbps will likely be all that we can realistically expect due to the carriers anticipated ‘throttling’ of the data rates in order to fairly share the connections. The users distance from the small cells locations that serve up these high speed mmWave connections is also a seriously limiting factor for speed. In urban and suburban areas, this is a most likely scenario. But, in rural and remote areas, the high bands will not likely be available whatsoever – never. This is due to physical density and range for coverage issues that for mobility applications will be nearly impossible to overcome. For fixed wireless access, it is expected to be better, but mobility is hard and may not ever be achievable.

So, for me, I will remain happy with my current iPhone 11 MAX Pro for at least another year or more. I want to learn what the Canadian government decides with the high band 5G spectrum before committing my money towards a new smartphone. We will know this frequency band next year if the schedule is not changed again.

If you have a much older iPhone, such as the 6 or 7, then you will see a serious boost in speed and functionality due to the advancement in the processor and display. But, buy the lowest cost model of the iPhone 12 and expect to upgrade it again in 2, 3, or 4 years to really gain the performance advantage that 5G promises us all.

If COVID has done anything, it has taught me to not chase the latest craze and perhaps has ended my unsatisfied madness and insane ‘techno lust’ fever once and for all. Which is too bad for Apple. Except for those crazy camera capabilities – Ou La La, they are so darn cool – I absolutely gotta have it…no, wait….I must resist….do not launch….fight it….

————————–MJM ————————–

About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).  He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.