Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
By Mike Gould
This episode is brought to you by the number 5 and the letter G.
As I write this, the infosphere is buzzing with the rumor that the Trump administration has been advised by the National Security Council to create a government-run 5G network, ostensibly to thwart the hacking of phone and data communications by the Chinese.
Still at the plausible-deniability stage, this plan is being roundly attacked by just about everybody in D.C., including the Republican head of the FCC. This would, after all, create the first federal network of anything since the establishment of the interstate highway system back during the Eisenhower administration.
I’ll leave the politics for others to argue, but what is the deal with all these G’s? We are currently in the 4G era, but what does this all mean?
The Big G Stands For Generation
Our story begins back in 1980 when the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Association formed a committee to develop networking standards for the various networks that now make up our telephone and data environment. Ethernet, the original communication standard for the internet was born in 1983.
This covers the protocols that enabled the world’s networks to link up and form the aggregate connected infomass that today supports email, the web, and everything else we take for granted in cyberland today. Because these specifications were world-wide in scope, everybody with an internet connection can talk to anybody else similarly wired (or wireless) around the globe. Meanwhile, the first mobile phone protocols were established and analog cell phones started to happen. This is now considered the first generation, or 1G era.
Next up are the technological breakthroughs that led to more advanced cellphones in 1992. Phones started using digital transmission instead of analog, and the first truly portable systems would now fit in your pocket (creating a large lump of flip phone, but hey, progress). The IEEE 802.11 protocol was introduced, which led to the development of wireless internet. Text is now available over phone lines.
Flash forward to 1998, and the third generation systems started to arrive. These allowed multi-media support; i.e., pictures and movies could now be shared wirelessly. And you can now connect to the internet as well as cell telephone towers. Speed is increased, enabling much more content to make it to and from your device.
The first iPhone is introduced in 2007, and it has built-in WiFi. It also only runs on 2G networks and above.
Long-Term Evolution technology was introduced in 2009. LTE is an upgrade to 3G that eventually came to be regarded as 4G. This enables high-speed communications and is what we are mostly dealing with today. I note on my iPhone that the upper left-hand menu bar says that I am getting two bars of ATT LTE. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but two bars gets my hot-spot linked computer onto the internet at sufficient speed to research this article, and then send it in to Editor Jan.
The rules aren’t hard and fast for G-ness; every 10 years or so newer stuff is thrown into the mix to improve speed, reliability, and bandwidth (how much content you can move into and out of your phone/pad/laptop per second.)
In 2013 the IEEE published the first article on what will become 5G in the fullness of technological time. They followed up in 2016 with an initiative to engage industry, academia, and government in the development of a unified set of standards for the emerging technology. This includes improvements in speed, security, and bandwidth.
So AT&T, Ericcson, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Verizon, among other companies, are now feverishly at work figuring out how this will all work together.
So Why Do We Need All This?
After all, my phone or iPad can now do 90% of what I need to create cybernetically, and I can talk and send photos at will down a cheezy 2-bar phone connection, so what the hey?
Well…there are a lot of other technologies waiting in the wings that need much faster movement of ones and zeroes to realize their potential. The big two: driverless cars and the Internet of Things (IoT).
In order for driverless cars to work properly, they will all need to talk to each other to send information about speed, nearness of other vehicles, and “Look out, I’m about to swerve into that ditch to avoid that bunny rabbit”. To make this happen, they obviously need to communicate wirelessly, and that data stream has to be as fast as possible to provide live updates on driving activities. So you need a big data pipe that can “talk” a lot of such data to other cars as well as to central highway monitors and the like.
I wrote about the Internet of Things back before it was called that, in 2013 (URL below). This business, you recall has to do with the way all your appliances will be internet-enabled and talking to each other (and you) about system readiness (“Garage door opener standing by”), maintenance issues (“Oven needs cleaning”), and state of the buttermilk in the back of the fridge, etc.. All this cyber-chatter will need more digital mojo to support it in a timely manner, hence the need for upgraded networking.
Which brings us back to the Chinese (or Russian, Eastern European, or other villain du jour) hacking that the National Security Council wants to protect us from. Needless to say, the 5G networks of the future will need a lot of many-layered security. But that is a tale for another time.
More about the White House memo about a nationalized 5G network:
Mike Gould is still limping along in the 4G era. Yet. He was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Macintosh Training/Photography mega-mall, is a laser artist, directs the Illuminatus Lasers, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.