Patience kiddies: When 5G finally arrives, it’ll have something for everyone

5G networks are sort of like unicorns. Folks talk about them but they don’t exist. The difference is that 5G technology will be real in five to 10 years and it’s actually important for vendors and users to discuss it now as they formulate wish lists for the next-gen network infrastructure.

“We talk 5G now and in 5 years we’ll start seeing deployments [but] we need to be paving the road,” said Vish Nandall, senior vice president of strategy and CTO for Ericsson(S adr) North America, one of the companies contributing to what will eventually become a 5G standard.

One big design point for this networking technology of the future will be its ability to handle billions upon billions of connected devices — the growing internet of things, Nandall told attendees of GigaOM Mobilize 2013 on Wednesday.

And oddly enough, given that some of those devices will be sensors feeding small bits of data the network may be slower than current network infrastructure.”If you look at a sensor net for monitoring wildlife or trees or whatever, you’ll have sensors on and off at different points — they can’t always be on because of battery capacities and they may handle minimalistic traffic reporting on some stats so you don’t need huge throughput,” he said.

The advantage of a slower network is it can handle more of these devices, he said.

Of course slower is not something consumers want. They want super-fast networks so they can view movies on their iPhones, which is one reason 5G will end up being a multifaceted, layered network, Nandall said.

What will be transformative about 5G will be its ability to offer different capabilities for different traffic types. “It will be able to stack on different radio access technologies on one network — to serve the industrial internet as well as Facebook,” he said.

For some applications — say a floodgate switch in a dam — the notion of a “dropped call” cannot be tolerated, while an interruption to one’s Twitter feed might be. The thing to remember, Nandall said, is that whatever 5G becomes, it will not be monolithic. “There will be different types of 5G for different types of traffic.”

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

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A transcription of the video follows on the next page