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2020: The year wireless got connected

Paul Brislen, Editor. 28 October 2020, 12:32 pm

While 2020 is likely to be remembered for a host of other reasons, this year has seen a surge in interest in all things wireless, and could mean an end to the digital divide for the more remote internet users around the world.

Satellite technology has seen a giant leap forward, much to the chagrin of the astronomy community, with the launch of dozens of small broadband satellites by Elon Musk, soon to be joined by a similar fleet owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, not to mention the ever popular whacky racers' offering.

We can expect competition to presumably bring down prices and offer a competitive alternative to the services seen today but at the cost of a clean night sky with little visible evidence of our existence.

But equally here on Planet Earth we have a surge in 5G deployments that hopefully are going ahead despite the noise from the conspiracy theorists, who seem to have calmed down somewhat of late. With both Spark and Vodafone steadily increasing their footprints (Vodafone is  now offering the first 5G roaming capability which will be useful should we ever be allowed out again) and 2Degrees weighing up its options having hired a former Vodafone and Apple executive, the market is heating up.

And now both Android and Apple have 5G-capable devices on board, we can expect to see more users, more services and more demand for capacity than ever before.

But of course the real selling point in 5G isn't the faster cat videos beamed to your mobile phone or tablet - it's the real-time, low-latency capability delivered to industrial products and services and that's a market that has yet to really burst into life.

While faster video is always welcome to the end user, the load/launch time for the same video from the same server delivered over 5G won't be dramatically different an experience to one delivered over 4G, so we can expect to see plenty of "what's the point?" commentary.

The real benefit of 5G is the support for thousands of users versus 4G's hundreds of users for the same amount of spectrum and spend, and of course its extremely low latency. That will be of particular interest to fixed-wireless providers in rural and remote areas as real-time services require high speed and low latency.

Sadly for those users who pin their hopes on satellite, latency will be an issue. Bouncing a signal up to a satellite, down to an earth station, up to the satellite and down to the user is going to be significant in terms of lag, so for gamers or those using secure services that require constant reassurance, the increased offerings won't necessarily translate to increased capability.


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