Will 5G Repeat History of Railroads and Voice Networks?

By Gary Kim September 25, 2014

Michael Peeters, Alcatel-Lucent chief technology officer, argues 5G is not about the next generation of capacity and bandwidth, but an open, federated and “invisible” architecture able to support different platforms working together as a seamless whole.

In other words, the difference between fixed and mobile Wi-Fi and other local area communication methods would, from the standpoint of the user and the device, virtually disappear.

Future networks might ideally, also be able to match resources to support any usage pattern from low bandwidth smart meters to future generations of super high definition video.

In other words, 5G will be about creating a “network of networks,” much as earlier voice networks were islands that eventually were federated, or as Internet Protocol essentially federates disparate networks.

That evolution is rather natural for networks of all types. Early U.S. railroads were built using different gauges then standardized later.  

Some railways used a gauge of 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches mainly because U.S.  engineers expected to use a great many British locomotives, and that gauge was the U.K. standard.

Others chose different gauges. That obviously limited the ability to run engines and cars over tracks using different gauges.

But it was not initially seen to be a problem, because early American railroads were expected only to connect bodies of water that were impractical to connect with canals.

In other words, the railroad lines were seen as point-to-point in nature.

There is an analogy to the way firms buy cloud computing resources. Typically a buyer sources capacity from one cloud services supplier (Amazon, Google, Microsoft). It is difficult and even impossible at present to source workloads from multiple suppliers and use all the resources as though they were hosted by a single supplier.

That is why Cisco is touting its Intercloud platform, for example, which promises to federate cloud computing resources in a similar way. Cisco hopes to create a federated cloud computing capability allowing buyers to federate cloud computing resources from any participating supplier.

The point is that all important networks, either for logistics or communications, tend to develop first as point-to-point or closed networks, then gradually federate over time.

Early railroads did not anticipate the need to interconnect with other railways. But eventually that happened. Early telcos did not necessarily interconnect with systems in other parts of a country or regions. But it eventually happened.

So 5G, if it develops as expected, will replay a rather old pattern.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Contributing Editor

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