How 5G wireless technology will dazzle, confuse and be of use for CIOs

The hype around 5G technology is crazy. That doesn't mean CIOs shouldn't get ready for it. Also, Google cracks SHA-1; Ryzen arrives; Yahoo discounted.

The blitz is on for 5G technology -- the blazingly fast, next-gen wireless service that promises to take cellphones, internet of things, video conferencing, self-driving cars and even surgery where they've never been before.

A few days ago, Verizon said it will deliver "5G pre-commercial services" to customers in 11 cities in the first half of the year -- "another important step," the carrier said, in commercializing gigabit broadband service via a wireless 5G connection. Expect to hear much more about 5G wireless technology next week out of Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry's 100,000-strong convocation in Barcelona, Spain, where the likes of Intel, Ericsson, Qualcomm, Huawei and others will announce 5G products.

The buildup: With latency as low as 1 millisecond, throughputs of 10 Gbps per user, the capacity to support millions of connections and the ability to utilize virgin territory of the radio spectrum, 5G wireless technology is destined to have a massive economic and societal impact -- and prove to be a defining moment in IT evolution. Imagine a real-time string quartet performance with four musicians each on a different continent.

Should CIOs be paying attention? According to the industry experts who follow the arcane world of radio waves: no -- at least not yet -- and yes.

No 5G standard, mass adoption 'years away'

For starters, while work on 5G has been going on since at least 2012, there currently is no standard for 5G deployments, and the industry does not expect one until 2020, if that. Products being touted today are pre-standard approaches, based on what industry players can envision as the 5G standard.

Verizon's 5G rollout in 11 cities is a case in point, said Sathya Atreyam, research manager for mobile and internet of things (IoT) infrastructure at IDC. 

"It's not a 5G use case in the long run," he said, but rather a "marketing exercise," albeit an important one. Focused on areas that do not have access to high-broadband speeds, the rollout uses fixed equipment -- such as 5G radio boxes, cell towers and desktop modems -- not mobile devices. The trial will give customers a fast connection without digging up their yards, and, very important, it gives Verizon experience in using the power of millimeter waves to solve "last-mile" challenges -- an important use case for actual 5G networks when they are rolled out, Atreyam said.

"Verizon is putting a stake in the ground," he said. Its technology partners in the 5G Technology Forum, or 5GTF, including Ericsson and Samsung, are happy to participate. "If it works, it could eventually become the standard. Why not be there?" he said.

Ken Rehbehn, principal analyst for mobile infrastructure at 451 Research, said CIOs can think about 5G as rolling out in three phases -- the pre-standard "limited experimentation" phase is based on assumptions regarding what shape and form 5G will take. These "5G-like systems" include the Verizon trials announced this week and next year's 5G displays at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, where the country will certainly attempt to show off its 5G chops.

"I suspect we'll see aspects of 5G that pop up for holographic displays, possibly low-latency spectator systems where you have an immersive experience for something that is going on that is not even in the venue where you're at," he said.

When 5G gets serious

The next two phases of 5G are pegged to the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, a body of telco standards associations that collect, debate and codify specifications that cover all aspects of the mobile network platform, including changing the radio to be able to handle higher chunks of the spectrum. Release 15 is the first phase of 5G and is due out in 2018; Release 16, phase two of 5G, is due out possibly the year after.

Here's where it gets interesting for CIOs, Rehbehn said: "5G, in addition to supporting bigger bandwidth segments, aims to significantly reduce latency and significantly increase reliability for applications that demand that level of service," he said.

"And those reductions in latency require architectural changes to the networks," he explained, "so that some of the frequency leaves from a data center in the middle of a country to components of the data center that may be pushed to the edge of the network in a town or village, so that the speed of light does not become a constraint for the application that is running in the data center."

This is the concept of mobile edge computing, supported by radio changes to strip out any unnecessary latency, and ultimately leading to the tactile internet, where human beings can control a machine remotely with no delay.

As technology analyst Kurt Marko enumerates in his informative Diginomica article, "A 5G primer -- separating Mobile Word Congress hype from reality," anyone who thinks about 5G as just enhanced mobile broadband is missing three other performance vectors addressed by 5G technology. These are the capability to support a massive internet of things; improved critical machine (IoT) communications; and improved network operations "to handle network slicing and reconfiguration, connecting and routing disparate endpoints and improve internetworking between carriers."

ASAP: 5G uses cases

"The potential for 5G is a completely different type of scenario than what we have with 3G or 4G," said Forrester Research analyst Dan Bieler, who covers digital business, innovation and collaboration strategies. "Depending on what kind of business models or processes your sector is developing or shifting toward, you need to keep a close eye on 5G."

This does not just pertain to CIOs at big tech companies, or the big power, oil and gas utilities, which have clear business reasons for examining the edge computing use cases supported by 5G wireless technology, Bieler stressed.

Think about the construction sector, he said, where virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are starting to be used to show clients what's possible in new construction or for expanding existing buildings. "You can't do that necessarily with Wi-Fi hotspots." At a very large construction site, or in a stadium environment, CIOs might even want to have their own type of 5G network and "not rely on a telco in your neighborhood to cover you," he said. "CIOs need to get their heads around 5G, because it is coming their way."

In two or three years' time, when the boss asks if IT is ready for 5G and the answer is hmm, "You will get sacked," Bieler said.

There you have it.

CIO news roundup for week of Feb. 20

Here's some of the other tech news this week that grabbed headlines:

Google breaks SHA-1 algorithm. Google broke a major web encryption algorithm known as SHA-1 this week. SHA-1 is a cryptographic hash function that produces a digital fingerprint from a given file that lets you verify a file's integrity by checking the unique hash it produces, a Verge article explained. When a hashing function breaks, which is termed as collision, it produces two files with the same hash that could allow attackers to import a malicious file because it shares its hash with a valid file. Researchers from CWI in Amsterdam collaborated with Google to prove that with enough computing power, a collision can be produced to break the SHA-1 algorithm. "For the tech community, our findings emphasize the necessity of sunsetting SHA-1 usage. ... We hope that our practical attack against SHA-1 will finally convince the industry that it is urgent to move to safer alternatives such as SHA-256," researchers wrote in a blog post describing the collision computation. In other Google news, a researcher at Google uncovered a bug in web company Cloudflare's software source code that was responsible for leaking sensitive data from websites such as Uber, Fitbit and OkCupid.

AMD Ryzen is here. AMD, a Sunnyvale, Calif., chipmaker, announced the launch of three central processing units geared for PC gamers, content creators and enthusiasts under the Ryzen 7 brand on Wednesday. "Four years ago, we began development of our 'Zen' processor core with the goal to deliver unprecedented generational performance gains and return choice and innovation to the high-performance computing market," Lisa Su, president and CEO of AMD, said in a statement. Scheduled for launch on March 2, the Ryzen 7 family of processors is set to rival Intel's PC chips and reinvigorate the desktop computing market, the company touted.

Verizon, Yahoo amend deal terms. Verizon will acquire Yahoo's operating business for $4.48 billion after lowering the original deal price by $350 million, Verizon announced Tuesday. The two companies have also agreed to a liability sharing agreement in the wake of two massive data breaches incurred by Yahoo. The amended terms provide a fair and favorable outcome for shareholders, and the deal "provides protections for both sides and delivers a clear path to close the transaction in the second quarter," Marni Walden, executive vice president and president of product innovation and new businesses at Verizon, said in a statement.

Assistant editor Mekhala Roy contributed to this week's news roundup.

Next Steps

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups on the IoT explosion, the Asilomar AI Principles and net neutrality's future

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