5G industry news Acceleration & Innovation

Innovation Briefing Issue 10 | Editorial Introduction

  • 3 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 4 Aug 2022
  • Last modified 27 Jul 2022
Mark twain once said that “history doesn’t repeat Itself, but It often rhymes”. When we discuss what we want from our broadband, WiFi, a 5G or 6G connection, perhaps we can hear some of that assonance.

Back in 1977, when I was in my early teens, I played computer games. Only geeks played games on computers then, and by the time I was 17 I had progressed to playing a text adventure game called Essex MUD, or Multi-User Dungeon. In this game, players typed sentences to open doors, cast spells and hit a troll with an axe. The first ever multi-player online game.

I used a dial-up modem that was limited to a connection speed of around 300 bits per second. Today, I have Virgin gigabit fibre to my home, which means I have a connection speed that is over three million times faster, but when playing games from Steam, there is often a considerable wait for game files to download.

Consumer demand for data has grown in parallel with increases in bandwidth, and the industry needs to ensure this trend will continue.  As we continue to develop new 5G and 6G technologies, we should think beyond the use cases imagined to day – such as holographic football matches – and remember that applications and services that have not been invented will need that bandwidth, too. Whatever they are, we will expect and demand more bandwidth.

Fortunately, the technology that underpins so many modern applications is here: fibre. What we hang off the end of the fibre may change, of course, but fibre is the great enabler.

At BT Labs at Martlesham, in Suffolk, researchers have demonstrated a connection over a single fibre connection to the BT Tower of four terabits per second. Earlier this month, researchers at Japan’s national communications institute set a data transfer record of 1.02 petabits per second. This is the is equivalent to sending 127,500 GB every second, or more than “10 million channels of 8K broadcasting per second.” It’s compatible, the researchers say, with existing fibre optic cable infrastructure.

Fibre in the ground will ultimately connect whatever mobile technology we devise at the end. The fibre we are putting in today is pretty futureproof. What needs upgrading is the technology we connect to either end. Today this is 5G, where 100 MHz of radio spectrum will yield, in theory, a speed of two gigabits per second.

We think this is “plenty”, but it’s only good enough for today. We don’t know what we’ll connect in the future, but the article looking at AR and VR on page  36 of this issue gives some clues. In forty years, we may very well need mobile devices that are three million times faster than that. Which sounds absurd, but nobody in the age of text adventures could have envisaged tens of thousands of people all over the world simultaneously playing Call of Duty, or an online game market worth some $25 billion a year.

Simon Rockman