We all have our fantasies, and about many things. Some we can talk about, some we’d prefer to keep to ourselves. Even if we limit ourselves to technology related fantasies, the ones we talk about can be pretty fantastic – think of the idea to pack a telephone, agenda, email and an MP3 player into a small package with a wireless connection, something that you can take everywhere. Back then the idea was a fantasy that took a lot of hard work to realize it but it worked – not in the least because there was Wi-Fi to provide free connectivity. Now we all have a smartphone. A more recent example is landing rockets back on earth after a satellite launch. It has taken years to realize that fantasy and turn it into fact – into daily reality, so to speak and SpaceX pulled it off. This are two examples of fantasies that became facts, became reality.
There are also fantasies that appear to become reality because they become policy. Some examples are quantum computing and clean energy through nuclear fusion that remain fantasies regardless the amount of effort and money put into them. Another example of a costly fantasy is that one can build a new coherent political entity out of a bunch of diverse countries by making enough laws and regulation. That fantasy is also still far removed from reality although the laws and regulations are real enough, too real in some cases. These fantasies drag on forever because no one can prove them to be fantasies: there are extensive theories and experiments that provide a basis as well as a suggestion of progress.
A third variation of fantasies is the kind that “everyone” talks about. In the early years of this century it was wireless ATM: many conferences and workshops involving hundreds of people gave the impression that wireless ATM was the next wireless technology that would take over the world and sweep Wi-Fi and mobile telephony under the rug. That rug proved way too small and now wireless ATM is forgotten. It was a hype – something that comes up, catches everyone’s ear and is on everyone lips and never leaves the fantasy world. Wireless ATM failed to become reality because it attempted to marry packetized wireless edge networking with tightly controlled core networking but Ethernet was a more natural and less costly fit. LTE, the fourth generation mobile telephony – attempted to and succeeded in – putting packet transport onto its tightly controlled wireless edge networking. That is today’s reality we all know and love and that is built into your smartphone, together with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Another fantasy that looks like a hype is “5G”, the much-touted successor to LTE. Endless presentations, conferences, books, innovation policies and trade press articles tell us that we need 5G because of the huge speeds and capacity it offers. Unless we adopt 5G, our technical, industrial and even our social development is in danger of becoming mired in communications bottlenecks. Lightning fast connections will enable safe transportation and instant movie access – to name two extreme applications frequently mentioned. Why is 5G a hype? Because its focus is the fantasitic transmission technology, not the raw facts that drive its deployment and use. Fast data downloads are of no use if your mobile’s processing takes more time than a download and 5G base stations at every street corner is an awfully expensive – and ugly – proposition. Mobile operators are strapped already and shelling out billions on new infrastructure is not a priority for them. Instead, their motivation is competition – and keeping up with the competition. Much will depend on the early deployments – and on the willingness of the public to pay for costly phones and ditto monthly fees – and that for a 30% faster download of latest installment of another kind of fantasy – the Game of Thrones?