The Myth of 5G and No Latency
- August 15, 2018
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Actually 5G isn’t a myth, but there are a couple of myths floating around 5G. In particular, after seeing some demonstrations of the technology given by Verizon to members of the press at CNBC, there’s a real focus on lack of latency:
FABER: RIGHT, AND WHILE YESTERDAY I SAW A LOT OF POTENTIAL APPLICATIONS, SO MUCH OF IT HAS TO DO WITH THE LACK OF WHAT WE CALL LATENCY. THERE’S NO LONGER ANY LAG TIME. EVERYTHING IS IMMEDIATE AND THAT ALLOWS FOR SO MANY NEW APPLICATIONS, DOESN’T IT, IN TERMS OF NOT JUST FOR PEOPLE AT HOME REALLY BUT MORE FOR THE INTERNET OF THINGS AND CONNECTING PEOPLE AROUND BUSINESS DECISIONS EVEN.
I’m skeptical that a lab set up for media tours is reflective of real-world experience in 5 years, but to Verizon’s credit, the CEO tried to very politely clarify that lack of latency was an experience in the lab due to the investments they made, “ULTRAWIDE BAND 5G”, and implicitly, that may not be our experience in the wild.
CNBC effectively raised the question, paraphrased: will the high end phones like the iPhone be necessary, in a world of no latency, where we can push all the computation off of the device?
Essentially: do fast networks make dumb terminals more attractive than smart terminals. But we don’t have to look far for evidence that this logic is flawed:
The average internet connection in the United States is about six times as fast as it was just ten years ago
So far so good… our home internet connections are much faster! But let’s read that again in context:
The average internet connection in the United States is about six times as fast as it was just ten years ago, but instead of making it faster to browse the same types of websites, we’re simply occupying that extra bandwidth with more stuff. Some of this stuff is amazing: in 2006, Apple added movies to the iTunes Store that were 640 × 480 pixels, but you can now stream movies in HD resolution and (pretend) 4K. These much higher speeds also allow us to see more detailed photos, and that’s very nice.
But a lot of the stuff we’re seeing is a pile-up of garbage on seemingly every major website that does nothing to make visitors happier — if anything, much of this stuff is deeply irritating and morally indefensible.
And do we believe that the story will be different on 5G? Temporarily I’m confident we’ll love the speed boost, but until the corporations that supply our news, media, and apps learn to respect bandwidth and customer experience, I have to assume that latency and delays (and stuff):
So, with an internet connection faster than I could have thought possible in the late 1990s, what’s the score now? A story at the Hill took over nine seconds to load; at Politico, seventeen seconds; at CNN, over thirty seconds. This is the bullshit web.
At least there’s Minecraft, right?