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Episode 4: Wireless
Episode 43rd March 2022 • Traceroute • Equinix
00:00:00 00:35:25

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The term 5G has been the talk of the town. Much of the hype is due to its faster internet speed that allows the handling of multiple devices compared with previous networks. Recently, some countries have started to roll out this technology. However, it's still in its early years, so we have yet to discover its full potential. 

In this episode, we'll hear insights from Ed Knapp, Sue Marek, and Sascha Segan on the topic of wireless network connection. We discuss the development of the wireless industry and how internet infrastructure spurred its growth. We also go through the generations of wireless network connection, from 2G to 4G, and peer into how the development of 5G will unfold. 

If you want to know more about next-generation wireless networks and how technology develops to support them, then this episode is for you.

Episode Highlights

[01:07] The Beginning of Wireless Technology 

  • Wireless technology was introduced during the 80s. It was then that Ed Knapp started to see the emergence of innovative technologies like the car phone. 
  • Demand for wireless services was limited because wireless devices and services were expensive. No one expected them to have more than a million subscribers in the US. 
  • The technology had tremendous value, even life-saving for some. And so, Knapp wanted more people to access it. 
  • By the 90s, people were trying to join analog modems to the cellular network so more people could connect to the internet. But it was too difficult to get them connected.
  • One company couldn't overcome this challenge alone. More help was needed to create massive infrastructure networks necessary to solve this problem. 

[04:21] Diverging of Paths: Internet and Wireless 

  • The wireless industry developed at the same time as internet infrastructure. As they grew, demand for their service also increased. 
  • There was an insatiable want for wireless service, and engineers needed to figure out how to create networks that could support it. 
  • Cell towers are needed to connect cell phones to networks, but they are expensive to build. Companies, later on, decided to share the equipment instead of building their own. 

[05:11] Opening the Wireless Network to an Independent Model 

  • When the iPhone entered the market, 4G traffic and operatives needed to increase their capacity. 
  • The industry evolved into a point where telecom companies do not need to own all network infrastructure. Instead, independent companies started to manage the installed towers. 

[06:53] Customer Complaints 

  • Customers had an issue with how they were being billed. 
  • During this time, cell phone companies could get away with charging customers by the minute for their service by acting like they had limited capacity. 
  • The same problem happened when text messaging emerged. Customers were still billed by the number of characters.
  • The internet changed the game as it made sending information cheaper. Suddenly, it didn’t make sense for people to be charged the same way again. 
  • Because of this technological advancement, businesses were pressured to change their service and how they charged their clients. 

[09:29] The ‘G’

  • The G in 4G or 5G stands for “generation.” It refers to the phase of technology that is the industry standard.  

Sue Marek: “Every generation of cellular [technology] is about every 10 years. So 2020 is 5G, 2010 was 4G, 2000 was really the 3G. 3G was really when we used to talk about the mobile web or the wireless internet.”

  • One of the technological hurdles the 3G era faced was figuring out how to access the web through a phone.

[12:06] Cell Phone Digitalization 

  • Technology took a huge leap when cell phones started to connect with wireless networks. 
  • The digitalization of cell phone systems started during the 1990s. Multiple people could use the service of the same channel at the same time. 

Sascha Segan: "Once the phones became digital, you could push the internet through them. But more importantly, you could just get a lot more people talking at once on each cell."

  • Internet in your phone needs to go through the air, which is not as efficient as a wired connection. So, wireless network technology needed constant improvement. 

[13:45] Defining 5G

  • 5G latency had to be less than ten milliseconds so users wouldn't notice the delay in service. 
  • This technological improvement had a significant effect on applications like autonomous driving, self-driving cars, and gaming. 
  • The creation of new businesses and consumer goods also happens when a new G emerges. For example, when 4G happened, the gig economy boomed. 
  • It’s still largely unknown what will emerge from 5G. 

[17:45] The Evolution of Cell Phones

Sascha Segan: “People have an emotional connection and a social connection to their phones and to these networks, in a way they don't necessarily have to their PC or their office printer.”

  • People tend to value their phones far more than their laptops, computers, or other devices.
  • The early smartphones appealed to business people. It was a handheld computer that you could use to keep your notes and receive mail. 
  • The Blackberry stood out among other smartphone brands because of its simple internet connection and texting features. People in finance and government started to use it for its security features.  
  • By 2006, companies began to produce touch screens, which required a completely new kind of interface. 
  • Blackberry wasn't successful in making the switch to this new world of touch-friendly interfaces and fast wireless networks, resulting in its downfall.  

[23:55] The Rise of the iPhone and Android Device

  • The growth of smartphones happened because of significant phone and network technology advancements. 
  • For example, the social media culture and the ability to share photos, videos, and audio exists because we have access to the 4G wireless network. 

Sascha Segan: " ...as computers get more powerful and the computers in phones get more powerful, and the computers and towers get more powerful and more wireless spectrum becomes available, it becomes possible to encode the airwaves in new, more complicated ways. And each time you break with the previous path, that's a new generation." 

[27:23] 5G, Wireless Networks, and Beyond 

  • As the wireless and cell phone industry expanded, so did the ways they connect rely on each other. 
  • Segan believes that 20 years from now, wireless networks will increase globally, especially in areas where there is little to no internet connection or wifi access. 
  • This development in delivering information will give massive opportunities to raise living standards throughout the world.

Sascha Segan: 5G is almost certainly going to have at least that big of a change in the world. We just really aren't sure about the details yet.”

  • Knapp believes that 5G can take technology to a higher level. This will range from edge delivery, autonomous platforms, and orbit cloud-native architecture. 
  • In terms of 6G, he believes that the wireless network connection needs to deliver super high performance over shorter distances.

Three reasons why you should listen to this episode:

  1. Learn the history of how next-generation wireless network technologies emerged.
  2. Find out how the internet helped support the advancement of wireless technology.
  3. Discover the potentials and possibilities offered by 5G technology.

About Our Guests

Ed Knapp is the CTO of American Tower, one of the leading independent tower companies in the world. He has 40 years of experience in wireless technology and has been one of the critical figures since the industry started. To date, his company continues to deliver innovative infrastructures to enable 5G wireless network technology. 

Learn more about Ed’s work on the American Tower website and connect with him on LinkedIn.

Sue Marek is the editor-in-chief of  SDxCentral. She is also a professional speaker for telecom and technology industry events and has moderated panels for the Consumer Electronics Show, the Competitive Carriers' Show, The Wireless Infrastructure Show, 5G North America, DC 5G, Interop, and more.

Marek has over 25 years of experience in covering stories for the cellular industry, and she has continuously followed the advancement of technology throughout her career.

You can connect with Sue over on Twitter

Sascha Segan is the lead mobile analyst of pcmag.com and has reported on the wireless market for more than 15 years. He is known for his reviews on smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets. He is also a well-renowned travel writer who has contributed to Frommer’s series of travel guides for more than ten years. 

Want to know more about Sascha? Head over to his LinkedIn and Twitter.

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