Facebook’s New Focus On 5G and Golden Opportunity for Entrepreneurs
Facebook has come under mass scrutiny for the mishandling of user information, but that hasn’t stopped its innovation machine. Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger keep growing and changing the way people freely communicate around the globe. The company has long since out-shadowed the likes “Ma Bell,” and continues on its path to make the traditional telecom industry obsolete.
After their recent acquisition of Ocular, Facebook quietly bought a little 5G company called Inovi. As mentioned in my previous article, Facebook used it to build a small 5G network in San Jose and on their campus. They are using the network to test the viability of 5G and determine how soon it could become cost-effective for mass deployment.
This doesn’t mean that Facebook wants to singlehandedly build and launch the entire 5G network. No,that would be costly and take a significant amount of time. Instead the company is working on specific aspects of 5G and making their findings available to the industry, allowing network providers to compete and build cost-effective services for the masses. This is one reason they spearheaded the Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP). By building a network of companies focused on 5G, they can help propel viability and solve the technical and standardization challenges of rolling out a new network.
What does all of this mean for entrepreneurs? It means there are huge opportunities to get in on the ground floor to make 5G a reality – both on Infrasructure and applications. With so many eyes on the prize, now is the time to develop solutions that will support the success of 5G. In my last article, I looked at the evolution of the telecom networks and what 5G will mean for autonomous cars. This time, I’m going to delve deeper into the opportunities and challenges for entrepreneurs interested in getting in on the race to 5G.
Imagine participating in an immersive concert experience that puts you center stage with the band—even though you are in your living room on the other side of the country. Or picture sitting in a boardroom in San Francisco surrounded by group of colleagues who are actually still in their offices in Tokyo. What if you could join a soccer game with teammates playing in other countries around the globe? These are some real examples of what the 5G network will enable, but there are serious applications as well. Everything from remote surgeries to smart cities will be possible with 5G.
Virtual reality and augmented reality will benefit hugely from the 5G network. Our devices today are already strong enough to handle these advanced applications. They simply need a network that is capable of supporting them and connecting everything together. So, build the 5G network and everything will fall into place, right? If only it were that easy.
Even with companies like Facebook hard at work to roll out 5G, the launch of this network won’t happen overnight. The introduction of a massively different technology platform is difficult and comes with an array of challenges.
Steve Papa, founder and CEO of Parallel Wireless and an expert/visionary in wireless technology shared his thoughts on the challenges for 5G with me. He feels the biggest challenges facing 5G are antenna technology, faster processing ASICs and the ability to connect each cell site to the fiber optic network. He said, “this will eventually happen, but it will take more time and more cost then any estimate.”
In addition to the challenges Papa mentioned, 5G will also face standardization issues. When we started the Cartiza 4G network back in 2006, the biggest hurdle we faced was standardization. Major industry leaders were pushing for two standardization methods – LTE and WiMax. Both methods were viable and fully met the 4G objectives. The challenge was creating a cost-effective handset for mass deployment. I remember standing in an office with one of Comcast’s top executives and him telling me that three global suppliers and a major Chinese service provider were all leaning towards LTE. At that moment, I realized LTE won. The game was over for WiMax. Why? Because the volume of demand would create the cost-reduction needed in the handset production.
In the end, the collaboration between major equipment suppliers and service providers pushed LTE forward to become the network we all use today. 5G will go through a very similar process. There are different technology ideas – but it takes a strong voice like Facebook and TIP to push the technology decisions and move 5G to mass market deployment.
Next Steps and Opportunities
The good thing about the challenges facing 5G is that there is a big opportunity for entrepreneurs to solve them.
First, ASIC – we will need the fast-processing application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to handle the traffic. Intel and Qualcomm have made significant advancements in this area, but there’s still an opportunity for startups to get in on the game as well.
Second, antenna technology – With greater bandwidth comes new complexity, new algorithm, and software to deliver it. No longer the existing MIMO (Multiple In Multiple Out, developed for 4G) antenna technology would be sufficient. This is a huge opportunity for startups.
On the application side of 5G, user interface (or glassware) for virtual reality is a big challenge and therefore opportunity. Other applications include innovations in MedTech, Manufacturing, Digital Entertainmnet, Smart Homes and Smart Cities.
5G has more innovation to go before it fully launches—but, like previous iterations of the mobile network, it will happen. With applications and services demanding a rush to deployment, we have no choice but to make this technology work and for the network to be cost-effective.
Facebook knows it needs the 5G network to continue rolling out new innovations. Today it uses existing 4G networks to provide viewpoint content, video, text and voice communications. Tomorrow, though, it wants to dominate new ways of communications leveraging virtual reality and other applications.
The good news for entrepreneurs is that Verizon, T-Mobile and other major service providers have already committed to build 5G network, and that there is a demand for 5G technology. Plus the backing of a major company, such as Facebook, means the ability to deploy it is real and it will happen much faster than anyone thinks. So, get on board, entrepreneurs. The launch of a 5G network will be mission accomplished for Facebook and could be the birth of a great new company for you.