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Why the race to deploy 5G networks matters to Microsoft

5G, in simplest terms, is the fifth generation of wireless technology. 1G was the voice-focused generation which supported phone use from anywhere. 2G brought messaging or short text capabilities. 3G gave us the data network speeds that helped push smartphone evolution. 4G introduced data capacities that support a variety of modern devices and services. 5G is a leap in wireless tech that promises much higher speeds, far broader capacity and a platform for a variety of new computing scenarios.

As more devices become connected, the current infrastructure is incapable of ensuring connectivity. 5G, using high-frequency millimeter waves "creates spectrum space" to accommodate the billions of devices expected to become connected in the near future. Many carriers including T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, China Mobile, Vodaphone Group and Verizon, are racing to roll out 5G networks between this year and 2019.

As carriers and cable companies push 5G networks in dozens of cities and device makers like Asus, HTC, LG, Sony, Xiaomi and others commit to 5G devices, what does all this mean for Microsoft's connected computing strategy?


Qualcomm provides the technology that powers most of the mobile industry. The company's success is rooted in a model to invest in technology early and reap the benefits five to 10 years later. It has invested years and billions of dollars in building 5G infrastructure in a long-term plan to reap the benefits of what may be a leap in wireless technology.

Qualcomm envisions 5G as a revolutionary platform that will enable more powerful and proactive artificial intelligence (AI), more practical augmented reality (AR), intelligent imaging for greater content creation, advanced security and more. 5G will allow IoT devices to communicate and connect with each other. These devices will no longer be network endpoints, but a unified platform of devices that communicate with each other. Furthermore, they will be able to learn about users via AI and act proactively to accomplish tasks involving other devices without any human intervention.

In a comprehensive approach, Qualcomm also built the X50 5G modem that was designed from the ground up for the next generation of 5G connected devices. Carriers are complementing this push with their efforts to roll out 5G networks (opens in new tab).

5G in the making

5G networks won't meet its full potential out of the gate. Currently, the 5G that is rolling out or being planned for rollout may handle part of a carrier's network while other portions like voice remain supported on 4G for example. There will be a simultaneous implementation of older and 5G tech in the near term.

Furthermore, every company that is building 5G networks is doing so based on what works for them. There is no strict roadmap and set of rules dictating an altruistic uniformity for a universal 5G platform. Consequently, there may be some companies boasting they have 5G though a bulk of their network infrastructure is still 4G. Also, some cable companies will provide wired 5G but not mobile 5G.

Still, 5G is coming, and Microsoft's investments depend heavily on this tech.

Microsoft and 5G

Microsoft's vision for the future revolves around connectivity. From cloud investments that provoked a company-wide reorg, to always connected PCs, ubiquitous computing, IoT, and AI, 5G is core to the success of Microsoft's vision.

As a platform company Microsoft, like Qualcomm, sees an interconnection between all personal computing experiences. Thus, Microsoft's ubiquitous computing vision (where computing happens all around us) is founded on the fact that IoT hardware, powered by cognitive services will be able to interact with humans from everywhere. The ambient computing experience requires billions of IoT devices on high-speed mobile networks capable of handling the intense data AI will require for these scenarios. For this 5G is key.

Microsoft and Qualcomm brought full Windows to ARM, while other Microsoft partners brought other forms of always-connected PCs to market. Full Windows PCs on the cellular roadmap challenges the mobile OS-centric model that currently dominates mobile computing. Microsoft has also pushed Windows' evolution as a "mobile" platform by enabling users to purchase data from carriers directly Windows store. 5G connectivity is an important factor in the PCs evolution as form-shifting, always-connected devices of various shapes and sizes. Surface Andromeda may represent an intersection of a pocketable Windows PC and 5G.

Microsoft's connected car platform will benefit from 5G.

Remote healthcare and connected cars are also areas Microsoft has invested in. Both are mission critical scenarios that 5G enables due to its capacity to manage the vast amounts of data, and security required to support these platforms. AI, which is also a key factor made more efficient on these intelligent edge scenarios. It is a critical part of facilitating these and many other scenarios in which Microsoft is investing.

Microsoft has demonstrated telepresence (projecting holograms of people to remote locations) and remotely assisting others via augmented reality (AR) and HoloLens. 5G would allow faster and more robust data transfers for richer holographic and more efficient real-time interactions. Virtual reality (VR) shared VR experiences are also mixed reality experiences 5G would enhance.

5G with a purpose

For Microsoft, 5G isn't a buzzword. It is the means by which Redmond's personal computing, cloud, IoT, ubiquitous computing, AR and always-connected PC vision will be manifest. Current network speeds and capacities are not adequate to support what Microsoft sees as computing's future. Microsoft's strategy is to leverage the intelligent edge powered by low-latency 5G as a speedy and robust portal to its cloud (Azure), "the world's computer".

5G promises to efficiently connect billions of more devices and convey and process vast amounts of data. Microsoft wants all of these devices and data connected to its intelligent edge and cloud.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

  • We don't want 5g, I'd rather have far better broadband speeds and WiFi connections.
  • Who is "we"?
  • Speak for yourself lol.
  • Isn't that what 5G provides?
  • 802.11ax WiFi is also rolling out this year I believe. So when new devices start to take advantage of it should help with home wifi networks (if you upgrade your router).
    Now just need to wait for someone to start pushing fiber again, and maybe try to break some cable monopolies.
  • Microsoft will lose the race, of course.
  • Of course? More contrarianism.
  • AI. Check.
    Machine Learning. Check.
    Blockchain. Check. The answers to all tech companies and all first world problems right there.
  • Sign of mental constipation.. Sad..
  • Jason, Thank you for another great article.
  • Good thing Microsoft isn't in charge of deploying 5G. Otherwise we'd still be stuck with 3G.
  • They would deploy 5G and then cancel it after 2 months because 4G was still prevalent. Then Apple would reinvent 5G.
  • 5G is good start to switch your home/work internet service to, and dump your unreliable wireline internet service whether be DSL or Cable...
  • Trying to make the irrelevant, relevant.
  • Why 5g? So they they can finalize the subscription model so that you WON'T get software downloaded to your device, you will be "renting" it from the cloud only...the Larry Ellison dream of thin clients in the 80's and 90's coming to fruition.
  • ? What does any of that have to do with having a higher internet speed on your mobile connected laptop?
  • Can't wait for 5G in AUS seeing as our broadband is a joke, fastest mobile internet in the World, but ridiculously slow home broadband, makes no sense.
  • And all of those waves beaming thru us...There is a lot of debate on health issues related to 5G.
  • One of the biggest concerns today is the use of airport security scanners that use millimeter wave scanners to check for illegal contraband. To be clear, passive scanners do not emit radiation. Active scanners emit millimeter wavelength radiation which is non-ionizing—i.e., it does not have enough energy to directly damage DNA—and is not known to be genotoxic. Millimeter waves propagate solely by line-of-sight paths. They are not reflected by the ionosphere nor do they travel along the Earth as ground waves as lower frequency radio waves do.[1] At typical power densities they are blocked by building walls and suffer significant attenuation passing through foliage.[2][3][1] Absorption by atmospheric gases is a significant factor throughout the band and increases with frequency. However, it is maximum at a few specific absorption lines, mainly those of oxygen at 60 GHz and water vapor at 24 GHz and 184 GHz.[2] At frequencies in the "windows" between these absorption peaks, millimeter waves have much less atmospheric attenuation and greater range, so many applications use these frequencies. Millimeter wavelengths are the same order of size as raindrops, so precipitation causes additional attenuation due to scattering (rain fade) as well as absorption.[2][3] The high free space loss and atmospheric absorption limits useful propagation to a few kilometers.[1] Thus, they are useful for densely packed communications networks such as personal area networks that improve spectrum utilization through frequency reuse.[1] So along our roads will be many antennas that will send out millimeter wave signals to an antenna on your house or to your car or phone. The radiation poses fewer health risks than current bandwidths. However, it only travels a short distance before it becomes useless.
  • Sorry, the top two paragraphs were copied from Wikipedia and another source. I should have given credit
  • Just a few "corrections", if I may: yes, 2G introduced text messaging, but later on also introduced data connection. First in the form of circuit switched data (think dial up modem), then moved to GPRS and EDGE. The latter two were both considered "fast" in their own days. Oh, and the operator is spelled Vodafone, not Vodaphone 😉
  • I am a little cynical about the wonders of 5g. While I agree that it will vastly increase performance, I am old enough to realise that experts' predictions, not matter how outlandishly optimistic they might be, are always underestimates of usage. So, yes, 5g will be good but I predict that it will slow dramatically within a year, negating the improvements.
  • I suspect the big elephant in the room here is "potential health issues".
  • 5G is a 5 to 10-year transition beginning next year. I still get lousy reception at my house. Maybe that is because I still use my 950.
  • 5G is enough to kill phone numbers and we all move on to data only smart phones. we really do not need phones anymore. Skype can provide phone numbers on the andromeda. everyone else is on social media anyway.
  • 5G needs coverage first and foremost. Even first world countries don't have uniform coverage in all areas, sometimes not even in the same street.