Fifth generation mobile networks, most supporters are quick to say, will not be about “faster speeds” or novel air interfaces. Instead, at least for the moment, the emphasis is on making all access platforms available to mobile and untethered devices, seamlessly.

On the other hand, few seem to deny that 5G will bring new spectrum to bear, in particular in the millimeter wave area, where much work is being done to commercialize the use of frequencies that historically have been unworkable for communications applications.

Moore’s Law, though, allows cheap processing that enables networks to take advantage of formerly-forbidding millimeter wave frequencies (30 GHz up to perhaps 300 GHz).
Though there are key distance limitations, if millimeter frequencies can be harnessed for commercial use, millimeter waves promise a virtual end to spectrum scarcity.
In the United States, the 38.6 GHz to 40 GHz band already is used for licensed high-speed microwave data links and the 60 GHz band can be used for unlicensed short range (1.7 km) data links.

The 71 GHz to 76 GHz, 81 GHz to 86 GHz and 92 GHz to 95 GHz bands are also used for point-to-point high-bandwidth communication links.

Observers will readily admit there are issues, ranging from propagation distances to atmospheric issues (rain fade) and even oxygen absorption. But at millimeter wave frequencies, extremely high bandwidths are possible, if distance is limited.

Without question, Wi-Fi and other local distribution applications will make sense. But many are even more intrigued by access applications to support mobile phones and other untethered devices, including any number of machine-to-machine or Internet of Things apps.