The Next Big Thing?

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Editorial
  • February 2018
• Created: February 16, 2018

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Many MMR readers recently returned from the annual NAMM Show in Anaheim (see our Show Report on page 26).

Along with more traditional instruments, the gathering is a venue for innovative new gear and instruments that make use of emerging and evolving technologies (Ronnie Dungan has a somewhat different take. See his column on page 20).

We’ve shone the spotlight on a number of these types of products over the years: “This one makes music with lasers! This is a plastic orb that you manipulate like a puzzle to make sounds! This device makes use of a water-tank to generate sonic frequencies!” Generally speaking – and for a myriad of reasons – these “new instruments,” while possibly very cool and impressive in their own ways, don’t take off in any significant manner, though. 5G is on the way, however, and just as the Internet changed the way music is made, shared, and how we purchase and sell musical gear, this could be another true game-changer.

What’s 5G? Odds are you own a smartphone and, unless you’re one of those who still defiantly holds onto your clamshell model from 1997, odds are your current phone makes use of 4G (or at the very least 3G) wireless network technology. 4G is the reason why you can use your smartphone to hop online, text, or watch video. As you’ve probably guessed by now, 5G would therefore be the next generation of this type of technology. While this will, indeed, mean that phones can operate with a speedier connection (10 times faster than 4G) it also represents a boost in bandwidth that will allow appliances, robots, self-driving cars, and more to be connected to 5G.

Currently each of the major cell carriers – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint – are developing and testing 5G technology and the likes of Intel and Qualcomm have begin designing processors that enable 5G communication. The wireless industry expects 5G networks to launch in 2020.

So what does this have to do with music- making or the MI industry?

At the moment, Ericsson is currently exploring forward-thinking applications for 5G in a partnership with researchers from King’s College London. Mischa Dohler, a professor at King’s College, is developing technology that would allow a surgeon with haptic gloves (which sense motion and pressure) and VR gear could operate on a patient on the other side of the globe.

That same tech could teach music students, and work is already being done to develop those systems.

To really get a full picture for how this sort of thing could be a game-changer, track down some video and articles online – it’s truly more impressive than I’m doing justice.

Is 5G going to change the practice of learning and playing music in a week or so? No. Am I making too much of what could, on the surface, just seem to be a “technological upgrade?” Time will tell, but this isn’t some wacky device introduced at a trade show that allows vegetables to make sounds and be used as “musical instruments.”

The future keeps on coming and this breakthrough looks like it’ll be a truly big deal.

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