Saturday, 18 November 2017

Mobile industry jumping the gun on 5G

By Nick Wood, Total Telecom
Friday 06 March 15

Operators, vendors in race to show off next-generation of mobile technology before it even exists.

5G was perhaps the biggest buzzword there has even been at a Mobile World Congress. The problem is though, it does not mean a whole lot right now. "I get asked the question about 5G a lot, and my answer is, I don't know what 5G is, but we can dream," said GSMA director general Anne Bouverot, during an on-stage discussion with U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler this week…

5G was perhaps the biggest buzzword there has even been at a Mobile World Congress. The problem is though, it does not mean a whole lot right now.

"I get asked the question about 5G a lot, and my answer is, I don't know what 5G is, but we can dream," said GSMA director general Anne Bouverot, during an on-stage discussion with U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler this week.

Operators and vendors from around the world were at the event in force, showing off the various technologies that they believe are viable candidates for the 5G standard, and demonstrating some of the services it might enable.

Broadly speaking, some 5G requirements have emerged in the last 12 months. A 5G network must deliver a 1,000-fold increase in throughput, while virtualised network assets must dynamically allocate resources to create the end-user perception of infinite capacity.

Latency must be as low as 1 millisecond in order to support real-time services like augmented reality, driverless cars, and remote robotics. To achieve this, services and data need be cached much closer to the end user than they are today.

It also needs to be energy efficient, of course.

The industry has even agreed that the next five years represents a viable timeframe in which to develop the technology, standardise it, and then commercially deploy it.

"Some people thinks it's too early," said Seizo Onoe, CTO of Japan's NTT DoCoMo, which aims to have a 5G network up and running in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"Of course we will," he insisted at the EU 5G PPP press conference this week.

Some are even more ambitious: South Korean operators SK Telecom and KT Corp intend to have trial 5G networks in place by 2018, when the country is due to host the Winter Olympics.

"At this moment, we think that the [access] network capacity and the low-latency technology will be in place" by 2018, Haesung Park, manager of SK Telecom's 5G technology lab, told Total Telecom on Wednesday.

He conceded that 5G will not have been standardised by the time SK Telecom shows off its technology in 2018; as a result, "pre-5G needs to be very close to what final 5G will be," he said.

That could be challenging, because the ITU is not due to decide which frequency bands should be allocated to 5G at its next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) later this year. The earliest opportunity will be at WRC 2019, which is after the Korean Winter Olympics.

"We have to have consensus on spectrum by WRC-19," Park said.

Until then at least, some industry players will remain sceptical about 5G hype.

"It's cool to say 'I'm going to have a 5G-enabled Olympics'," said Alcatel-Lucent CTO Marcus Weldon, at the EU press conference. "But I don't think it's meaningful."

The prize for most eloquent summation of 5G has to go to the FCC's Wheeler though.

"You go to the Picasso museum here in Barcelona and you stand in front of one of Picasso's paintings, and I see something different from what you see, and I think that's kind of what 5G is right now," he said. "It depends on the eyes of the beholder."
 

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