This year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona has been a veritable festival of 5G, with manufacturers and operators all vying to get their 5G message front and center. The same has been similarly true for the race to develop and deploy 5G networks over the past couple of years, with operators like Verizon in the US, KT in South Korea and DoCoMo in Japan all announcing commercial 5G trials in 2016 and proclaiming unprecedented speeds.
There is a little reverse-engineering to be conducted however, since those operators that have already trialled 5G have done so pre-standards – the standards bodies like the 3GPP and ITU are still in the process of designing and developing the 5G industry standard – so operators will still need to adopt and adhere to a global set of standards once they are introduced some time in the 2020s.
Stakeholders still jostling for position
This is the situation as it stands – 5G is clearly highly exciting and presents huge possibilities, but all stakeholders, from standards groups to OEMs, operators to regulators, are all still working to define what 5G will ‘be’ and how it will work.
The ITU last week planted its flag regarding 5G specifications, saying that the total download capacity for a single 5G cell must be at least 20Gbps – quite a contrast to the current LTE peak data rate of around 1Gbps. The ITU also announced that the incoming 5G standard must also support up to 1 million connected devices per square kilometre, and will require carriers to have at least 100MHz of free spectrum, scaling up to 1GHz where feasible. Latency must also be less than 1ms to ensure ultra-reliability of 5G. So what does all that mean to the layman?
What do we know so far?
Around a year ago a few industry commentators predicted that 5G could form the network backbone for IoT – even to the point of replacing fixed line broadband as the de facto global network. That may yet come to pass, but at this stage what can we expect? Here are five things.
- 5G will be faster. Much faster than 4G LTE. That ability to handle massive data speeds and rates makes it ideal for IoT, but the potential use cases are mounting up; fast enough to watch mobile 4K videos, fast enough to deliver broadband to homes and businesses without the need to deploy fiber for example. Fast enough to power remote virtual reality (VR) applications for enterprise and personal use.
- Faster moving. In 3G and 4G networks, end-users travelling on a train or in a car at high speed often struggle to maintain a consistent connection; the network is unable to hand the device over from one cell to the next quickly enough. 5G aims to address that issue and support devices travelling at several hundred kilometers per hour. At MWC game developer Rooplay demonstrated 5G-supported cloud gaming on a high-speed train and featured technology developed by King’s College London called Mobility Prediction System which enables the network to predict where the fast-moving device is going to be next.
- More connections. 5G networks qill be required to support a very large number of devices per cell. These will include IoT in connected cars, street furniture, environment sensors, wearable devices, the connected home, not to mention in businesses and offices everywhere. At MWC, ITU Radiocommunication Bureau director Francois Rancy said that a connection density of a massive 1 million devices per square kilometer will happen.
- Network slicing. An interesting idea with big potential benefits for enterprises and multinationals in 5G is network slicing, where the network is virtually partitioned depending on need and usage. Carriers can dedicate different parts of network capacity to particular subscribers or applications, meaning for example that one 5G network can be simultaneously a fast broadband network for smartphones and a low-power, low latency, cost-efficient platform for specific IoT applications. Under previous generation mobile networks this degree of decentralized QoS was not possible. 5G could make it a reality.
- Cross-industry collaboration. The sheer scale of 5G networks means everybody becomes a stakeholder. And with more stakeholders comes the need for more collaboration than ever by those in the industry; operators, vendors, OEMs, governments, regulators and more. At MWC the GSMA has emphasized this need for collaboration and is encouraging all these industry stakeholders to engage with automotive, transport, healthcare, entertainment, emergency services industries and all other potential 5G users to define their needs so that they can be baked into the standards process now.
Visit our Mobile World Congress Virtual Press Room to find out more at http://www.orange.com/en/Press-Room/Folder/Mobile-World-Congress-2017
I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.