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Industry identifies success factors for 5G

2017-03-20 By Steve Costello

    Key takeaways:

  • Pre-commercial 5G networks will appear in 2018, alongside early 5G standards.
  • You can't build a great 5G network without a strong 4G foundation.
  • NB-IoT will help build links with verticals in readiness for 5G.

The insatiable demand for mobile broadband services from consumers and enterprises and the opportunities opened by the Internet of Things has made 5G one of the hottest topics sweeping the ICT industry.

As vendors and operators step up testing and move from the lab to the real world, there’s an increasing shift towards commercial launches. While a number of question marks over potential timeframes remain – particularly as some players look to get a jump on the market – there’s an emerging consensus as to when the technology will start to be more widely deployed.

Yang Chaobin, president of the 5G product line at Huawei, said that pre-commercial networks are likely to appear in the market in 2018, in line with the emergence of early 5G standards. This means that from this point onward, operators and vendors will be able to push ahead with interoperability testing: “According to this pace, the commercial launch will come in 2019 and 2020,” said Yang.

This aligns with comments from Mats Granryd, GSMA director general, who also pointed to late 2019 or early 2020 for the availability of commercial 5G solutions. The industry association is “working with our members and our partners on the strategic, the commercial, and the regulatory development of the 5G ecosystem,” he said. 

Paving the way

While there’s much talk of 5G and the potential it offers operators to create new revenue streams, there’s also a strong impetus to continue investing in 4G to meet the already growing demand, enable moves into new markets, and provide a solid base for 5G deployment. This will be particularly important in the early days, with initial 5G rollout likely to be limited on a geographical basis, much like earlier mobile network builds. Highlighting the importance of 4G, Fotis Karonis, managing director of IT and Mobile at BT Group, said: “If you don’t have that foundation, the coverage, you can’t build great 5G on top of that.”

Ryan Ding, president of products and solutions at Huawei, agrees: “You don’t have to wait until 2020 – you can start now to prepare for 5G, which will be a long journey,” he said. “Operators can do a lot of work to be ready, and not just with their base stations.” This is because the road forward is not only about new technology; it’s also about the new business models and services enabled by network evolution.

NB-IoT, for example, will enable operators to look at the business models to support IoT applications, and start building the links with vertical markets that will be essential to drive growth in the 5G era.

4.5G networks will enable operators to work in areas such as high-resolution video, augmented reality, and virtual reality so they can push ahead with enhanced mobile broadband services, which will be the center point of future consumer 5G propositions. Juan Carlos Garcia, Wireless CTO at Telefonica, commented: “Even before the 5G standard is available, [operators] will have to test and try and develop and introduce new services in preparation for 5G. And in the case of business models, I think there’ll be changes in terms of partnering with other industry players, and educating other sectors that may benefit from the new possibilities of hyper connectivity and very high bitrates.”

Harmonizing global spectrum and unifying standards

According to Satoshi Nagata, 3GPP RAN1 chairman, the 3GPP standardization process for 5G will take place in two key phases, with Release-15, scheduled for September 2018, focusing on the “more urgent subset of the commercial needs” – prioritizing what operators need most. 

This will be followed in March 2020 by Release-16, which will address the full range of identified use cases and requirements. Nagata also said that the design of a new radio interface should be forward compatible, so features introduced at a later date can be added in an “optimal way.” What is particularly important, claims Huawei’s wireless CTO Wen Tong, is that the standardization process needs input from the whole ecosystem to deliver the best results: “It’s not a single company effort. It’s not a few-company effort. The entire ecosystem has to agree and reach a consensus to build these standards.”

Arriving hand-in-hand with technology developments is the need for new spectrum. And this issue is also not without its challenges.

Federico Boccardi, principal technology adviser at UK regulator Ofcom, noted that at this stage, “There isn’t much clarity about 5G services, so it’s not very easy to understand the bands we need to provide.” He did share his insights into the way spectrum allocation needs to develop in order to enable 5G to meet its full potential. “We need a diverse set of bands ranging from very low frequencies to very high frequencies to benefit everyone,” he said, noting that the provision of low-bands for good coverage is crucial. “We want 5G to lower the digital divide, not increase it.” This echoed comments from Arnaud Vamparys, SVP of radio networks at Orange, who said, “We have a growing demand, an expectation, from our customers around coverage. They want really high-quality services at home, in transportation, in rural areas, so with LTE today and 5G tomorrow, we really have to achieve that.”

Ofcom’s Boccardi added that at the other end of the spectrum, there should be at least one global band to support millimeter wave technologies. “That’s very important to increase adoption,” he said. 

Opening new markets

A key success factor for 5G will be its ability to create new revenue opportunities for operators. While services such as IoT and enhanced mobile broadband will become more popular in the 4.5G environment, this will need to pick up pace as technology moves on. Craig Ehrlich, chairman of the Global TD-LTE Initiative, advised: “The transition to 5G only makes sense if we’re able to create new markets. We need to find a way for our industry, for operators, to have a bigger piece of the pie.”

While some sectors, such as automotive and healthcare, are keen to adopt mobile connectivity, other verticals haven’t been as fast to move. And these present an important opportunity for operators to increase their revenue potential. BT’s Karonis commented: “We need more industries, because it’s important to increase the revenue pie. We can’t just be in an asset investment cycle without getting the appropriate connections with industries so we can grow our revenue as telecommunications operators.”

But a keen focus on business models will also be an important factor for 5G. “We have to move fast at this stage, and yes collaborate, but we have to understand that there are so many people who want to take our [operators’] business model away from us,” warned GTI’s Ehrlich. 

Carving out 5G household access scenarios

While applications that make use of the mobile and wireless capabilities of 5G are obviously a core focus area, there’s another area where 5G could carve out a lucrative position: the home.

“Providing 5G household access is one of the most important 5G scenarios,” claimed Huawei’s Yang Chaobin. In developed markets, this means the technology will be used to extend fiber networks to the home, addressing challenges with providing last-mile connectivity, particularly in areas with a dispersed population. Resource-sharing with 5G mobile broadband deployment will also cut costs for operators and reduce the cost of services for consumers.

In emerging markets, 5G will be able to provide access to stable and reliable mobile broadband services where cost factors and network deployment challenges have limited the uptake of alternative technologies. “In many regions of the world, fiber to the home is too expensive,” the Huawei executive said.

Orange’s Vamparys said there is an opportunity for 5G “as an extension to our fiber network in some rural and suburban areas.” Ibrahim Gedeon, CTO of Canadian operator TELUS, agreed: “When you talk about connecting people in the home, that’s critical, as well as a valid business case.” 

( Republished from Mobile World Live Show Daily )

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