David Hutton, Director of Technology, GSMA
The web is awash with information about what 5G will deliver: extraordinarily fast broadband, highly responsive connectivity, ultra dense clusters of connections and so on. But amid all the buzz, some key questions are rarely answered clearly. These include:
- What exactly is 5G?
More than just a new generation of mobile technologies, 5G will see a major shift in how cellular networks are designed and what they are used for. Mobile operators will use new network architectures, as well as new radio technologies, to achieve the flexibility required to serve an extremely diverse set of applications from mission critical communications between machines to highly immersive entertainment and fingertip control over remote devices and appliances. Advanced software will enable the mobile network to adapt to the needs of the service, rather than the other way round.
- What will 5G be used for?
Firstly, 5G will boost bandwidth. As the number of connections grows inexorably and video streams becoming increasingly high definition, mobile operators will need the network capacity and performance provided by 5G to meet demand for immersive entertainment anywhere, at any time. For example, 5G will be able to deliver live virtual reality streams from sports events and concerts, while enabling detailed digital information to be superimposed on live images of the physical world captured on a smartphone or head-mounted display (augmented reality). Thanks to a step-change in latency, 5G could be used to control robots working in unpredictable conditions or fast moving objects, such as drones, using a virtual reality headset. Moreover, 5G could play a pivotal role in providing the responsive and ubiquitous connectivity required by autonomous vehicles to function safely.
- Who is delivering 5G?
Mobile operators, equipment vendors and research institutions in East Asia, Europe and North America are the main drivers behind the development of 5G. At a global level, the GSMA is working with its members and other industry bodies to deliver the strategic, commercial and technological requirements of a 5G system. Policymakers at a national level and an international level are also heavily involved, with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the European Union both seeking to coordinate the availability of the necessary spectrum. Umbrella standards group 3GPP is also playing a key role in refining the 5G specifications and ensuring interoperability.
- When is 5G coming?
3GPP is aiming to finalise the phase one 5G specifications, which will address an urgent subset of commercial needs, in the second half of 2018, followed by the full specifications by the end of 2019. The ITU plans to endorse IMT-2020 technology (5G) in late 2019, while new radio spectrum for 5G is likely to be allocated at the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-19) in the same year. However, political considerations mean that some prototype 5G systems could be deployed ahead of these dates. For example, the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, held in the Korean city of Pyeongchang, is likely to showcase pre-standard 5G technologies, as could the FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018. The EU is also keen to be in the 5G vanguard: In January 2016, the European Commission summoned CEOs from Europe’s 10 largest telecoms groups to a meeting in Brussels to discuss how to speed up the deployment of 5G services. Six months later, the CEOs of leading operators and equipment vendors signed a manifesto outlining the steps required for a timely deployment of 5G in Europe.
- What will happen to 4G?
A young and sophisticated technology, 4G has a long life ahead of it. Even after the arrival of 5G, 4G networks will continue to expand and connections will continue to grow. Between now and 2020, 4G technologies will evolve in multiple different ways, enabling many new services and business models. For example, 4G technologies are being adapted to create low power, wide area networks that can support large numbers of battery-powered devices, such as smart meters or environmental monitors.
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