5G Development: 3 Answers to "What's Next?"

Posted by Mae Kowalke on Wednesday, February 22, 2017 with No comments

The evolution (or revolution, if you envision faster, more dramatic change) toward 5G continues apace as 2017 unfolds. Exactly what 5G will be once it arrives remains to be seen, but operators and vendors continue with various developments that clearly have the next generation of mobile networks in mind. Where do we go from here? Below are three answer to that question, illustrated by recent telecom news stories.

Business Models Changing with New Technology

The development of futuristic mobile networks capable of dramatically more capacity and lower latency than anything seen before has operators speculating about what types of applications such a network might be used for, how they can set themselves up to best monetize those services, and what other changes might be needed to their business models and the technology that undergirds their success. 

For example, O2 is justifying its investment in 5G rollout by predicting that as early as 2026, the direct economic benefits of 5G will be greater than that of fibre, TelecomTV reported. O2 thinks 5G will deliver that economic impact nearly twice as fast as fibre broadband. 

Meanwhile, in the U.S., carriers have been focused on acquiring as much 5G spectrumin the 28 GHz and 39 GHz frequency bandsas they can, noted RCRWireless News, a move that could exclude future fixed wireless access deployments from those frequencies. 

Of course, such bands are restricted to much shorter ranges than frequencies (e.g. 700 MHz) that cellular carriers have typically used for fixed wireless access, so the utility of the 'new' frequency will likely be limited to different types of applications. At least in the short run, RCRWireless News predicts, 5G spectrum will be dominated by a 'mobile first' strategy. 

Incremental Steps Toward 5G

While you could argue that it's quite risky for operators to invest in new technology when 5G standards are still in development, it's apparent they are taking an evolutionary path toward 5G, pointed out TelecomTV. Especially in the core network, the foundations for 5G are already being laid, even though standards for hardware and software are unlikely to be complete before 2020. 

This incremental approach is well and alive among vendors, too, and that's leading to some new terminology. For example, Nokia plans to start offering "4.9G" technology later this year, Light Reading reported. Essentially this means an incremental upgrade to 4G, manifested as large antenna arrays that super-charge LTE capabilities. Sprint is a likely to be an early adopter of this technology. 

In another area of preparation for 5G, service providers seeking a way to increase capacity and spectral efficiency of existing LTE deployments are experimenting with cell virtualization, RCRWireless News noted

"Using software to manage C-RAN deployments, cell virtualization improves spectral usage and provides a better user experience," explained RCRWireless News.

The goal, of course, is that holy grail of competitive advantage for mobile providers: maximize utilization of existing network and spectrum investments to provide a high-quality experience for users. 

Trials Point the Way for 5G Deployment

As with any new technology or way of doing things, the best way to avoid costly mistakes is to conducttrials and scale them up gradually, making corrections along the way. RCRWireless News recently reported on early 5G trials in two areas of the globe:
  • Europe, where trials are underway in France by Orange (with Ericsson), in Italy by TIM, in Spain by Telefonica (with ZTE and Huawei), in Russia by MTS (with Nokia), and in Turkey by Turkcell (with Ericsson).
  • The U.S., where Verizon is moving ahead with 'commercial-scale pilots' in about 10 locations; AT&T plans to soon launch its '5G Evolution in Indianapolis and Austin, Texas; T-Mobile is testing 5G technologies from Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung; Sprint trialled 5G technology from Nokia and Ericsson using 73 GHz and 15 GHz bands, in Santa Clara, California during the Copa America Centenario soccer tournament; and U.S. Cellular last year completed two 5G tests with Ericsson and Nokia. 
These trials involve technologies like LTE-A and millimeter wave spectrum bands. 

In a similar vein, Charter Communications recently announced it's doing some 5G tests, part of a mobile offering planned for 2018 roll-out, SDxCentral reported. This is possible through a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreement with Verizon. 

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