Real 5G Years Away Even as Wireless Industry Prepares for Its Arrival
However, the analyst said that what will come over the next few years will be more an extension of the LTE and LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) standard. Real 5G technology will come when the 6GHz spectrum is put to use. "All the technology being developed for next year are really clearly for the 4G era, coming from the evolution of 4G features," Teral told eWEEK, adding that there is nothing new in the sub-6GHz bands, which is where mobile and wireless communications already are located. "What is it going to bring that we don't already have?" The real change will come with mmWaves in the higher spectrum, which won't come until 2020, he said. John Delaney, associate vice president for mobility at IDC, also is tackling the question. In a recent research note, Delaney pointed out that the 3GPP has agreed on three broad use cases for 5G: enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine-type communications, and ultra-reliable and low-latency communications. While they don't mandate particular technologies, the use cases do point to "certain groups of technology" that will be needed to address them.Real 5G also will bring the need for "new radio" (NR) and new radio access network (RAN) technologies, so that if an RAN uses technologies of 4G or other prior generations, it's probably not a 5G RAN. "We don't know exactly what 5G is yet," he wrote. "But we've reached the point where we know enough about 5G to see what it will not be and to get growing clarity about what it is likely to be. On that basis, we believe we're now entering the period in which vendors' claims to have 5G products need to be considered on their merits, rather than being dismissed out of hand for being 'too early.'" Akshay Sharma, research director in Gartner's Carrier Network Infrastructure group, is less concerned about whether products are 5G or pre-5G and more about the destination. "They're stepping stones to get to the final step of 5G, so it's all good," Sharma told eWEEK. "There are all kinds of different implementations." It comes down to becoming more agile and more flexible, running on more frequencies and being more application-oriented. When companies talk about pre-5G now, they understand essentially what 5G will be about and can help carriers build architectures that will be ready for 5G, he said. "As long as the architecture is directed toward a software-defined model rather than having to rip and replace hardware, that's what carriers are worried about," Sharma said, adding that they want to keep their capital and operational expenses as low as possible. 4G LTE Continues to Evolve While talk turns to 5G, 4G LTE continues to grow. LTE is expected to continue to evolve even as carriers and tech vendors push 5G development. The expectation is that the two technologies will co-exist well into the next decade. Some applications will run in the higher spectrum bands of 5G and others will remain in 4G LTE, similar in the way some traffic now is diverted from broadband networks onto WiFi. LTE is evolving into LTE-A, which is increasingly common now and later with LTE-A Pro. As LTE moves from one iteration to another, such advances as increased carrier aggregation and support of unlicensed spectrum are being addressed. Wider deployments of LTE-A Pro technologies reportedly are still a year away, though it's being tested now. IHS' Teral noted that the rollout of LTE and its variants is only gaining momentum now and that carriers have invested a lot of money and effort to build out their 4G networks. With all investment along with the significant speed, bandwidth and latency advances from 3G to 4G, LTE will continue to be a major factor in wireless networks beyond 2020.
"'Massive' communications, for example, indicates the need to use higher-frequency spectrum, which in turn points to advanced MIMO, advanced beam forming and beam tracking," Delaney wrote. "Another example is 'low-latency' communications, which points to the need for a more decentralized network architecture. … These use case-related technologies can therefore be seen as touchstones for 5G relevance."