Real 5G Years Away Even as Wireless Industry Prepares for Its Arrival

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2016-10-03 Print this article Print
Getting Ready for 5G

"LTE has long legs and is not likely to disappear soon," and will co-exist for a long time, he said. In a recent report, analysts with SNS Research said that while 5G will drive spending in the long term, LTE networks will generate significant revenues over the next several years.

Mobile operators will generate $600 billion in service revenue from commercial LTE networks this year, a figure that will grow at more than 5 percent a year over the next four years. In addition, more than half of all LTE subscribers will be supported with LTE-A networks by 2020.

Also by 2020, infrastructure investments in LTE and 5G will hit $32 billion, including spending on macro cells, small cells, advanced RAN architectures and mobile core technologies.

Network equipment vendors also are looking to use incremental evolution of 4G to help carriers on their paths to 5G. Nokia earlier this month unveiled not only 4.5G Pro, which officials said will boost capacity and speed in operators' networks as they move their infrastructures to 5G, but also plans for 4.9G as another incremental step toward the next-generation technology.

The 4.5G Pro technologies, slated to arrive in 2017 and powered by Nokia's AirScale radio portfolio, will deliver 10 times the speeds of 4G networks, enabling service providers to take advantage of diverse licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

Nokia executives say 4.9G will be even faster and offer more capacity while reducing latency to complement 5G radio coverage.

Challenges Going Forward

Despite the promises of 5G and the amount of effort being put behind its development, the road to 5G will have its share of hurdles. One worry has become possible fragmentation of the market. Verizon officials in July released specifications for vendors that will be used to help the carrier build out its 5G networks.

The specifications were developed by members of its 5G Technology Forum, which includes Ericsson, Cisco, Intel, Nokia, Samsung and Qualcomm. The goal is to work on the specifications with vendors and contribute them to the 3GPP, officials have said.

However, AT&T officials reportedly have pushed back at the move, saying it's unlikely that all of Verizon's specifications will be adopted by the 3GPP and that the result could mean products on the market that don't comply with the 3GPP's final standards.

AT&T instead is trying to get things ready for when the first of the 3GPP standards are released in 2018 to accelerate the commercialization of 5G. Ensuring fragmentation won't occur will be important as the industry marches toward 5G.

Other challenges will include the investments that will be required to build 5G networks and the devices that can take advantage of them, while ensuring the security of the networks and the backward compatibility with 4G LTE networks.

IHS' Teral said the industry also has to make a clear argument for use cases for 5G. Many of the ones being discussed currently can be addressed by 4G LTE networks and those that can be made for 5G are expensive.

"The question is, what exactly will you bring to the party that you don't have today with LTE?" he said. "There is no shortage of use cases. The real problem is what is the use case you really need 5G for and how do you monetize it?"

That said, about 75 percent of global operators that participated in an IHS Markit study said that the IoT was the top use case for 5G, according to Teral.

Gartner's Sharma said carriers now need to be taking steps to prepare for the eventual arrival of 5G. Among the work they need to be doing now is retraining their engineers in such areas as DevOps and agile development as well as collaborating with cloud-based partners, he said. Carriers also need to embrace software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) in their infrastructures.

"You can architect your data center today with these [5G] concepts in mind so when it gets fully baked, you're ready to go," Sharma said. "And you can implement it not with new people, but with the people you already have."



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