The rollout of 5G wireless networks needs help in the form of standards, openness and streamlined government regulation, according to top engineers at some of North America's top wireless carriers and equipment providers. Even so, many believe it will happen much sooner than has been predicted.
Precisely what 5G is has yet to be concretely defined by the industry. The Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance, an industry association of mobile carriers, has defined requirements for 5G including data rates, transmission speeds, spectral efficiency and latency. However, the industry has yet to come together on standards for 5G networks.
Nevertheless, firms are plunging ahead with 5G trials. Both Verizon and AT&T are currently conducting major 5G trials in several U.S. cities, and a number of trials are also being conducted by wireless operators in Europe and Asia. More extensive trials throughout the globe are planned for next year.
Broad deployment of 5G networks is not expected until the 2020 timeframe, according to Sam Lucero, a senior principal analyst for M2M at IoT at IHS Markit.
But despite the lack of standards, a number of speakers at last month's Mobile World Congress (MWC) Americas in San Francisco were more bullish on 5G and expectations for its rollout.
"We expect 5G to come faster and be broader than originally thought," said Rajeev Suri, president and CEO of Nokia. Suri said Nokia expects 5G networks to be deployed in 2019, with widespread trials next year.
Speakers at a panel about 5G — including the chief technology officers of the largest wireless carriers in the U.S. — spoke glowingly about the promise of 5G even as they acknowledged that much remains to be done before the technology is ready to deploy on a large scale.
"4G is like a really good rock band," said Andre Feutsch, CTO at AT&T. "5G is like a finely tuned orchestra." He added that he sees n 5G a tremendous opportunity for advancing and "frankly making the network more relevant."
"From a network perspective, [5G] is an evolution," said Gordon Mansfield, vice president of RAN and device design at AT&T. "However, from a capability perspective it will be a revolution as it unfolds."
According to Lucero, a number of technologies and techniques used in 5G will be built on similar technologies being deployed at 4G, a sentiment echoed by the speakers at last month's event.
"The 4G network is foundational to 5G," said Nicki Palmer, chief network officer at Verizon. She added, "It's hard to really peel 4G and 5G apart in some ways. The good news is that the investments we make today [in 4G] lead us down the 5G path."
"We've been trying to define what 5G is for the past five years," said Ron Marquardt, vice president of technology at Sprint. "We are getting close to being able to define that. We need to educate industries on how 5G can and will disrupt them."
Feutsch said 5G technology will enable carriers to provide solutions to a greater number of use cases. He said a lot of the work that has been done to date with pre-standards trials of 5G "were really to gain a lot of insights that helped us feed right back into the standards work."
He added that standardization and openness would be critical to creating the healthy ecosystem that is required to enable 5G to flourish.
"We've got to standardize on this and avoid proprietariness as much as possible" to build a healthy 5G ecosystem Feutsch said. He said a lot of innovation for 5G would come from smaller companies — "disruptors" that need to rely on standards to make the technology they are developing fit into the 5G landscape.
Derek Peterson, chief technology officer at Boingo Wireless, a provider of mobile Internet access, also emphasized the importance of standards and urged audience members to participate in standards efforts. "Participating in standards is very important because it is going to take a collaborative effort to make all of these things work together," he said.
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