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Ready or Not, Here Comes 5G
Michelle Donegan

The race is on to be first with 5G. The starting gun has fired long before the wireless industry has had a chance to recoup 4G investments or complete rollouts, and even before anyone actually knows what 5G will be. As someone from a major equipment vendor said, upon hearing talk of 5G, "I felt a cringe in the force."

5G refers to technology that isn't expected to be deployed until at least 2020. The technology has not been clearly defined, and there are no standards yet. It exists in the minds of bright engineers and on the pages of academic papers riddled with mathematical equations. So why does it matter now? For starters, it can take about 10 years to develop a new wireless system from early research to commercial service deployment, and the development cycle is shrinking with each technology generation from 2G to 3G to 4G. Also, it's more likely than not that today's 4G networks will be overwhelmed sooner rather than later; by 2020, it's expected that there will be 1,000 times more mobile traffic and 100 times more connected devices than today. So, even though it won't be rolled out anytime soon, now is the time to plan for the next generation of mobile communications.

The new Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, "5G Development Plans Begin to Take Shape," presents the current 5G visions from operators, vendors and research groups, maps 5G R&D projects worldwide and considers various options for spectrum allocation. Some of the ideas discussed in the report may never see the light of day in a commercial network, but they illustrate the sector's aspirations for enabling new services, connecting a wider variety of devices and coping with ever-rising levels of mobile traffic in the future.

The industry is currently in an exploratory research phase that is expected to continue for at least the next 12 to 18 months. There is a desire among researchers at vendors, operators and universities alike to ensure that 5G technology is not developed for technology's sake, but in response to real communications needs, whether for people or for machines. The challenge is that they are trying to design a mobile system for the future when the services, apps and devices that will be using the networks in 2020 and beyond haven't even been conceived yet.

It's simply too soon to know precisely what technologies will be part of 5G. But there are some ideas and concepts that were commonly mentioned by the vendors and operators interviewed for this report, including the following: densely deployed indoor and outdoor small cells; new antenna designs, such as Massive MIMO; intelligent, flexible, adaptable and automated networks; interworking of multiple RAN technologies (Multi-RAT), including Wi-Fi; massive machine communications (MMC); the tactile Internet; extending the principles of SDN and NFV from the core network to the RAN; and network performance metrics for energy efficiency.

There are more questions than answers about 5G, but this is how it all begins. The industry has started to plot a course to the next generation of mobile communications that promises not just faster networks, but networks that are more energy efficient, reliable, intelligent, flexible and better able to handle machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. That's the vision. The reality is many years away.

Michelle Donegan, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider


This report,"5G Development Plans Begin to Take Shape," is available as part of an annual subscription (6 issues per year) to Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/4glte.

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