As commercial services begin to ramp across the globe it’s a fair question. And, after attending the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) International Conference and Exhibition in Vancouver earlier this month, witnessing a host of viewpoints and successes from operators and vendors alike, there’s a strong case that it has.
At GSMA Intelligence, we’re very confident that 5G will see good progression, forecasting over 1 billion 5G connections by 2024 worldwide. However, what was more evident was a reality check as we approach widespread commercial rollout, with companies showing a much-refined understanding of the challenges and requirements for delivering beyond the promise of 5G.
From a consumer perspective, the biggest improvement customers will expect from the next generation of mobile is faster data speed. But what was further emphasised in Vancouver is that the ambitions of the technology goes far beyond the idea of just better mobile broadband.
5G is expected to be the connectivity framework that operates in low- to high-band frequencies to provide a thorough mix of capacity, coverage, throughput and low latency. Beyond simple expectations, however, there were examples, from a range of applications for vertical industries, to field trials and first deployment stories, which brought this 5G ambition to light. Telecom Italia outlined various applications it has trialled and tested in its refined categories of use cases, such as drone patrolling in its public safety use case; and BT spoke of nine 5G trial sites that are live across East London, which has so far encompassed every element of building a new 5G network, from obtaining planning permission and access agreements, through to managing RF power outputs.
Strategies for migration from 4G to 5G, enabling platforms, roadmaps and deployment strategy from a vendor perspective were also well covered. As you’d expect from the vendor community, optimism surrounded 5G, which was vindicated by some of their announcements of recent successes.
Nokia, for example, when talking about field trials described its engagement in network slicing projects in sectors ranging from robotics, manufacturing and smart cities. With the latter it specified an example of connecting slices with street furniture.
Ericsson was proud of its part in fixed wireless access (FWA), boasting of its existing achievements in deployments with 4G and detailing plans of accelerating rollout in 5G. Though Verizon are the only ones with its flag in the ground with 5G FWA, Ericsson remains positive of other operators following suit despite being fully aware of the varying regional dynamics (only Deutsche Telekom in Europe, so far, has announced plans of an FWA launch).
Innovation was a strong point, too. The event sponsor, Telus, showcased its working relationship with several start-ups and SMEs with innovative solutions. This ranged from Riot Micro, a semiconductor start-up which introduced its new low-power chipset addressing the battery and memory issues in cellular IoT and NB-IoT, to Dali Wireless, a wireless infrastructure provider evangelising interoperability between operators through infrastructure sharing solutions.
While innovation has been core to every generation of wireless, it’s particularly important in 5G as operators look for ways of keeping capex and opex in check. I’ve seen and modelled no shortage of examples (see the GSMA Future Networks – Network Economics report) but it’s always good to see more.
Understanding the challenge
Beside the pros it seemed the difficulties were also well understood.
A common theme throughout was the question of cost and the need to make networks more efficient in the 5G era. There are value propositions to be realised and advancements in the network architecture are undoubtedly needed, but there has to be a degree of pragmatism when it comes to cost effective 5G network rollout. Telus highlighted the need for sound economics as one of three key drivers for 5G success (along with innovation on use cases, and spectrum and legislation), while Orange Labs rightly specified the need for operators to find ways to lower their energy-related opex, as we move into the era of rapid data consumption growth.
Security requirements and the importance of end-to-end solutions were also rightly highlighted as a major challenge. Security will be a differentiator and securing 5G will require a new approach, especially as we move towards Ultra Reliable Low Latency applications and services. There is an argument that the ecosystem is not prepared adequately to deal with threats such as authentication bypass vulnerabilities or brute force attempts: connected car hacking is an important example.
Elsewhere, it was well accepted that the business model is more complicated than it was few years ago: value creation and the business case in general will continue to be mulled.
The most lucrative use cases are still unknown, while the right strategies to ensure efficient capex and opex spending is still being considered. In addition, standardisation efforts alone are not sufficient for a simple go to market. There are many options in place and dialogue with other entities, initiatives and communities is needed to build ecosystems and drive industry collaboration, for example Open RAN (ORAN) Alliance and the 5G Slicing Association.
Entities like NGMN and GSMA are also continuing to help provide these guidelines.
Ultimately, however, the show emphasised the state of 5G; nothing ground-breaking yet but the key proponents in networks understand the 5G vision and are investing determinedly to make it a reality, which is encouraging. The examples of clearer use cases, successful field and lab trials and first deployments underline this.
In my view, 5G will succeed only with a strong sense of practicality and a clear understanding of the challenges. Operators need to focus not only on being efficient while handling the massive quantities of data expected to be generated from both consumer and IoT, but also understanding the value they can derive from it. This step undeniably needs a collaborative effort from the industry and, for me, is the key pragmatic component to achieving 5G palpability.
– Jasdeep Badyal, senior analyst, strategy – GSMA Intelligence
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.Subscribe to our daily newsletter