QUALCOMM 4G/5G SUMMIT, HONG KONG: Mobile operators must make the switch to 5G as seamless as possible, beefing up 4G networks’ capabilities to ensure a smooth transition to the next-generation technology.
Panellists in a 5G-focused session broadly agreed operators must plot a careful route beyond 4G to avoid disappointing subscribers and prepare for a wide range of expected new use cases.
“What we don’t want to repeat is the 3G story, where we built 3G over 2G and when you fell off 3G you fell so far in speed it was almost not usable,” Mike Wright, MD of networks for Australia-based Telstra (pictured, second from left) explained.
“We need to build 4G a layer up, so when we build out 5G and transition, we can basically sell the pre-5G use case on the 4G layer.”
Wright said his biggest concern about the industry’s aggressive push to 5G is setting it up properly and not rushing, “because if the transition trips us up, it will definitely damage our reputation”.
Qualcomm SVP of product management Serge Willenegger (pictured, far right) stressed operators, with billions of 4G users globally, can’t transition from 4G to 5G in one shot.
“Having a base layer and having the gap between the old system and the new one to be as small as possible is what we need to make the transition. It’s a global platform everyone relies on, so we cannot mess this up,” he said.
He believes new use cases will create demand for better networks and are already helping the transition to new networks.
By enhancing the capabilities of LTE networks and expanding into new sectors including automotive and IoT, he said the industry is creating demand and stimulating the environment to invest and develop new use cases and business models, which will push operators to the point where they need to transition to the new network, both the core and the radio.
Building a case
Wright said Telstra will continue to drive 4G as far as it can and wants 5G to be as much as possible a transition for customers, first for enhanced mobile broadband then specific use cases.
“Let them feel and experience gigabit LTE, so it feels like 5G, then just take them on the journey up it.”
Telstra sees three basic use cases for 5G: enhanced mobile broadband in some markets, fixed broadband in campuses, and massive machine communications.
To understand the business cases for these, Wright said Telstra first needs to understand the propagation characteristics: “I need to know whether I’m going to go to my existing towers or do I have to build millions of small cells, and go to the board and ask them for billions of dollars.”
Asked about Qualcomm’s ability to solve interference issues as more carrier aggregation combinations emerge, Willenegger said it requires careful attention. But he noted such attention is already the case with 4G today, with certain bands experiencing major interference.
“It’s not new problems but additional layers of complexity or new combinations that we need to address. It’s what we’ve done going through 4G, just with another layer.”
He suggested 3GPP should look forward since there’s a tendency to be conservative: “Technology is moving forward that would allow people to be more aggressive and enable performance that make the business case for deployment and network planning.”
However, he conceded certain combinations of spectrum will remain a challenge.