LIVE FROM BROADBAND WORLD FORUM 2018, BERLIN: Industry experts from around the world revealed their attitudes towards 5G, with differing plans for deployment of the next-generation wireless technology.

Muhammad Sameh, chief digital officer at Telecom Egypt (pictured, third left), said the operator is testing 5G now and it will “get the operator the power again”.

“I think that new applications will be dependent on the operator’s network. It’s not anymore that the OTTs sit on top, because you have a network that you software define and slice, and then provide the different solutions for different industries,” he said.

But Sameh acknowledged the rollout of 5G technology does not come without challenges: “We will not be able to deploy 5G everywhere. You will have challenges on the infrastructure side: the greenfield areas; gated communities; and new cities will be easier, but the problem is going to be how fast you can deploy in old cities. But the old cities have the big customers and the major applications.”

Peter Delling, SVP of strategy for cable company Unity Media (pictured, second left), noted the nature of 5G technology means it is not surprising that operators are taking different approaches to their rollouts.

“5G is a technology based on so many different isolated, but complementary parts within the full network that most of the operators don’t have a full-blown 5G strategy, but do obviously what is best for them and their specific network topology, the use cases they expect, monetisation potential they expect.”

“The 5G story of Verizon in the US is totally different from the story of Vodafone in Germany,” he said.

For Republic of Ireland fixed wireless operator Imagine Communications, 5G has already delivered. Leo Lundy, CTO (pictured, second right), said: “We’ve just come through quite a significant funding round and I think what got us over the line was that we had a 5G roadmap. So it’s done something already, although we haven’t actually deployed 5G.”

Lundy said while some aspects of 5G are appealing for a company providing fixed wireless access services, others do not have the same draw: “I look forward to the spectral efficiency that is coming along with 5G, that is no doubt going to improve both capacity and speeds, but the densification aspect of 5G is not something we would deploy. We are not going to hang a small cell off every lamppost in the country,” he said.

Paul Hjul, director of South African start-up service provider Crystal Web (pictured, right), questioned the need for operators to roll out 5G, “other than, to put it bluntly, as a pissing contest”.

“One of the network operators is going to make an announcement that they will be the first to 5G, and they will in my view waste money on pretending to have 5G when they don’t have a use case other than making it appear they are more innovative than they actually are.”

But he did acknowledge 5G will play an important role in driving the rollout of fibre in the country to deliver the high-capacity backhaul needed to support high-speed mobile networks: “If you factor that into your planning and factor that into your business case to do fibre deployment, it’s a remarkably different business model.”

Martin Wessel, head of technology innovation at Telecom Argentina (pictured, left), said the company is not planning to deploy 5G “in the next couple of years”.

“We are working a lot with our 4G network, and we still have a lot of work to do. And at the same time we know 5G will be our next network. We are not now thinking about the deployment of a 5G network, but we are working in some aspects that we know will be important for the future, such as virtualisation and IP backhaul,” he said

Spectrum challenge
A common theme was the need for spectrum and, after the costly Italian auction, price will be an important factor.

Lundy said: “My message to regulators would be to get as much appropriate 5G spectrum out there as soon as possible: the technology is ready or is going to be ready very soon, and we’ll certainly embrace any and all spectrum that is appropriate to us.”

“We’re not a mobile operator, we don’t have deep pockets, we’ll be looking at the scraps off the table of the mobile operators, to be truthful. It will be expensive, but it will be our business, and we will be encouraged to dig deep for spectrum.”

With 5G being positioned as a key enabler for industrial transformation, as well as enabling enhanced consumer services, there was a concern this could lead to governments seeing the technology, and specifically the spectrum which enables it, as a money-spinner.

Hjul commented: “There is an interesting dynamic here concerning governments and hype. Because spectrum is quite frankly an area where I think many governments think it’s a cash cow. There’s this idea that the greater the hype, the more money that’s made on the auction.”

With Germany in the process of finalising rules for a spectrum auction, Delling warned that “in my view, in Germany, the politically-triggered discussion around 5G is close to frenzy, painting the picture the country will lose out massively on competitiveness internationally if we don’t have 5G everywhere yesterday.”

Mansoor Hanif, CTO of UK regulator Ofcom (pictured, third right), said: “We totally share your pain and our biggest objective now is to get as much of the spectrum that people are asking for out as quickly as possible, and we’re working on that.” Some spectrum has already been allocated in the UK, with more in the pipeline.

“There is a process which takes a bit of time, like building a network takes time. You can’t do it in a day,” he said.