LIVE FROM HUAWEI GLOBAL MBB FORUM 2019, ZURICH: Although 5G took centre stage on the keynote stage, operators were urged not to neglect 4G LTE, with the network technology expected to deliver services and cost savings for years to come.

During the LTE Evolution Summit, speakers from 5G pioneer operators, industry groups and vendors emphasised the benefits of continued investment in versions of LTE technology.

Several representatives lauded the abilities of LTE to provide a much higher standard fallback for 5G data services, with users unlikely to notice a significant drop in quality for the majority of mainstream services, including streaming.

This was cited as especially important during the initial phases of 5G network deployment, when coverage provided by the new technology is far from ubiquitous.

CTO of Swiss operator Sunrise Elmar Grasser added “5G is not everywhere,” so it was important not to fallback to 3G with its noticeable dip in quality.

“An outstanding LTE network is the basis for 5G,” he said, noting operators need to target investment where it will yield the best results.

“The network infrastructure is the basis for business success, Grasser said. “The CTO’s job is to persuade others to invest, sometimes it is easy not to ask for the money.”

While the Swiss operator has no plans to sunset its 3G network, other operators on the agenda were less positive about continuing to offer services over legacy protocols.

Telefonica Germany director of access network engineering Jaime Lluch (pictured) said the operator was “aggressively moving to switch off 3G” as “we cannot afford to keep running 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G,” with the spectrum better utilised for other services.

Lluch added LTE would support traditional services such as voice. Currently around 35 per cent of the operator’s traffic uses VoLTE technology with plans to drastically increase this figure. Telefonica Germany expects to switch off its 3G network no later than 2022.

Speaking later in the session, Zain Group radio networks manager Rami Jazzar and China Unicom network technology research institute chief engineer Guanghai Liu highlighted the acceleration of 2G and 3G migration would bring operational efficiencies. Liu added the combination of 4G and 5G could offer “user experience consistency”.

Huawei CMO of LTE products Liang Qin pointed to increased usage of LTE brought about by a change in user behaviour in South Korea following the launch of 5G services in the country.

According to its statistics, since the launch of the new network technology in the country, data consumed on LTE networks has increased by a third since operators brought 5G to market.

While the majority of representatives at the session focused on LTE’s relationship with 5G to provide core and anchor services, Globe Telcom head of integrated masterplanning Ron Ng highlighted LTE’s position acting alongside its fixed wireless 5G service, with the company yet to offer mobile 5G.

Developing sectors
The abilities of LTE and supported devices in developing markets was another key theme pointed to in the continued evolution of the technology.

GSMA head of sub-Saharan Africa Akinwale Goodluck said in the region he represents 5G was not a priority, with the efficient buildout of LTE one of the primary elements driving digital inclusion and operator growth in the region.

Goodluck urged concentration on this technology rather than operators being forced to spend large amounts of money on buying licences to operate 5G.

Also focusing on emerging markets, the ability of LTE chipsets and networks to support affordable smartphones and “smart feature phones” was highlighted by Shikuan Li, VP of business development at semiconductor company Unisoc.

Li added the technology also supported a range of IoT devices, a use case for LTE also pointed to by Qin and GSMA head of IoT Graham Trickey, who noted current standards for NB-IoT and LTE-M could offer many of the cited use cases for IoT technology discussed in relation to 5G.