Light Reading

Ready or Not, Here Comes 5G

Michelle Donegan
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
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:

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User Rank: Moderator
2/26/2014 | 10:50:49 PM
For the machines
Hmm... Skynet has already gone online by now so we will definitely need the unknown power of 5G. How else will we regain control if not by way of creating a totally different standard? Skynet isn't really into mobile so we're probably pretty safe right now.
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2014 | 3:35:11 PM
Re: Countdown to the first commercial
1,000 times more mobile traffic!

100 times more connected devices than today!

I find these numbers extremely conservative. So hard to project where we are going, but I believe that we're going to see even more eye-popping numbers than that. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2014 | 8:13:13 AM
Re: Countdown to the first commercial
They will certainly be touting 5G for a long time before it is ready. I don't know how many years we were stuck at 2.5G with 3G "just around the corner." The move from 3G to 4G was much faster. So perhaps the move from 4 to 5 will be faster still. Of course, as soon as we have it, we will be looking for 6G.
User Rank: Blogger
2/26/2014 | 7:56:48 AM
Re: Countdown to the first commercial
Yeah, the ITU defined what has become LTE-Advanced as true 4G. Operators jumped the gun and are leaping before the gun is even out of the holster this time.
User Rank: Light Beer
2/25/2014 | 11:14:32 PM
Re: Countdown to the first commercial
Bet on it. They're just dying to be able to claim they're the first 5G, the best 5G, or whatever, when there isn't even a technical definition of it yet! The marketers are driving the bus.
R Clark
R Clark,
User Rank: Blogger
2/25/2014 | 7:19:24 PM
Re: Countdown to the first commercial
Yeah, there's a big first mover disadvantage if you don't have industry backing.  People are now fighting over the remains of Wimax, the first 4G.
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/25/2014 | 6:19:06 PM
Re: Countdown to the first commercial
Wasn't 4G kind of established before carrier marketing departments got involved in an attempt to broaden it to include HSPA+ so they woudn't get caught in false advertising disputes? I can't quite remember the history and apparently I'm too lazy to Google it after a long day....
User Rank: Blogger
2/25/2014 | 6:12:00 PM
Re: Countdown to the first commercial
Judging by the comments here, looks like the 5G tag is already a source of debate. As we know from 4G, the first to market gets to define it for a while, but perhaps not in the long run.
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/25/2014 | 5:13:48 PM
Re: Countdown to the first commercial
Yes, if I recall correctly, there reached a point where anything that effectively operated at more than say cans-and-string speed was allowed to be 4G, yes? Is there anything cohesively holding this new standard to a more sensible definition? Such an interesting collision of engineering and marketing.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
2/25/2014 | 2:41:13 PM
"I feel a cringe in the force." Love it!
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