Is 2020 a realistic deadline for 5G? Not everyone thinks so...

Joanne Taaffe

September 23, 2014

3 Min Read
5G by 2020: Too Much, Too Soon?

LONDON -- The 5G Huddle -- "2020" has a ring to it, but is that a reason to use it as a deadline for 5G commercialization? Some speakers at the 5G Huddle in London think not.

But the industry may have no choice but to hurry towards 2020 if it wants to avoid a fragmentation of standards similar to that experienced with 3G networks. (See 5G Threatens Mobile Sector Disruption.)

Nevertheless not everyone appreciates the haste.

"It doesn't matter what we do, or what we have to do, it has to be done by 2020 no matter what. Is it a realistic date or is it being forced upon us?" asked Adrian Scrase, chief technical officer, ETSI. Scrase suggests better standards will be developed if "we say what are we trying to achieve, how long it will take, and then set a deadline. But from this event, I have the impression we are working backwards from a date," says Scrase.

But "2020" isn't purely arbitrary. Several delegates have pointed out that South Korea and Japan are keen to have 5G networks up and running in some form by the time each country hosts Olympic games in 2018 and 2020, respectively. Certainly South Korea, which is investing US$1.5 billion in 5G development, is taking 5G rollout very seriously. (See DoCoMo's 2020 Vision for 5G.)

In the meantime there are concerns that if 5G standards are not agreed upon soon, then operators will face the same problem they encountered with 3G: There will be several network "standards" as various camps rush to commercialize their variants of 5G.

"I think the risk is that 5G may develop around different patterns," says Thibaut Kleiner, an advisor to European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes, referring to the interoperability problems faced with 3G.

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Many delegates would prefer to see the same cohesive approach to standardization that was taken with LTE. However, the threat of WiMax made it easier for the mobile industry to coalesce around LTE: 5G has no similar competitive force to concentrate the collective standardization mind.

"With LTE we had implicit consensus. The situation with 5G is different... it's more difficult. We have activities in different regions," says Dr Werner Mohr, chair, 5G PPP, who describes the current level of agreement on air interface standards lying somewhere between the cohesion of LTE and the fragmentation of 3G -- albeit closer to LTE.

Whatever happens, for now "the 5G timeline remains controlled by external events," according to Mohr. "The research program is 2014-2020. It should lead to commercialization by then, but it doesn't mean we WILL develop systems by 2020," says Mohr.

Or that 5G systems will be deployed. Operators are not necessarily in a hurry to switch to 5G, even if they adopt some elements of the 5G moveable feast, such as SDN or NFV, in the meantime. (See Clouding the Edge for LTE-A and Beyond.)

"When is the right time? 2020? It is quite an interesting dynamic," says Dr Nektaria Efthymiou, head of network strategy, Telefonica UK, adding that "financial markets might penalize" too early an introduction of 5G. "We can still deliver over 4G -- which is a brilliant system," says Efthymiou.

— Joanne Taaffe, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Joanne Taaffe

Joanne has been covering the global telecoms industry since 1999, when she joined Communication Week International in London. Joanne went on to become Deputy Editor of Total Telecom Magazine in Paris. Now back in the UK, Joanne continues to write about all things telecoms, but also makes time to contribute to a French military history magazine, "Guerres & Histoire."

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