Telefónica's Blanco: 5G NR 'Acceleration' Is 'Big Mistake'

Telefónica's CTO says operators risk messing up the 5G business case if they close the radio specifications too soon.

Iain Morris, International Editor

February 27, 2017

4 Min Read
Telefónica's Blanco: 5G NR 'Acceleration' Is 'Big Mistake'

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2017 -- Enrique Blanco has a bone to pick with some of his fellow operators.

The chief technology officer of Spain's Telefónica is not at all happy about a press release that went out yesterday in which a number of telcos, as well as several high-profile equipment makers, called for an "acceleration" in the schedule for the standardization of the 5G new radio (NR) specifications.

The signatories to that document, which include BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM), Telecom Italia (TIM) and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) within Europe, believe this "acceleration" will allow them to begin trials and deployments of 5G NR in 2019, rather than 2020.

Companies would do this by using locked-down 5G NR specifications in conjunction with their existing LTE radio and evolved packet core network -- essentially adding a new 5G radio access carrier to support 5G use cases from 2019 onwards.

The type of deployment is called "non-standalone" 5G NR, and you can get a better idea of what it means, and how it differs from the "standalone" variety, in this Heavy Reading blog.

So what's Blanco's gripe?

The Telefónica man appears to believe that closing down the NR specifications today would be a retrograde step, preventing the technology from evolving to meet new and unforeseen use cases that might emerge in the next few years.

Blanco says he can understand why some operators focused on specific use cases might want to close down the 5G NR specifications today. But he also reckons those companies are thinking about 5G with a 4G mindset, and may ultimately come to regret it.

"As far as Telefónica is concerned, if someone is thinking 5G will be deployed and implemented like 4G, they are making a big mistake," he says. "This is not going to be about new devices and antennas. The radio is not the key topic. There is a lot of noise about the radio but we need to make noise about the whole architecture -- for me, much more relevant is the issue of network slicing."

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel
here on Light Reading.

Made possible through some of the SDN and NFV innovations happening on the core network side, this slicing should in theory allow operators to provide many types of differentiated network service over the same infrastructure.

Importantly, as far as Blanco is concerned, that changes the relationship with end customers entirely. In a 3G and 4G world, operators tried adapting customers to the parameters set by particular radio capabilities. But with 5G and network slicing, it is the networks that will need adapting to the customers and their demands.

Blanco also thinks the rollout of 5G radio networks will happen over a longer time frame than some may be expecting as devices and antennas are slowly replaced.

Indeed, he says many of the features that are being discussed in a 5G context are actually making their way into 4G radio networks, including technologies such as the bandwidth-boosting massive MIMO as well as beamforming, which ensures that signals are more effectively focused on end-user devices.

Because he sees 5G as more of an evolution than a revolution, Blanco is skeptical that 5G will trigger a big increase in network spending when it first appears.

Such an increase would be welcome to Western equipment vendors, some of which may already have been hoping that 5G helps to reinvigorate their fortunes. But even Finland's Nokia has acknowledged that 5G is likely to be "an adjunct to 4G" for a long time to come. (See Don't Count on 5G for a Capex Boost.)

Interestingly, Nokia's name was also absent from the press release calling for the acceleration of the 5G NR specifications process.

Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) appears to believe that accelerating the NR standard would leave it out of synch with the development of the 5G packet core that will enable key features, such as network slicing. (See Nokia Pitches Full 5G Suite but Shies Away From 5G Acceleration Push.)

The result could be a schism in the development community that ultimately slows down the development of 5G technology.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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