DoCoMo & EE Share 5G Visions

As the industry searches for 5G answers, two telcos shed some light on their mobile network evolution strategies.

Michelle Donegan, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

June 10, 2015

4 Min Read
DoCoMo & EE Share 5G Visions

NTT Docomo and EE mapped out their visions for 5G at a press event hosted by Nokia Networks in London on Tuesday, and effectively planted "You are here" signs in this largely uncharted technology territory.

That doesn't mean these operators have 5G all figured out. They don't, of course. But they do have a good idea of where they want to go, and both operators conveyed the sense that their journeys toward 5G have already begun as certain technologies that they are working with now will serve as stepping stones to 5G in the future.

For example, Dr Sadayuki Abeta, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM)'s director of radio access network development, pointed to the operator's work with advanced centralized-RAN (C-RAN) architecture for LTE-Advanced carrier aggregation, which is basically carrier aggregation between macrocells and small "add-on" cells to increase network capacity and speed.

"This is an idea you can use in 5G," said Abeta.

DoCoMo has one of the most aggressive plans for 5G with a looming target of having a commercial 5G network up and running for the Tokyo Olympics in July 2020. The operator is testing potential technologies in various spectrum bands with eight vendors, including Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), Mitsubishi Corp. and NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701). (See 5G: Generation Gap, Getting Massive at DoCoMo's 5G Lab, and 5G: Meet the Influencers.)

While DoCoMo believes some of 5G will build on 4G technology developments, new technology will be needed to meet the requirements of massive device connectivity and extremely low-power consumption for Internet of Things (IoT) services.

DoCoMo's vision for 5G includes the use of higher frequency bands, small cells, massive MIMO, new radio access technology (RAT) -- such as the operator's own non-orthogonal multiple access (NOMA) -- as well as the "phantom cell" concept, which enables inter-cell coordination in a small cell overlay architecture. As for spectrum, the operator expects to use a mix of existing frequency bands, new frequencies that will be licensed after 2019, as well as unlicensed bands.

The results so far from DoCoMo's many tests with the eight different vendors haven't yet yielded a definitive answer about which frequency bands are best suited for 5G applications, according to Abeta. "We haven’t decided which frequency band to use for 5G. We're looking at what's technically possible," he said.

Next page: Stairway to heaven

Stairway to heaven
For EE , meanwhile, the way to 5G isn't so much a journey as a "Stairway to heaven," according to Mansoor Hanif, the UK operator's director of radio access networks. Hanif said that network nirvana is when "the customer experience is way ahead of the customer expectation."

"There's too much focus on the 'G's'," he said. "The real global race is between customer expectation and customer experience. We'll drive and implement the best of all G's to win that race. It's all about the customer experience."

Hanif also noted that the UK will take a different path to 5G and move at a different pace than Asia. That's mainly due to different user expectations, variable fiber speeds in the UK and the high cost of physical upgrades. "It's hugely expensive to do macro upgrades," he said.

"We can apply 5G innovations incrementally on our 4G network where it makes sense for our customers," he said. "We don't necessarily want to be first with 5G, but we want to be aligned with industry thinking in the future."

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

The 5G focus for EE will be on small cells and mobile edge computing (MEC), according to Hanif.

"Of all the 5G technology goodies out there, if there's any one technology that stands out, it's MEC," said Hanif. "Because you're putting the computing power and added value right where the customer needs it most."

5G's first steps
According to Nokia's VP of networks marketing, Phil Twist, the 5G era marks a shift to a "programmable world" and this shift has already begun. 5G is not just about speed and capacity, and it's much more than the radio network, he explained. Rather, 5G is a "programmable, software driven and holistically managed network architecture."

He pointed to Nokia's recent launch of the AirFrame Data Center solution as a prime example of this shift. The family of servers, switches and storage units represents a new way to have an IT-style architecture designed to meet specific telco performance requirements. (See Nokia Unveils Telco Cloud Hardware Platform and Nokia Advances MEC for 5G, IoT.)

The 5G destination is not yet clear, but it seems the journey for some has already started.

– Michelle Donegan, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Michelle Donegan

Contributing Editor, Light Reading

Michelle Donegan is an independent technology writer who has covered the communications industry on both sides of the Pond for the past twenty years.

Her career began in Chicago in 1993 when Telephony magazine launched an international title, aptly named Global Telephony. Since then, she has upped sticks (as they say) to the UK and has written for various publications, including Communications Week International, Total Telecom, Light Reading, Telecom Titans and more.

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