For Ericsson, 5G will be much more than just a new radio technology.
That sounds like quite a departure for a company that has been at the forefront of mobile network developments for the past two decades. But according to Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) CTO Ulf Ewaldsson, the vendor believes this future generation of mobile networking technology should encompass not just speedier radio access networks, but also cloud networks, applications, devices, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, the Internet of Things (IoT), and how all of this works together to deliver high-quality services. (See The 5G Landgrab.)
"We're taking a new approach in 5G," said Ewaldsson, speaking to Light Reading on the sidelines of the recent GigaOM Structure Europe conference in London. "It would not be meaningful to just go out and develop a new radio."
Ericsson, of course, does have some ideas about what those new radios will be. Ewaldsson rattled off characteristics, such as "very ultra-high band, operating above 30GHz, very high downlink speeds and so forth." Also, the new technology will be complementary to all previous 2G, 3G, and 4G mobile systems as well, he added.
But 5G will differ from previous mobile technologies particularly in how the specifications are defined and developed. "The requirements on 5G will come from the applications, the users, and the devices, whereas the requirements on the previous systems have been from think-tanks of standardization people," said Ewaldsson.
Signs that the industry is taking a new approach to 5G are already evident in early R&D projects. Companies from industries other than telecom have been involved in collecting requirements for 5G. For example, the European Union-funded 5G research project called METIS (which, as you would have guessed, is short for "Mobile and wireless communications Enablers for the Twenty-twenty (2020) Information Society") includes not just the usual suspects of equipment suppliers, operators, and academics but also automotive industry giants such as BMW.
So what is Ericsson's vision for 5G? "This is the technology that will build a networked society. In order to build a networked society we need to look beyond radio," said Ewaldsson. "Even though we believe that mobility in the networked society is a cornerstone, it's also about the cloud and the broadband networks that are connecting the clouds and the mobile users."
In Ericsson's vision, services will reside in clouds. The goal with 5G is to enable quality service delivery from those clouds to any type of mobile device, whether a handset or mobile-enabled machine. As Ewaldsson explained, an application or service can send a bit between the cloud and a mobile device with ultra-high precision -- that is, it arrives at exactly the right time with exactly the right quality of service. "So, the system can provide with surgical precision something to a device that it needed," he said.
In addition, the system can lower the precision requirements for less critical applications. "In other words, it's about machines talking to each other… [and being able to] guide a car down a road and do remote eye surgery," he said. "And this is where other industries will transform using 5G technology."
Ericsson has even hatched an idea for 5G that would involve measuring a user's experience based on what/how a person is feeling, the idea being to develop "something in the system that knows your experience -- if it was good or bad, or how it really was."
If this all sounds somewhat vague, that's because the requirements for 5G have not yet been defined or agreed. It is not yet known, for example, which air interface will be adopted for 5G. After all, this is technology that won't be in use until 2020 at the earliest.
According to the METIS project, the general requirements include the following:
- user data rates ranging from 1 Gbit/s to 10 Gbit/s
- 10 to 100 times more connected devices on the network
- 10 times longer battery life for low-power "massive machine communications"
- end-to-end latency of less than 5 milliseconds with high reliability.
The technologies -- not to mention spectrum -- needed to achieve those goals will be debated and identified during the next several years and, of course, Ericsson won't be the only major mobile network equipment provider seeking to determine 5G's course. (See Huawei Sets Out Its 5G Stall, NSN Gets Its Cloud On, and Samsung: Inching Toward 5G?)
While 5G technology (whatever it may be) is a long way from being deployed, the visions for 5G are being rolled out now.
— Michelle Donegan, contributing editor, special to Light Reading