5G: Generation Gap

Experts at the sharp edge of 5G development have identified a surprising problem: there's too much agreement.

Five years away from its expected commercial debut, a broad industry consensus has emerged about 5G's key features, in contrast to the dissension that surrounded 3G and 4G.

But NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), perhaps the world's most ambitious 5G operator, worries that the absence of a rival technology could cause its timetable to slip. The Japanese cellco is at the center of a national effort to offer the first commercial service in time for the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2020.

NTT DoCoMo has signed up eight vendor partners to expedite development and is already running trials, including a successful 4.5Gbit/s test with Ericsson.

Takehiro Nakamura, managing director of DoCoMo's 5G Laboratory, admits he has "concerns" about the timetable. "Competitiveness is important to promote systems development," he says. "We had a good competitor in 3G -- 3GPP versus 3GPP2. In the LTE case we had WiMax."

"Thanks to those competitors, we developed the new systems quickly," he adds. "Everybody could focus. But now, there's no competitor and many players have many directions."

He adds that while 2020 is important for Japan, other regions "have a very relaxed schedule -- not 2020, maybe 2023 or 2025."

Erik Dahlman, senior expert in radio access technologies at Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), who took part in the 3G and 4G standards development, admits there is "some truth" in Nakamura's views.

He says while the issue of operator requirements, such as the 125-page NGMN white paper, has been helpful, the industry needs "some kind of push" to stimulate the process.

For more on 5G, visit the dedicated 5G section here on Light Reading, and register to attend the upcoming "Building America's 5G Ecosystem" event in NYC.

Korean operator SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) is also anxious about meeting an Olympics deadline. The Korean government aims to launch a demonstration version of 5G at the 2018 Winter Olympics, much as China launched a pre-commercial version of TD-SCDMA in 2008.

Choi Chang-soon, senior manager at SK Telecom's 5G Tech Lab, says the timetable will be "the tricky part." His small team -- comprising just eight staff -- is hoping to set up a 5G test bed by year-end.

Despite the anxiety over the timing, the Asian cellcos are benefiting from the agreement about the likely shape of 5G, namely: LTE at the core; massive MIMO to take advantage of very high frequencies; latency as low as 1-2mms; and much greater energy efficiency.

As Dahlman puts it, 5G is a different beast. "3G was very much about new radio and 4G was a new radio technology, but 5G is much more than about radio," he says. "5G is about the networked society -- cars, traffic safety, washing machines, industrial robots, everything."

Next page: Radio wrangling

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DHagar 4/14/2015 | 12:39:35 PM
Re: 5G Generation Gap TV Monitor, excellent - thanks!

It sounds as if the market may continue developing on two tracks, one low-cost for the low-band and the higher cost for advanced high-band.  This will be interesting to watch.
TV Monitor 4/14/2015 | 11:01:17 AM
Re: 5G Generation Gap Let me try to break down markets.

China : Chinese low-band 5G standard.

Japan : Japanese low-band 5G standard for Docomo and KDDI. The exception would be Softbank(Owns Sprint in the US), which has a strategic alliance with Huawei and have embraced Chinese 4G standard called TD-LTE, and is likely to repeat this since the adoption of Chinese 5G standard guarantees an earlier availability of iPhone, because there is no commitment that either Apple or Samsung would support Japanese 5G standard, whereas a support for Chinese 5G standard is guaranteed.

Korea : Korean high-band 5G standard in the 28 Ghz band. Koreans will likely skip low-band 5G.

US : Korean high-band 5G standard in the 28 Ghz LMDS frequency that the FCC intends to allocate for 5G services. There is currently no other 5G standard that operates in this LMDS band. One exception might be Softbank owned Sprint, which might try to introduce Chinese low-band 5G standard in 3.5 Ghz band. The big hurdle is that Softbank/Sprint is expressively banned from introducing Chinese equipment in its network as per the takeover agreement signed with the US government, and has infact removed all Chinese equipment already in use at a cost of $1 billion at the time of takeover.

Europe : Situation is murky as there are multiple 5G efforts competing.

Russia : Russia will trial Chinese 5G standard during the 2018 world cup.

Third World Countries : It's anything goes situation, where multiple 5G standards would compete for each country's business. Chinese dominance likely because of the cost competitiveness.
DHagar 4/13/2015 | 10:52:15 PM
Re: 5G Generation Gap TV Monitor, interesting - thanks for informative overview.

That's the way it has evolved to date, do you see that changing and/or is Europe the wild card now?

TV Monitor 4/13/2015 | 10:24:02 PM
Re: 5G Generation Gap DHagar

Certain properties of IoT devices make them unsuitable for high-band 5G, because the IoT boards including the radio transmitter have to be as small as an Apple Watch. 

There is a reason why only Samsung of all equipment vendors mastered high-band 5G(Nokia's trying, but their efforts are several years behind Samsung in maturity as Nokia's high band termnial has 1/10th the range of Samsung's and work at walking speed as opposed to in a 70 mph vehicle in Samsung's effort), because Samsung used technology straight out of military radars to make it work. While Samsung's high band 5G does work in real life, it cannot be smaller than a Galaxy phone for the time being and is quite power hungry. IoT envisions a bunch of devices in stationary deployments, so a low-band comm link or even a straight WiFi is more suitable for them.

As for the market place picking out winngers from losers, it's not that simple as it is inevitable that China,  Japan, and Korea would have their own national standards incompatible with each other. Because the FCC intends to allocate only high-band 5G frequencies, Koreans have won the US 5G contest default because there is no other competitor. The battlegrounds are Europe, India, BRICS, and third world countries where Huawei has an ample opportunity to push the Chinese stanadard at a rock bottom price.
DHagar 4/13/2015 | 8:57:00 PM
Re: 5G Generation Gap TV Monitor, that is my thinking - it seems a likely possibility that the market will adopt the high-band 5G and skip the evolutionary step?  If so, might IoT then just adopt the high-band 5G standard for their platform?
TV Monitor 4/13/2015 | 7:00:31 PM
Re: 5G Generation Gap There is no dedicated IoT radio interface technology. Rather, the IoT is a software platform that is link technology agnostic and is being formulated like HTTP, where data can be transferred using various link technologies that is available at given time.

As for 5G, it is most for mobile devices to cope with exploding user data growth. There are two 5G strategies being pursued, the low-band(Sub 6 Ghz) 5G serviced over existing LTE bands by Ericsson, Japanese and Chinese, and the high-band(Above 28 Ghz) 5G pursued by the Koreans and Nokia.

The rationale for low-band 5G is that the high-band 5G is just too hard to perfect in time and need an interim solution until the high-band 5G becomes ready far into the future, by converting existing 2G and 3G service bands into 5G services.

The proponents of high-band 5G insists that the high-band 5G can be released at the same time as low-band 5G, and there is no reason for low-band 5G to exist at all when the benefits on low-band 5G is not all that clear from existing LTE-A and when the high-band 5G will enter service a lot sooner than most low-band 5G proponents think is possible.

So in fact there is a competition being formulated between low-band 5G and high-band 5G, both expected to enter service in 2020. Chinese and Japanese are going with low-band 5G, and the Koreans are going with high-band 5G. The US too will go high-band 5G based on the FCC Letter Of Inquiry concerning allocating 5G band in spectrums 24 Ghz or above. The big if is Europe.
DHagar 4/13/2015 | 1:59:04 PM
Re: 5G Generation Gap RClark, thanks, that makes sense.

You are speculating that IoT could, as a fallout, drive the demand/usage for 5G, then?  That certainly makes sense as a prospective driver to me.

One other question, where the incremental development is in progress, is it also possible that if there is enough of a market established with 5G, that they could just go directly to adapt 5G and bypass interim steps?
R Clark 4/11/2015 | 11:45:05 PM
Re: 5G Generation Gap

There's demand for vastly improved capacity and performance, and some of that will come from 5G spectrum allocations and new radio, but a lot of that will have to come from incremental improvements to LTE, like hetnets, carrier aggregation, etc.

The big three – the US, Europe and China - will ultiimately determine the timetable, and the Japanese and Koreans are quite conscious of that. It's not a big deal for the industry if the Japanese miss their deadline but it's interesting that people in the process are wondering what it will take to drive parties to a deal. There does seem a good chance that the IoT part might fall out of the 5G process - even some of the operators are hedging their bets.

DHagar 4/10/2015 | 6:59:56 PM
Re: 5G Generation Gap Robert, interesting problem.  Beyond the Tokyo Olympics, what are the key markets that can create the broader market demand to draw/attract more market competition?  It is my understanding that 5G is technology that many are waiting for; so it seems as if the complementary networks should be able to provide demand due to the "disruptive technology" capabilities?  In other words, it seems like a solution being awaited to meet existing demand?
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