DUBLIN -- 2020 Vision Executive Summit -- The lack of communication between radio experts and other network professionals has left the telecom industry with a tremendous amount of work to do on the standardization of 5G over the next few years, according to Gabriel Brown, a senior analyst with Heavy Reading.
Service providers and vendors are working towards a target of introducing initial 5G offerings in 2020, and some pioneers in Asia and North America are even talking about launching 5G-based services in the next two or three years.
But the "disconnect" that exists between the developers of radio access networks and other parts of the networking community could represent a big challenge for the 5G industry.
"There is no real link between is being done or designed in terms of RAN [radio access network] infrastructure and control and how the rest of the network is designing systems and processes," Brown said during a presentation at Light Reading's 2020 Vision summit in Dublin this week.
Brown likens the situation to what happened with 4G and voice-over-LTE -- which took much longer to get up and running than was originally envisaged -- but says it is potentially a much bigger problem.
At the crux of the matter is how 5G will map on to technologies like SDN and NFV as networks become increasingly software-based.
"This is a network that is coming in 2020 and going to be software-based and yet we are four years away and on-boarding a VNF doesn't really work very well," says Brown. "There is an assumption it will work but not enough people are asking how."
While progress on standardization activities has recently been encouraging, the "Phase 1" services that appear over the next few years will not count as "true" 5G, according to Brown.
The Phase 1 5G launches will include the services currently being touted by Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) and South Korea's SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM): The former is keen to launch a 5G service in 2020, while the latter wants to have a 5G prototype available in time for the Winter Olympics in 2018. (See DoCoMo & EE Share 5G Visions.)
Phase 1 will cover the Release 15 specifications of the 3GPP standards group, which are expected to emerge in 2018 and will cover spectrum bands below 6GHz, while the Release 16 specifications that are designed to support more sophisticated 5G services will appear at the end of 2019 as part of Phase 2.
The Phase 1 technology is essentially designed to meet the requirements of operators pushing for an early launch of 5G but will not be game-changing or what Brown calls "a new business enabler."
"If you are sitting in a Japanese Olympic stadium watching replays and ordering fries [with 5G technology] it's great but not transformative to the industry or carriers," he says.
Indeed, the 5G technology that US mobile operator Verizon Wireless is talking about introducing as soon as 2017 appears to be a fixed wireless access technology that could be used instead of last-mile fiber to support 1Gbit/s services. (See Verizon CEO: US Commercial 5G Starts in 2017.)
Operators are ultimately pushing for a range of performance requirements in Phase 2, however, including ultra-high throughput (evolved mobile broadband or eMBB) as well as ultra-scalable IoT (massive machine type communications or mMTC) and ultra-reliable low-latency services.
Phase 2 also seems likely to consider the rollout of 5G technology in higher spectrum bands: During the recent World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15), there was an agreement to focus on spectrum above 24GHz during the WRC-19 event.
Brown reckons "true 5G" could have an enormous impact on various industries, including the use of robotics. "It was always assumed we'd have self-learning devices wheeling around but if you go to a cloud model with 5G access you don't need smart robots -- just finely tuned ones where the processing and intelligence are cloud-based," he says. "The low-latency link allows you to design robots to do anything."
One encouraging sign in the 5G ecosystem is an agreement that the air interface will be based on orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) technology but incorporate new features such as a lean radio design.
"LTE was a brilliant radio for mobile broadband but it didn't leave space for small packets and wasn't optimized for small cells," explains Brown. "The idea here would be to leave enough space in the stack for mission-critical applications."
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading