BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress -- 5G is generating a lot of excitement among operators and vendors here at MWC, but it's also generating a lot of different groups that want to have their say in how the next-generation network will be developed, standardized and used.
Among the groups are the GSM Association (GSMA) , Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Ltd. , 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) , 5G-PPP, 4G Americas , a new Korean consortium and others still. (See Ready or Not, Here Comes 5G.)
It's enough to make your head spin, but then again so is the potential envisioned for 5G. (See 5G Visions Dazzle at MWC.)
In a press conference Tuesday, the 24 operators that make up the NGMN presented a 125-page whitepaper outlining 25 use cases for 5G, as well as the end-to-end operator requirements for the future network. Shortly thereafter, the 5GPP offered its 5G vision, supported by the European Commission. A common theme for the two was that 5G will be pervasive, robust and will enable other industries, like healthcare, the Internet of Things and the auto industry, to use the network in new ways. (See NGMN Releases Early 5G Vision and NGMN Kickstarts 5G Initiative.)
"5G is an end-to-end ecosystem to enable a fully mobile and connected society," Bruno Jacobfeuerborn, NGMN chairman and CTO of Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) said of NGMN's vision. "It involves value creation to customers and partners for existing and emerging use cases. There is an additional value."
Another common theme was the need for a unified global standard for 5G, something the industry is spending the next 12 to 18 months working on. "Our approach is there will be a truly global ecosystem, free of fragmentation and open for innovation," Jacobfeuerborn said at the NGMN press conference, reiterating that any company, from any industry, was welcome to contribute ideas to the NGMN, a nod to over-the-top companies like members Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) or Facebook .
When asked about the recently announced regional 5G consortium between KT Corp. , China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) and NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), Alex Choi, CTO of SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) (not part of the group), said, "I don't think there's any reason to discourage regional collaborations. It's just the beginning of 5G standardizations. It will take a while before we see a single body with 5G standards. It's good to have multiple projects in different reasons so they can compete with each other and eventually bring best of breed technologies." (See DoCoMo's 2020 Vision for 5G.)
Later at the 5GPP's panel, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) CTO Hossein Moiin touched on standards as well, noting that the 5GPP will "lead to a global standard, which is the aim for all of us. We don't like to see fragmentation."
Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown sees the proliferation of 5G groups as a good thing this early in the process. He points out that a lot of the groups have overlapping companies or individuals in them, but all have big brains on board that will ultimately move the market forward and build out the 5G ecosystem. (See EE Makes the Case for 5G .)
"It's good if you're an operator or a vendor to have done work before you go into standardization because then you come armed with something useful to contribute," Brown says. "The standardization progress will go better if there has been proprietary work."
GSMA Senior Director of Technology Dan Warren took a slightly less optimistic view about the amount of pre-standardization work being done, but his hesitation comes less from the amount of input into the process and more from the business case, or lack thereof. The GSMA published a whitepaper in December exploring the economic sustainability of the proposal for 5G aspects like 100% coverage and five-nines availability, which he said are available today with existing technologies if operators invest.
"What isn't clear from the NGMN requirements is whether industry sustainability is improved by 5G, or whether investment in a new round of technology and the requirement for 100% coverage can be justified on 25 use cases," he said of the NGMN's 100-page whitepaper.
Indeed, a number of speakers today stressed that 4G advances are paving the way for 5G, which is really more important than what the advances are called. Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) CTO Marcus Weldon said that before it gets (more) hung up on 5G, the industry needs to focus on getting fiber everywhere, employing virtualization to create multiple instances of the network, and SDN to stitch those instances together. (See Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei Pitch 5G Radio Technologies .)
"We need to deploy cloud infrastructure that's carrier grade to make it work," he added. "That's a lot of work to do before we get to 5G. It's an evolution of 4G that gets you to 5G. It's cool to say we'll have a 5G-enabled Olympics, but I don't think it's meaningful."
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading