Engagement With Verticals Is Biggest 5G Challenge, Says ETSI

LONDON -- Broadband World Forum -- The difficulty of involving other vertical markets in discussions about 5G is proving to be one of the biggest risks to the timely development of a 5G standard, according to Adrian Scrase, the current chief technology officer of the ETSI specifications group.

Much of the 5G focus right now is on coming up with "use cases" for a whole range of vertical markets, but engagement with some of these industries remains problematic, Scrase told attendees at today's Broadband World Forum in London.

On the plus side, European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) , which leads 5G standardization efforts, reckon engagement with the public safety and broadcasting sectors has been excellent. Efforts to involve the rail, automotive and education sectors are also proceeding well, according to Scrase.

Yet there are a number of red flags, including difficulties communicating with the factory automation, agriculture and mining industries. "We are not used to engaging with these industries," Scrase said during a presentation at the event. "5G is a big opportunity for the digitization of the economy, but we need actors to work together coherently with this challenging timeline."

According to Scrase, the biggest problems often occur at a national level when sectors are handled by different government departments. "We are used to working with telecom ministries, and government departments often don't communicate with each other very well," he said.

The ETSI executive also acknowledged that organizations outside the telecom sector do not understand its standardization processes and can sometimes feel threatened by what he calls "industry giants."

In the meantime, recent competition between telcos that want to be first to market with 5G services is putting pressure on organizations like ETSI and the 3GPP to get standards written.

That marks something of a change from the situation just three years ago, said Scrase, when standards bodies were being told to "slow down" because 4G technology was only just starting to make money. "This is not unusual but it's also not helpful," he said.

The race to 5G has even triggered some breakaway initiatives focused on the 28GHz band, which operators in the US, Japan and South Korea are looking to use with 5G services in the next few years.

Despite the various challenges, ETSI remains confident that a Phase 1 5G standard will appear in 2018, allowing operators to take advantage of specifications in some areas, with a more comprehensive Phase 2 standard scheduled to arrive in 2020.

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The initial priority for ETSI and the 3GPP is to tackle the use case for "enhanced mobile broadband" capability, simply because operators believe they can monetize this more easily. "Standardization must be driven by market demand," said Scrase.

Following that, attention will necessarily turn to "massive machine type communications" that can support applications in a number of the vertical markets to which ETSI is reaching out.

In the meantime, LTE-based technologies, such as the recently standardized NB-IoT, are expected to satisfy demand for services requiring low-power and wide-area connectivity.

Scrase denied that the telecom industry was "overplaying its hand" by trying to involve so many different vertical markets in the standardization process, noting the strong support for 5G from policymakers around the world.

"It's not a bottom-up push from telcos but a top-down view from politicians about the need for digitization," he said.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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