European telcos, including Vodafone and Orange, have insisted that Europe is not falling behind parts of Asia and North America on the road to 5G.
Championing the role of Europe and European companies in developing the next-generation mobile technology, both Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and Orange (NYSE: FTE) have also dismissed some of the 5G initiatives in Asia and the US, saying these are based on "niche" applications and that non-standard forms of 5G will not succeed.
While 5G is attracting interest from operators globally, a handful of service providers in the US, Japan and South Korea are typically seen to be in the vanguard of its development. US-based Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has talked about introducing a 5G service this year, while Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) and South Korea's KT Corp. are also plotting early rollouts of the technology. (See 5G on Track but Fragmentation Still a Concern.)
The current industry focus on the 28GHz spectrum band, which will not be available in Europe for use with 5G services, has exacerbated concern that Europe could trail some other economies on the rollout of 5G technology.
"Handsets will probably become available for that 28GHz band before [manufacturers] then build them for the European frequencies," said Amit Nagpal, a partner at spectrum advisory group Aetha Consulting, during a previous conversation with Light Reading. "Europe won't be happy about that but it's likely the reality." (See Spectrum Hurdle Could Trip Europe in 5G Race.)
Any such lag would reinforce a perception that Europe's telecom industry has recently lost out in the innovation stakes to North America and Asia. The late introduction of 5G technology could also have broader ramifications, given its apparent value to other sectors of the economy.
Yet Vodafone has criticized what it sees as an unfair representation of Europe's 5G status. "Europe is not lagging the US and Asia on the development of 5G," said Luke Ibbetson, the operator's director of research and development, in comments provided to Light Reading. "The 5G standard has not yet been fully agreed and is unlikely to appear on a commercial network for a number of years … It's difficult to see how Europe could be regarded as 'lagging.'"
Most industry observers agree that commercial services based on the first 5G standard will not appear until 2020, at the very earliest. Yet operators, including Verizon, are keen to use 28GHz-based 5G before then to provide broadband services in areas that are hard to reach with fixed-line technologies. (See Verizon Updates 5G Spec, Could Launch Ahead of 3GPP.)
Ibbetson says this "fixed wireless access" scenario is a "relatively niche opportunity and does not lend itself to the massive scale of mobile broadband."
He is also critical of the focus on 28GHz, pointing out that it does not represent one of the candidate 5G bands identified by the World Radio Conference (WRC). "Solutions designed specifically for this band will have limited geographical opportunity," he says.
Even so, while the 28GHz band will not be used globally with 5G, its availability in the advanced economies of the US, Japan and South Korea has already caught the industry's attention. "28GHz is emerging as a bit of a priority," says Gabriel Brown, a principal analyst at the Heavy Reading market-research business. "A 34GHz product won't exist in as near a time frame."
Next page: Spectrum shuffling