BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2017 -- France's Orange has voiced misgivings about efforts to accelerate the development of 5G new radio (NR) specifications just days after Spain's Telefónica raised similar concerns. (See Telefónica's Blanco: 5G NR 'Acceleration' Is 'Big Mistake'.)
In a conversation with Light Reading on the sidelines of this year's Mobile World Congress, Yves Bellego, Orange (NYSE: FTE)'s director of technical strategy, said that focusing attention on the NR specifications alone would be a risky move.
A number of leading operators and equipment vendors -- including Europe's BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), Telecom Italia (TIM) and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) -- have called for an "acceleration" of the schedule for the standardization of NR specifications.
Their aim is to be able to start trials of 5G NR in 2019, rather than 2020, by using locked-down specifications in conjunction with existing LTE radio and evolved packet core networks.
"5G is not and should not be limited to NR," said Bellego, echoing comments made earlier in the week by Telefónica Chief Technology Officer Enrique Blanco. "We really believe we need a full 5G system… and there is a risk that defining a new radio and not addressing other portions does not in the end deliver the best solution."
Bellego told Light Reading that he was in broad agreement with Blanco that locking down NR specifications before use cases have materialized would be a mistake.
He also pointed out that radio technology alone would not deliver some of the most eagerly anticipated benefits of 5G, such as improvements in network latency, or the delay that occurs in sending data over a network connection. "Having new radio does not answer all the needs," he said.
Orange is putting pressure on the 3GPP to ensure that a formal 5G standard comes with cost efficiency improvements and can also guarantee an "average user experience," as well as a peak level of performance. "We need to have sufficient time on trials with 5G before we go for a commercial launch," said Bellego.
The Orange technical strategy director is also one of several telco executives at this year's Mobile World Congress to flag cost concerns related to 5G technology. (See Vodafone CTO 'Worried' About 5G mmWave Hype.)
Earlier in the week, Deutsche Telekom boss Timotheus Höttges told reporters that deploying 5G across the whole of Europe could potentially cost anywhere between €300 billion ($317 billion) and €500 billion ($528 billion), urging regulators to lower the fees they charge operators for spectrum licenses. (See DT Plots 5G Across Entire Footprint.)
Much of the cost, however, is likely to come from network "densification" -- or the rollout of the "small cells" that will be needed to transmit signals in much higher frequency bands.
"Saying 5G implies a small cell deployment is something that would be worrying to me," said Bellego.
Orange is looking at using a range of sub-6GHz bands with 5G, cutting down on the need for additional sites and equipment, although these frequency ranges are unlikely to be able to support the very highest-speed 5G services.
Another option for reducing costs could be to introduce virtualization technology into the radio access network, said Bellego. "Having more features that are software-based [will mean] we can deploy new technologies at the right cost because there is no need for site visits," he said. "That should ease the deployment of 5G."
Deutsche Telekom Chief Technology Officer Bruno Jacobfeuerborn is similarly pushing for the use of "standardized" hardware in conjunction with more sophisticated software, believing this could massively improve the 5G economics. (See DT CTO: Costs Must Fall or 5G 'Won't Work'.)
Jacobfeuerborn has also acknowledged that such a development could put huge pressure on traditional kit suppliers, while creating opportunities for new players in the market.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading