One thing you can be sure of at next week's Mobile World Congress is a blizzard of 5G marketing visions from drones, to cars, to tele-medicine. The industry has a story to sell and it's going in hard. You can have that insight for free -- you're most welcome -- but, of course, you don't need an analyst to tell you that.
In truth the marketing is a lagging indicator of what's really happening in 5G. It's designed for the masses to keep the excitement to a rolling boil while the real activity occurs deep within the industry superstructure, in the labs, in the standards meetings, and out in the field with prototype systems.
As I've argued elsewhere, 5G is now well into the development phase, with the first implementations expected within the next 12-18 months, and then commercial deployment from 2019 onwards. In 3GPP the technical studies were completed in 2016 and the normative phase is now underway with a view to creating the first specifications by mid-2018 -- in fact, the first freeze of a bare-bones specification is expected even sooner than at the end of 2017.
And it's not only the standards timeline which is critical. Field trials and prototyping will have greater importance and greater impact on specification development than in any prior generation. Rather than work it out on paper and then go and make it work in practice, the model in 5G is iterative: design, test, improve. This why the operator trials underway around the world are so important. They're not all vanity deployments designed to get some press coverage and impress the local regulator.
It's also why the Global 5G Test Summit could be one of the more interesting sessions at this year's MWC. The event is supported by industry organizations ITU, GSMA, 3GPP, NGMN and GTI, and will include participation of four major operators (AT&T, China Mobile, NTT DOCOMO and Vodafone) and several of the leading vendors. The idea, as I understand it, is to contribute to the industry-wide effort to create test cases and a trial roadmap that will help accelerate commercialization of 5G technology.
The event is on Tuesday February 28 from 2.00 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. If you're attending MWC, you can register for the session here.
I'll be attending a lot of events and meetings in and around MWC in my capacity as an independent analyst. I have a pretty full schedule, but if you have a great pitch burning a hole in your pocket, or something to say that you think I'd really benefit from hearing about, feel free to get in touch.
— Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading
This blog is sponsored by the 5G Test Summit.