NGMN Kickstarts 5G Initiative

Ray Le Maistre
News Analysis
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief
2/25/2014



BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2014 -- The carrier-led industry collective NGMN Alliance has begun the process of preparing the mobile community for 5G by launching a global initiative aimed at, well, figuring out what 5G could, or might, be.

At a launch presentation here today in Barcelona, Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Ltd. Alliance members and representatives talked about the need to look at what's required six years ahead and define "the end-to-end requirements for 5G, recognizing that the scope of 5G extends significantly beyond the radio access layer."

And in an effort to dispel any thoughts that a grand vision of the future was about to be unveiled, NGMN operating officer Peter Meissner noted that "this is not about hype."

What followed was certainly not a case of hype, in fact there was a tangible sense of frustration among those gathered at the Deutsche Telekom stand here at Mobile World Congress that there wasn't much more to say than "we're going to do something."

In reality, though, there isn't much tangible to say that's of real value, currently, just a recognition that this is a good time to start discussing what 5G might be and what needs to be done to move beyond 4G in the next decade. (See Ready or Not, Here Comes 5G.)

Executives from AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT Docomo, and SK Telecom all talked about the need to figure out what the "use case" requirements of the next generation of mobile technology might be, taking into account the needs of individuals, companies, organizations, the vast expanse of connected devices expected to be wirelessly connected to IP networks in six years' time and the enormous network capacity and unrivaled capabilities that will be needed to meet user demands.

"By about 2020, we will need a technology that has a generation gap with LTE -- that we can call 5G," noted Jae Byun, CTO of SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) and the chairman of the NGMN Alliance. This isn't just about an air interface, but about the ecosystem around it, added Kris Rinne, senior VP of network technologies at AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T).

To get the ball rolling, the Alliance's members are collating their views and thoughts into an initial white paper that will be distributed amongst members in early June, then refined by the end of the year and then unveiled in March 2015 to "support the standardisation and subsequent availability of 5G from 2020. The White Paper will set challenging technical and other ecosystem requirements for 5G, and accelerate the adoption of new emerging technology innovations," the Alliance noted in its official announcement.

The Alliance believes its operator members are best placed to deliver the initial requirements for whatever 5G will be, but is seeking external input from all manner of organizations, from other industry bodies, to regulators, research institutes, vendors, and other 5G initiatives.

But there was no specific reference to the companies that have been leading the way in service and applications innovation in recent years -- the OTT players such as Apple, Google, Facebook, et al -- or the major IT companies that are becoming much bigger playmakers in the telecom space as virtualization takes hold of wide area network infrastructures. Are they involved? Have they been invited to the 5G party?

The door is open to all-comers, noted Rinne, who said a number of major IT companies and research institutes are already providing valuable input to the process at the higher levels of the OSI stack.

The next step is to bring all the ideas from the NGMN's operator members together and start drafting the white paper, and it's clear from the questions and comments at the presentation here today that, whatever the NGMN Alliance or anyone else does in the 5G development space, everyone's keen to make sure there is no repetition of some of the industry's previous errors, particularly around the fragmented multiple approaches taken to the 3G standards.

For more on the 5G topic, see:

Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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