Last week, the world witnessed a number of developments in 5G, primarily from the sets of MWC Shanghai and 5G World held simultaneously in two major spots.
The discussions and demonstrations on 5G were focused mainly on Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual network technologies. Promising 10 times the speed of current 4G network, much lower system latency and improved spectrum and signalling efficiency, 5G is believed to address the capacity constraints in telecom networks.
Asia: The focus for new age telecom
With Asia emerging as the key market for M2M communications, South Korea, Japan and China are emerging as the top markets for 5G. The fact that China, India, Indonesia and Japan together account for more than three-quarters of the region’s total subscriber base indicates that the next round of telecom evolution will be centered in these countries.
China, one of the key markets for 5G in Asia, is expected to have one billion M2M connections by 2020, says GSMA report. Japan and South Korea are expected to launch the first commercial trials by 2018 and 2020 to coincide with the FIFA World Cup and Tokyo Olympic Games respectively.
Competition among equipment vendors
Telecom equipment vendors are gearing up to meet the deadlines stipulated by leading service providers across the world. In a major development, SK Telecom signed a MoU with Deutsche Telekom and Ericsson to develop 5G trial network in Korea and Germany. The partnership will focus on NFV along with Software-Defined Telecommunications Infrastructure (SDTI), distributed cloud, and network slicing technologies.
SK Telecom and Ericsson have moved ahead of the 5G curve by achieving major milestones in their partnerships earlier too. In a significant achievement earlier this year, SK Telecom and Ericsson demonstrated 26.9 Gbps transmission speed over the air, the fastest 5G transmission speed achieved so far.
Another area of cooperation between SK Telecom and Ericsson is SDTI, the innovative virtualized infrastructure platform that promises highly customizable network architecture for telcos. SDTI enhances network efficiency by flexibly constructing hardware components to satisfy the infrastructure performance requirements of diverse 5G services. The technology has already garnered interest from world organizations such as Open Compute Project (OCP) and Telco Infra Project (TIP).
Ericsson also demonstrated the best use case of 5G at the 5G World, London, by performing a tactile robotic surgery. With this 5G simulation demonstration, Ericsson proves how latency is a critical part of what 5G can deliver.
Meanwhile Ericsson’s rival ZTE in China bagged a 5G contract from Spanish telco Telefonica with focus on key areas like advanced wireless communications, Internet of Things (IoT), network virtualization architectures and cloud. The partnership will leverage ZTE’s expertise in multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) and beam forming technologies for 5G.
Huawei, another major player in telecom equipment, has been focusing on 4.5 and 5G since the beginning of the year. It is to be noted that Huawei was the first vendor to initiate 5G field tests, along with NTT Docomo last year. A significant achievement for the company is the 4.5G-oriented best experience IP mobile bearer solution, designed to build best experience mobile video bearer networks. Recently the company also launched its end-to-end Narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT) Solution to help global operators expand their IoT services into new markets including the connected vehicle, smart home, among others.
Back in Europe, Nokia is advancing its 5G-ready AirScale Radio Access technology integrated to its Cloud Packet Core, running on Nokia AirFrame data center platform. AirScale Radio Access redefines the way radio networks are built – meeting the network needs of today, tomorrow and the future, according to Nokia. Meanwhile Cloud Packet Core facilitates an automated cloud networking and service operations model providing dynamic lifecycle management capabilities, service agility, and operational efficiency.
Meanwhile telecom chip maker Qualcomm has introduced the latest technology – the 5G New Radio (NR) prototype system that operates in the sub-6 GHz spectrum bands and promises to offer multi-gigabit per second data rates and low latency. The sub-6 GHz spectrum is crucial in 5G as it allows flexible deployment with ubiquitous network coverage while supporting a wide range of use cases. Qualcomm has also come up with new chipset supporting IoT. The company also announced the availability of commercial IoT devices based on the new Snapdragon X5 (9×07) and MDM9207-1 LTE modems.
Regulatory movements for 5G spectrum
In anticipation with the 5G commercial launch expected in 2018, worldwide regulators are preparing to release the spectrum for telcos. U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that the vote on the new rules to identify and open spectrum for next-generation 5G wireless applications will take place on July 14, 2016. FCC’s announcement comes on the heels of the announcement from Britain’s telecom regulator Ofcom to open up an additional sub-band within the 5 GHz spectrum frequency for expanding Wi-Fi in the U.K.
In India, where 4G has not matured yet, 5G remains a distant dream. Indian regulator TRAI is yet to make any announcement on 5G spectrum though Nokia and Ericsson are in talks with mobile operators in India on the use of the much-hyped 5G technology. Ironically, the government recently announced 84 smart city projects with an estimated investment of around Rs 2,000 crore. Experts argue that Digital India mission will be far from reality in the current scenario. With India expected to add nearly 250 million new subscribers by 2020, there is no doubt that evolution to 4G and 5G is inevitable in the immediate future.
As the telecom industry in the developed markets get ready for 5G, the rest of the world is struggling to deliver minimum communications infrastructure to its citizens. The call for making telecom an essential service is yet to get answered. Governments must come forward to provide telecom with critical infrastructure status so as to eliminate the regulatory hurdles associated with telecom services.