Will 5G Deliver on Expectations?

The next big shift in mobile will come with greater capacity needs and with the requirement to process data much, much faster. While mobile users are still getting familiar with the capabilities of 4G, network operators will be racing to develop fifth-generation network technology to be ready for 5G that’s expected to be available by 2020.

At the turn of the decade, 5G is expected to have 1,000 times the capacity of 4G. This will open up many possibilities for new services, not only for mobile phones but for wearable devices and new Internet-connected hardware that will be developed in the Internet of Things era. Today with 4G, streaming games in real time is really limited on mobile phones, but it will be a given requirement once 5G is in place and for the devices and appliances now being dreamed up by Internet of Things designers.

In anticipation of 5G, GSMA published a whitepaper on 5G last December to clarify what 5G really is and what it means in the technological sense. GSMA pointed out two point of views about 5G that seem to result in contradictory requirements. One view indicates that 5G will deliver substantial reduction in end-to-end latency and tremendous increase in data speed. The other view sees 5G as consolidation of 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi and other innovations providing greater coverage and always-on reliability.

To address this confusion, the GSMA whitepaper tries to provide answers to three questions:

  1. What is (and what isn’t) 5G?
  2. What are the real 5G use cases?
  3. What are the real implications of 5G for mobile operators?

From the GSMA perspective, the new technology shall address requirements that the previous technology was unable to satisfy. In the perspective of 5G, the weaknesses to solve from 4G is still a question mark. This concept is summarized in the table below.

The two visions of 5G (Hyper-Connectivity and Next Generation Radio Access) that are driving the work initiatives on 5G have identified eight requirements:

  1. 10Gbps connections to end points in the field (i.e. not theoretical maximum)
  2. 1 millisecond end-to-end round trip delay (latency)
  3. 1000x bandwidth per unit area
  4. 10-100x number of connected devices
  5. (Perception of) 99.999% availability
  6. (Perception of) 100% coverage
  7. 90% reduction in network energy usage
  8. Up to ten-year battery life for low power, machine-type devices

GSMA does not see requirements 3 to 8 as technical requirements but rather as aspirational statements from network operators on how networks should be built; i.e. cheap and reliable. GSMA only sees requirements 1 (>1Gbps DL speed) and 2 (<1ms latency) as measurable network deliverables. The table below illustrates the use cases.

Note that to achieve downlink speeds greater than 1Gbps, new RAN technology will be required. For latency, services that require delay of less than 1msec must have their server content close to the user device.

The architecture depicted above will require close collaboration between network operators (one network approach). Perhaps there will be no need for frequency auctions.
When should we expect to see the first 5G demo? SK Telecom announced last July that it had signed an agreement with Ericsson to develop 5G technology in time to demonstrate a network at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

But will 5G address the weaknesses we are now experiencing with 4G, such as the flawed handoff between Wi-Fi and cellular? Will we still have latency issues and non-seamless handover between carriers? There’s time between now and 2020 to address these issues, but it will be interesting to see how 5G solves the issues of 4G, whether is lives up to its real potential, and perhaps more interesting, what will be the changes in the way consumers will use the 5G technology.