One topic that is dominating wireless communication stories in 2018, exciting to some and unsettling for others, is 5G. Proof that things are getting serious came with the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz spectrum auction in April in the UK, in which mobile operators spent nearly £1.2 billion on the 3.4 GHz spectrum. Ofcom has identified this as a “pioneer band” for 5G. So, what is 5G, and why are operators willing to pay so much for the spectrum?
5G is the next generation of mobile networks and is being developed with specific use cases very much at the forefront of its design. It differs significantly from 4G by providing 3 important new features:
- Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), with significantly faster speeds
- Massive machine-type communications (mMTC), for IoT applications such as smart meters
- Ultra-reliable and low latency communications (uRLLC), for applications which need minimal communication delays e.g. autonomous vehicles
Another feature of 5G is end-to-end network slicing, enabling multiple virtual networks with different service types to run alongside each other on a shared physical infrastructure.
5G is expected to facilitate large numbers of new applications and device connections, hence increased revenue to operators and their willingness to splash out on essential spectrum.
So, when can we expect to see the benefits of 5G? As we reported earlier this year, initial 5G specifications were approved in December, allowing vendors and operators to start badging services and products as “5G-ready”. Commercial launches of 5G are expected in 2018 in South Korea, USA, UAE and China. UK rollout is unlikely to start until 2020, although smaller scale trials will happen this year such as Telefonica’s 5G testbed at The O2.
As with 4G, rollout will start in cities, and legacy technologies will continue to exist alongside the newcomer for some time, so is likely to be a few years before 5G traffic volumes overtake 4G.
There are still some significant challenges ahead for some of the 5G use cases. The highest data rates will require use of mmWave spectrum and very small cells, so much more infrastructure will need to be deployed. Also, the target of 1 millisecond latency (delay) is dependent on mobile edge computing (MEC), so much of the processing power for some use cases will need to be located relatively close to users.
The general view is that Asia and North America are ahead of Europe in the design and development of 5G infrastructure and devices. However the UK’s DCMS is providing significant support to UK R&D to maximise the benefits of 5G, including funding for 6 testbeds announced in March. Additionally, DCMS asked earlier this year for expressions of interest from local authorities to help create a ‘5G City’ in the UK. The chosen location is expected to be announced within the next couple of months, after which DCMS will provide support to the selected local authority and delivery partners to bring the technology into service.
iWireless Solutions is following developments closely to ensure that its designs are 5G-ready and is providing support to its customers to ensure they will be able to utilise 5G when it arrives. We are also working with research and industry partners on a number of 5G research projects and will provide details as these progress.
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