Never before in the history of wireless that as ambitious a program as 5G was put in place. The scope of requirements far exceeds anything that came before it. Moreover, 5G comes at a time when mobile network operators are facing their toughest challenges as their financial performance demonstrates. Consolidation in the ecosystem is wide-spread at the semiconductor and equipment manufacturer level, while regulatory power is still holding in the face of greater carrier consolidation. 4G technology, LTE and its evolution, have proved hugely successful and still has much stamina to carry the industry for years to come. For such an ambitious technology as 5G to come at such a time begs the question: how to get to 5G?
Earlier this week, we had the chance to scratch the surface of this big (or small?) question at the IEEE Standards Association 5G workshop. Some issues to consider:
- The spectrum environment cannot continue as is today leading to new licensing schemes to emerge including spot markets for spectrum to allow dynamic access to the airwaves.
- Utilization of licensed spectrum coupled with low difference in user experience in licensed and unlicensed bands will favor unlicensed and shared spectrum regimes.
- There are severe challenges to millimeter wave technologies from a planning and design perspective, especially as non-line-of-sight is being considered.
- Ascent of fixed and nomadic services – again, but now as part of 5G – which would have high requirements, but also allow new opportunities, on the transport network.
- IoT is a critical part to 5G and the need for flexible framework to accommodate massive number of devices [this huge topic is subject to another article!].
- The requirements for ultra-low latency and ultra-reliability communication is a major challenge requiring new thinking for end-to-end optimization.
- MNOs in different markets have varying interest and market demand and conditions to meet leading to divergence of requirements and risking fragmentation of technology.
- Applications such as tactile and haptic technologies will have the oxygen to grow further in a 5G environment.
- Virtualization of the network as key element for rapid service creation to improve the competitive position of the mobile network operator. This is a pre-requisite to enable the much cited ‘network slicing’ feature allowing MNOs offer different types of services using a single network.
The 5G challenge is immense but so is human ingenuity. Given enough time and money, challenges will be overcome. The issue boils down to economics and finances. This ultimately that will determine the course 5G will take in the future.