4G Americas Talks Up 5G Myths & Realities

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4Q 2015 | IN-3926

At an analyst-exclusive event, industry trade group 4G Americas dispels the myths surrounding 5G and sets reasonable expectations for wireless telecommunications industry.

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5G is Unlike Any G Before It


The wireless telecommunications industry has taught us that each generation of technology ushered into market brings a new level of functionality and performance. The transition from 2G to 3G, for example, brought wireless data transmission in addition to voice and messaging services. Similarly, with the shift from 3G to 4G, the emphasis was on introducing mobile broadband performance to the mobile network and increasing data speeds to be comparable to home broadband service.

Unlike the major air interface evolutions the industry has experienced before, 5G sets an entirely different set of goals. At a recent analyst event hosted by industry trade group 4G Americas, the organization assembled a 5G workshop to both dispel the myths about 5G and set the record straight for what this next generation of wireless communications solution will consist and when it can be expected to be first commercialized.

4G Evolution, 5G Technical Requirements and 5G User-Driven Requirements


5G is more than mobile broadband and as such has numerous use cases. Rather than taking a “build it and they will come” approach to revenue generation, 5G use cases will be driven by sustainable business models firmly rooted in the evolution of LTE technologies.

The path forward with all this work is to tackle use cases that share common criteria. For example, use cases that are performance-centric (greater throughput, lower latency and higher density for IoT) can be grouped together. Similarly, uses cases that are capabilities-centric (control multiple interfaces; ensure security, trust, identity and privacy; consistent UX) can also be grouped together.

Concurrently with the development of 5G, LTE technologies will continue to evolve. The most notable change occurring in 4G LTE networks today is support for voice over the LTE network (VoLTE). Network operator AT&T notes that it will continue adding VoLTE coverage across its network through at least calendar year-end 2016. Carrier aggregation (CA) is being implemented in select, high-density, high-traffic markets with the end-goal of utilizing fragmented spectrum allocations to better serve customers in these markets. CA is one of the first LTE-Advanced capabilities to be commercialized. A lesser-known effort is that of Narrowband-LTE, which is part of 3GPP’s Release 13. Developed for low-power IoT network applications, Narrowband-LTE will utilize a 180 KHz channel that can operate in parallel to existing LTE deployments.

The technical requirements for 5G can be summarized in three major vectors:

  • Enhanced Mobile Broadband as extensions to 4G LTE
  • Massive Machine-to-Machine type communications as envisioned by the Internet of Things
  • Reliable communications by enabling prioritization for traffic and tiered solutions to address voice, data and video over the entire network

What makes 5G unique from 4G, 3G and 2G before it is that it provides an end-to-end ecosystem. 5G will not replace 4G; it is to be implemented as 4G extensions. This is a key principle driving the 5G definition, scope and development. It will also be one of the biggest hurdles facing user education and awareness. Past generations of network technologies have had a clear theme for users: SMS and MMS messaging services, voice and data, and mobile broadband data speeds. With 5G, the message may not be as clear-cut, though the list of user-driven 5G requirements remains extensive:

  • Improved battery life to survive an entire waking day without charging
  • Enhanced per-user data rates and decreased latency
  • Robustness and resiliency
  • Address more mobility use cases
  • Deliver a seamless UX
  • Create a context-aware network

The expectations for completing the 5G technical requirements in 3GPP is 2017. Due to the complexity of implementation, the first commercial deployments conforming to the 3GPP release are not expected until 2020 at the earliest. Rumors continue to fly about trial networks during Olympic events in 2018 and 2020, though the 4G Americas member companies were quick to caution about setting unrealistic expectations too soon.

With 5G Technical Requirements Approaching Consensus, Major Topics Still to Be Broached 


Communicating all of these technical requirements and plans still leaves a number of 5G topics unaddressed, namely in the areas of spectrum access, capital expenditures (CapEx) and business models:

  • Global spectrum harmonization. Companies working with global bodies to clear underutilized spectrum and to examine additional use cases for 5G are confident that regional spectrum regulation will give way to global harmonization much in the same way that Wi-Fi spectrum has evolved. And everyone agrees that it cannot happen soon enough. Applications from backhaul and access are driving spectrum needs below and above 6 GHz. The proliferation of IoT is another use case application example that has requirements for a parallel network in its own spectrum. Radio developers find the sub-30 GHz bands interesting for their propagation characteristics while above 30 GHz is intriguing for applications that will use wider channels.
  • Targets for 5G CapEx yet to be set. Vendors shied away from discussing specific cost per GB targets as too early. Similarly, network operators were not prepared to outline where they want to be for a successful roll-out of 5G. Instead, 4G Americas member companies pointed to traffic growth estimates from Ericsson and suggested that extrapolation could be applied to the projections for a sense of where costs need to get.
  • A new network, but no new business models. Does 5G usher in the opportunity for new business models?  Absolutely. What are some examples of these new business models? The concepts discussed in the 4G Americas forum didn’t necessarily inspire confidence that business models are driving 5G technical requirements in the network. One specific example offered by network operators is sponsored data, though this is not a new business model. Carriers are confident that new business models will emerge with 5G; however, several of the concepts being tested are not tied specifically to 5G, rather to align with evolving needs of the market.

While these major milestones are yet to be reached, we have to applaud the efforts of 4G Americas and its member companies for coordinating dialogue between the regulators, technology providers and carriers across the Americas. The industry trade group has broadened its relationship with other industry groups, regulators, and standards bodies, making it a more relevant forum for the 4G evolution to 5G than it has in previous wireless generation transitions.