March 31, 2016 | by Wayne Smith

5G Update: Hints of the “Network of the Future”

Several months ago, we published a mini-series about the future 5G technologies. These were supported by an article describing LTE Advanced as the final phase of 4G evolution and the bridge to the 5G future. Since that time, the technologies have continued their marches toward implementation and are leaving breadcrumbs along the way.

Public Announcements

In September 2015, Verizon Wireless was the first to announce that it would begin limited, laboratory-like testing of 5G technologies in San Francisco, Boston and New York. Its partners in these endeavors included most of the well-known names in radio technology such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia and others. The company has been hinting that it could begin rolling out 5G in several markets as early as 2017.

Not to be outdone, AT&T announced in February 2016 that it would also begin testing 5G technologies in the Austin, TX market this spring. It also announced that it would be partnering with Intel and Ericsson for these tests.

Both Sprint and T-Mobile have been relatively quiet about 5G. Instead, Sprint has been aggressively marketing its rollout of LTE Advanced while T-Mobile is focused on promoting its “Binge On” program. Many market spectators are now wondering if some carriers may eventually try to market LTE Advanced as 5G performance. Although the top performance specifications of LTE Advanced are close to the lowest performance specifications of 5G, LTE Advanced is not 5G technology.

On the international scene, South Korea will still probably be the first country to launch a major deployment of 5G technology. American wireless companies will mostly likely wait to see its success before beginning major deployment.

The Bridge to the Future

LTE-A is the final major iteration of the LTE evolution. 5G technologies will be considerably different and a major leap forward from LTE. The most frequently cited difference between LTE-A and 5G is the theoretical download speeds with a maximum 1 Gbps versus 1-10 Gbps, respectively. However, the meaningful differences of 5G are technological- including new radio technologies, massive MIMO, super reliability, very low latencies, and massive machine-to-machine (M2M) connections. Although 5G will not be backward compatible, it will certainly be interoperable with LTE-A systems.

3GPP and Manufacturers

Marketing efforts are in full force at the manufacturers and the 3GPP. There is an almost limitless supply of white papers, symposiums, advertisements and press releases being generated by those developing the technology.

According to the 3GPP Release 13, the final 4G specifications release will be completed this month. It is focused on many 5G groundwork systems such as MIMO, SON, CoMP, LTE–Unlicensed (LTE-U), and Carrier Aggregation. Although the window to publish has been extended, a description document is currently available here. The Release 14, the first 5G Release, is still planned to be released in June 2017. The 3GPP lists more than 100 companies involved with the development of Release 14 specifications.

Future Industries and Markets

The massive social and commercial push behind the Internet of Things (IoT) is heating up the need to accelerate the deployment of high speed wireless networks. The emergence of new IoT markets is already beginning to foster technical upgrades by some broadband cable and wireline carriers. Competition for broadband access will become intense between the fixed cable and the wireless providers as 5G rolls out. Non-wireless broadband providers will be disadvantaged if they do not implement some competitive alternative to counter the future 5G onslaught.

Wireless providers early to deploy 5G on a wide scale will have a considerable competitive advantage over both their wireless peers and their cable competitors. As we (Vertex) take on more projects for these providers, the infrastructure requirements for 5G realization will begin to materialize.