July 15, 2015 | by Wayne Smith

The Evolution to 5G Wireless Part I

In a previous article about the Internet of Things (IoT), I mentioned the current and near future advancements of the 4G wireless networks are not capable of supporting this “next step in the information age.” The IoT will require the next generation of wireless technology. This article briefly outlines who is promoting and working on 5th Generation (5G) Wireless technologies, the trends that 5G are attempting to address, the 5G development timeline and a guess at the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) 2020 Initiative Vision. I will then address the more specific 5G requirements and potential technologies in the next article.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU)

The ITU plays a significant role in the standards development process since it sponsors the International Mobile Telecommunications 2020 Initiatives (IMT 2020) that will develop the 5G vision and future specifications. This is a world-wide collection of partners consisting of international trade organizations, governments, universities and private companies. As you would guess, nations including the USA, China, Korea, Japan, Russia and the EU are jockeying to influence this process. The important point is that the process is truly an international collaboration with the objective of defining the first truly international communications standards. This international effort is involving thousands of people and this collaborative effort eliminates any single manufacturer, trade organization or nation from wanting to compete against its developments.

Trends in the 21st Century

The major user trend is rapid, network data traffic growth for both fixed and wireless networks. Wireless data growth over the next ten years is expected to grow by a factor of 500 to 1,000 times. During this period, each mobile subscriber is expected to require 50-100 times more data traffic. Keep in mind that in ten years the expected number of non-human users (machines) may increase to ten times the human users.

IMT 2020 partners have been publishing white papers describing the major technological trends they see unfolding over the next 20 years. These can be simplified into four basic interrelated developments. 1) There will be ubiquitous world-wide wireless access that appears seamless and totally robust to the user. 2) There will be massive machine-to-machine (M2M) communications on a scale many times that of human mobile users. 3) There will be a migration from fixed, private voice and data networks to public access, mobile broadband wireless networks. 4) The infrastructure for these networks will utilize general purpose computing and server hardware with increased use of software defined networking, cloud based applications, and virtualized network technologies. The word “massive” is being used often in the literature and it implies a scale that is thousands of times greater than 4G network capabilities. From a technology point of view, the next generation of mobile technology will converge with the fixed Internet IP technologies to form a more complete and universal network operating environment.

5G Road Map

The IMT 2020 Vision will be finalized this year. A major meeting was held earlier this month to clarify the “Vision,” and this clarification is supposed to be published later this year. The 5G development road map is a work-in-progress and it continues the evolution of the 3GPP’s current 4G release schedule. The approximate release dates are:

The last totally 4G publication will be Release 13 which is due out in early 2016The first major 5G publication will be Release 14 due out in 2017 5G specifications will be published in Release 15 due out in 2018The completed work for 5G will be published in Release 16 due out in 2019-20

The 5G Vision

The official IMT 2020 Vision Statement will not be published until the end of this year. My guess is the Vision will state that the future wireless broadband network will be an extreme network with ubiquitous access, massive connectivity, very high data rates, very low latencies, super reliability, self organizing, energy efficient, and relatively low in cost to deploy and maintain. It will integrate both fixed and wireless telecommunications and data network technologies into one seamless common infrastructure based on general purpose computing technologies to provide the necessary resources for access, transport, routing, storage and execution. In essence, it will have moved the world very close to one world-wide network operating system.

Our next article will take off from here. It will address some of the expected 5G performance and capacity requirements that are being discussed. It will also address some potential technologies being developed to meet these requirements.