MWC 2018: With 5G, World Is 'On the Cusp of Hyper Connectivity'

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“We are at the dawn of a new era in mobile with the imminent launch of the first 5G networks and with the IoT [internet of things] poised to further transform the way we live and work,” declared Mats Granryd, director general of mobile operators trade body GSMA, in the opening address to the 2018 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain.

“We are on the cusp of hyper connectivity where ultra-HD video, 360 video, augmented reality, holograms, avatars, and more will transform the way we communicate and consume media,” he said.

Above and beyond media and entertainment, 5G is being promoted as the fundamental infrastructure driving the world’s future digital economies by linking together billions of connected devices into the IoT and delivering what some are calling the fourth industrial revolution.

The latest GSMA data suggests that more than 60 percent of the global population will be on mobile internet by 2025.

Having passed the 3 billion mark in early 2017, the number of mobile internet users is set to grow rapidly over the next 8 years reaching 5 billion or 61 per cent of the global population by 2025. As unique subscriber growth slows, mobile internet adoption will increasingly become the key metric by which to measure the reach and value created by the mobile industry, according to GSMA lead analyst Mark Giles.

Developing markets will account for most of the growth with an additional 1.56 billion added by 2025, compared to just 185 million within developed markets. This growth is a result of the continued migration from 2G to 3G+ networks.

Annual world capex on infrastructure will actually dip to $639 billion in the four years to 2020, from the $730 billion in the previous four years, while 4G rollouts are completed. Operators in developed markets are currently focused on network densification ahead of rolling out 5G and it is this which is taking centre stage at MWC2018.

Thanks to standards body 3GPP’s decision to bring forward 5G NR specifications last December, 5G mobile operators are finally beginning to turn potential into deployment. These specs focus on mobile broadband deployment using the non-standalone (NSA) 5G NR, which is used to accelerate 5G deployments by using LTE as an anchor. The next specs, for 5G standalone (SA), are due in June and will require a full 5G build out.

“If 2016 was about proof of concept demos and 2017 about trials, then this year is squarely focused on bringing commercial products to market,” said Alan Shah, vice president of network strategy for Samsung Electronics America.

The GSMA estimates that the migration to 4G and 5G networks will now gather significant pace, with 4G forecast to account for 53 percent of global connections by 2025, up from 29 percent today. The GSMA said 5G networks will grow to account for a further 14 percent.

There will be 1.2 billion 5G connections worldwide by 2025 with networks covering about 40 percent of the population, the GSMA predicts.

Ericsson's CTO, Erik Ekudden, said “We are now at the point where the technology is ready for commercialisation. “Our work on test beds and trials to mature the technology to meet the demanding requirement of apps such as AR and VR has paved the way for operator rollout.”

The GSMA study also claims IoT uptake will flourish driven by a proliferation of use cases for smart homes, buildings, and enterprises. The number of IoT connections (cellular and non-cellular) will increase more than three-fold between 2017 and 2025, reaching 25 billion.

MWC2018 exhibitors are highlighting applications in media, smart cities, and industry. Japanese service provider NTT Docomo, for example, is explaining how it plans to build a 5G network in the Tokyo metropolitan area to support applications including fleets of autonomous vehicles and live virtual reality video in the 8K UHD format around the 2020 Olympic Games.

Andrew Hayworth, managing director for strategy and content at BT Sport, spoke about how, by 2020, 5G would enable the telco to leverage real-time personalised and interactive content across smart TV, desktop, and mobile screens including what he called the “fourth screen” in connected cars.

“One challenge will be to join up the narrative across those screens and create a personalised content journey between them,” he said.

There’s a political element with calls for governments to free up regulations in order for the networks to be built.

“As the mobile industry moves into the 5G era, the need for pro-investment, pro-innovation policies and modernised regulatory environments has never been greater,” Granryd said. “Streamlined regulation and further policy developments in spectrum, infrastructure, and economics are key to realising the full potential of 5G for society as a whole.”

Telefonica CEO and chairman Jose Maria Alverez-Palette said recognition from policy makers of “an investment-friendly framework” was needed “if the full benefits of the revolution 4.0 are to be realised.”

Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri claimed U.S. operators were being hampered in their 5G ambitions by a lack of suitable spectrum: “The policy makers really need to take action,” he urged.

While China, Japan, and Korea are moving rapidly to 5G, and operators in the Nordic countries were also on a fast track, Europe as a whole was “being the slowest [region] and we don’t expect any real progress here with 5G in the short term.”

Nonetheless Nokia is involved in 5G trials with Orange, Telefonica, and Vodafone, the latter in Milan.

There are also warnings about the rapid rise of IoT where the infrastructure is still immature. “Providing security assurances is critical to enabling continued growth in the IoT ecosystem,” warned Paul Williamson, vice president and general manager of IoT device IP at chipmaker ARM. “Trust needs to be built with consumers and businesses.”

He stressed that the industry is in an ongoing battle with hackers who are “relentlessly hunting for vulnerabilities” that allow them entry into users’ lives."

“5G enables new real-time low latency use cases such as remote surgery,” he said. “A breach in security anywhere in the value stack could lead to catastrophic results.”

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