Ericsson Plans 5G Showcase at 2018 Winter Olympics

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Not content with rolling out 4G LTE, mobile operators are switching their attention to 5G, the next global standard, and possibly the last major network upgrade.

Some operator plans are advanced, despite standardization having barely begun. Ericsson for example says it expects to “showcase some 5G-based scenarios during the summer and winter Olympics during this period. Not coincidentally, South Korean city PyeongChang hosts the 2018 Games in a country which is pumping $1.5 billion into a 5G network it will switch on in just two years time.

Initial work has started on 5G standards under the operator consortium Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN). The NGMN has provided a consolidated operator view of 5G in its whitepaper (PDF) and created several technical groups to flesh out the vision outlined in it. The NGMN will act as a feeder body for its requirements to the ITU Radiocommunications Sector (ITU-R) and third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) initially, and other consortia (e.g. TMF, IEEE) as the need to do work in these are identified.

Initial deployments of 5G-based solutions are expected around 2020, with trials in the 2018-2019 timeframe.

According to the UK's Digital TV Group, the 5G process is gaining global momentum and receives a strong political support and funding from governments and the European Commission.

The ITU is developing a set of requirements for IMT-2020 and will provide additional spectrum at the WRC conference in 2019.

“This would enable the first 5G-compliant equipment to be available around 2020,” says George Robertson, Principal IP Engineer of DTG and co-chair of the Mobile Video Alliance.

At the Mobile World Congress in March, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said the biggest challenge the industry faces with 5G is the extreme number of use cases.

According to Ericsson, 5G is not simply a next-generation mobile technology upgrade (like the transition from 2G-3G-4G) “but an enabler for a whole range of scenarios affecting multiple industries from media and transportation to automotive, industrial, security, and so on.”

UK mobile operator EE is about to begin 5G trials of its own. Matt Stagg, EE's Principal Strategist, and a mentor for the 5GIC project at Surrey University, says “Bandwidth is not limited but 5G may yield a perception of limitless bandwidth because you will always have enough for your purpose. This could be the connected car, remote surgery, or holographic projection. 5G is not a new air interface. It is best understood as a ecosystem which a lot of people, not just mobile operators, are exploring.”

To make those concepts possible, the attributes of a 5G standard will likely include ultra-reliability and ultra-resiliency, GB throughputs, and latency as low as 1 millisecond.

“It means unicast with peak data of more than 10Gb/s, a more consistent user data rate of 100Mb/s at the cell edge and it means a massive increase of network capacity by moving to higher frequency ranges,” explains Dr Helmut Schink, head of telco standards at Nokia Networks.

The focus of 5G delivery is on edge computing, a transformation of the current architecture of the internet. It means transferring processing nearer to the application into local cells and away from centralising data in data centres or on cloud servers. This will free up the network which may otherwise be blocked by the sheer amount of traffic passing over it.

“We will see some big changes in content delivery from the cell side itself because it makes economic sense, it doesn't use backhaul, will lower latency, and frees up other parts of the network,” says Stagg.

One area 5G is not expected to address is broadcast. That's because the capabilities for mobile and video broadcasting are already possible with LTE Broadcast and will be further enhanced by the evolution of LTE in the next few years.

“Standards are being developed by 3GPP for LTE-based services for either unicast or broadcast distribution of TV programs,” states Ericsson. “5G is not essential for such services. Higher frequency spectrum bands in 5G and new radio beam forming technologies are expected to offer ultra-dense deployments at GB throughputs for applications that require such capabilities.”

Nokia's Schink agrees that “multicast and broadcast is not a key focus of 5G.”

According to Robertson at the DTG, the expected capabilities of 5G technology would “certainly be sufficient for the delivery of linear broadcasting to mobile devices” but it remains to be seen to what extent and when they will be deployed in the real networks.

“From the perspective of both the public service media and the commercial providers 5G will need to be assessed in a similar way as other delivery platforms,” he says. “That is, not only on the basis of its technical capabilities, but also reach, costs, market potential, and gatekeeping issues.”

For all the excitement, 5G is not likely to be a mainstream service until 2025.

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