Feature Article

December 10, 2014

Move Over, LTE: 5G begins Formal Standards Process

LTE and 4G may still be in the rollout stages in many markets, but work on the standards process for 5G is already underway.

Up until now, the term “5G” has referred to a collection of nebulous guidelines meant to address the exploding requirements for carrying all of that mobile data and video that consumers and businesses seem to require. It will support speeds up to 1,000 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks, and also connections for at least 100 billion devices and a 10Gbps individual user experience capable of extremely low latency and response times. That will support applications like multiuser Ultra HD telepresence, real 3D, virtual reality and augmented reality services, and so on.

It will also be a more virtualized and distributed architecture, with peer-to-peer connections factoring in. According to Huawei, one of the vendors providing early thought leadership on the subject, 5G will enable networks capable of providing “zero-distance connectivity between people and connected machines.” The Chinese powerhouse is one of Europe’s biggest telecom suppliers, and has pledged to spend $600 million through 2018 to develop 5G.

A range of major vendors are working on all aspects of 5G including; Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Nokia Networks, and device, semiconductor, and IP vendors including Intel, InterDigital, Qualcomm, Samsung, various mobile operators, academic bodies and start-ups as well. Deployment of these networks will likely emerge between 2020 and 2030, driving economic and societal growth in entirely new ways, especially in emerging areas such as machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT).

“These companies are all waving their 5G flags, although 5G definitions and visions remain very vague,” said research director Philip Solis. “But this is not merely marketing. These companies are most certainly putting a stake in the ground with regards to contributions to 5G that will leverage their work, competitive strengths, and most crucially, patents.”

Some highly influential companies, such as Qualcomm, have remained quiet until recently about their vision and plans for 5G. Meanwhile, more companies, previously not very involved with standardization efforts, are putting their hands up.

Solis pointed out that Apple’s involvement with the NGMN 5G Initiative is a perfect example, as is Google’s acquisition of Alpental, “even if Google might only use a 5G or 5G-like air interface to augment fiber-to-the-home deployments with a combination of fiber-to-the-curb and 5G.”

These companies are working together so the standardization process can hit the ground running. They are doing their own work, forming alliances with universities and other companies, and hedging their bets by partaking in different research projects that focus on different parts of the network and air interface, in an effort to dictate the direction of 5G.

“Expect efforts to get intellectual property into standards to be fiercer than with 4G, but naturally much of the existing IP will be in play as well,” added Solis. “More companies learned the importance of having a fair amount of IP with 2G and 3G, so the 4G playing field evened up a little. This trend will continue with 5G.”

He also noted that companies should move beyond sometimes vague marketing and generalizations around 5G to create more definitive messaging around how technology will improve specific applications. They need to better describe how waveforms and modulation schemes best apply to increasingly mixed-use traffic.

“This can only help them with more brand building and influence in the standardization process,” Solis said.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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