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Where Are We Going with 5G and Will Europe Lead?

With Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2015 now in the books, it is interesting to evaluate not just where the wireless industry is, but where it is going.  While we are still very much in the early stages of obtaining ubiquitous 4G LTE (News - Alert) coverage around the world, and waiting for deployments regarding VoLTE, Carrier Aggregation, HetNets, Wi-Fi/macrocell seamless integration, etc., the talk in the halls already is about 5G and what it can and should bring to the table. 

In fact, at MWC the 5G PPP, the 5G Public-Private Partnership between the European Commission and European industry and research community, made quite a splash with the launch of its inaugural vision paper on 5G.  It outlines how 5G will create a single digital economy. In addition, and not surprising given its authorship, it makes the case that 5G can, “put Europe back in the driving seat with a ubiquitous network that will connect people, things and services based on a plethora of innovation unseen before at such scale.”

In case you are not familiar with 5G PPP, it is a collaborative research initiative within the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program aimed at fostering industry-led research that is guided by a number of business-related, network performance and societal objectives. The European Commission (EC), with the approval of the European Parliament, has committed €700 million (US $884 million) of public funds to support 5G PPP activities from 2014 to 2020.

A comprehensive vision

The report highlights in many ways not just the preparations that will be required to get from 4G to 5G but a rather aggressive time frame and roadmap for 5G actualization starting in 2020. Indeed, given we are talking about infrastructure transformation by historical measures getting from where we are to the vision really is ambitious to say the least.   

The 5G vision white paper defines the following:

  • The 5G PPP vision for next generation communication networks and services
  • A comprehensive roadmap towards 5G deployment in 2020+
  • How 5G will enable and support new businesses and services
  • The key use case scenarios that 5G will need to support
  • Consensus among 5G PPP members on the role that a wide range of existing and future technologies will play in 5G as well as initial design principles for the system
  • Topics related to 5G spectrum that need further research

The report includes discussion of:  5G disruptive capabilities, design principles, key technological components, spectrum considerations, and as noted above a timeline.  Of special interest to readers should be the topics in the spectrum consideration section of items deemed “concerning.”  These are the requirements for wireless broadband access and backhaul, the need for new wireless broadband spectrum above 6 GHz and the need for enhanced spectrum management methods. 

One graphic from the report should be an inducement to download the entire report. It shows the desired performance indicators for 5G and provides a powerful illustration as to why there is so much interest in getting to 5G fast.

Source (News - Alert):  5G PPP, 5G Vision (March 2015)

At MWC EU-funded 5G research of five ongoing European research projects was demonstrated highlighting technological progress in areas such as new waveforms, cell densification, usage of spectrum above 6GHz and spectrum optimization.  Plus, 5G PPP members Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei (News - Alert) and Nokia had demos of their 5G efforts as well with Günther H. Oettinger, European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, and the CTOs from Alcatel-Lucent, DoCoMo, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, Orange, Samsung (News - Alert) and Thales Alenia Space sharing their perspectives on the goals, market expectations and further developments of 5G at a major press event to announce the vision white paper.

The specs for 5G are obviously impressive as is the goal of the EC to assure Europe gets a jump on the rest of the world given the importance of having the most modern communications infrastructure as the foundation for economic vitality in a connected and intensely connected world.  Yes, 5G does hold the potential of being disruptive, beneficial and more than just an incremental increase in value to 4G.  Whether first commercialization can be achieved by 2020 is an imponderable given as the report notes are a not insubstantial number of challenges. 

That said, 5GPPP certainly has put a valuable stake in the ground, and one thing is certain it 5G is going to be a dominant theme of MWC for many years to come.  And, while European-led activities will be ones to keep an eye on, it should be noted that 5GPPP participation is open to international participants. In addition, the competition for leadership will ultimately will come down to which service providers move first and fastest around the world. That will be a result of financial as well as public policy considerations that have yet to be determined.  

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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