A future of ultra-fast, ultra-responsive, ubiquitous communications really is just over the horizon. The question is, how on earth did we manage such a feat? For that we need to get one level deeper into the world of 5G.
Staffed by top academic and industry researchers, 3GPP is the standards body that creates the world’s mobile telephony standards. Their current release cycle is up to Release 15. 4G LTE’s first release was Release 8, and the timeline doesn’t exactly start a ‘Release 1’, so it’s not quite so simple as it sounds.
But regardless of the caveats to the system, Release 15 is the first of the 5G releases. Release 15 Non- Stand Alone* was frozen in time immemorial on December 2017, and Release 15 Stand Alone is due to freeze this coming June 2018. Freezing a standard is as good as saying “it’s ready” – the terminology just recognises that it will accept super critical updates in the worst possible scenario.
*Non- Stand Alone because this release still uses some existing LTE technology for control plane and upper layers, like the evolved packet core.
In a sense, that means 5G is already here! As long ago as December 2017. So why hasn’t anyone told you yet? Why no 5G mobile phones on the shelves of your nearest supermarket?
Something had to be up, right? Real engineering projects never come in on time...
It’s not quite as bad as it seems. 5G is on schedule, but there’s significant difference between a 3GPP release and a consumer product. A whole lot must happen before the public begins to benefit: Semiconductor vendors must develop chipsets, service providers must perform field trials, and consumer electronics companies must develop their end of line tests. All of this is underway right now.
So where does that leave all the academic researchers who have been working hard to make contributions to Release 15? Release 16 of course!
Release 16, AKA ‘5G Phase 2’, contains a lot of what we have come to synonymize with 5G: Massive MIMO, ultra-wide mmWave bands, and a new network core. In many ways these are some of the most challenging and novel research areas, so there’s still a long way to go before 5G is out of the woods (or the university laboratory for that matter).
Brooklyn 5G Summit
Each year, we are privileged to gain a holistic outlook on the current progress of 5G at milestone events including IEEE Globecom, IEEE ICC, Mobile World Congress, and I would certainly add Brooklyn 5G Summit to that list.
Brooklyn 5G, an intimate invite-only conference, features influential decision makers from academia and industry such as AT&T, Nokia, MIT, Stanford, and many more.
This year’s speakers focused on two main thrusts – On the technical side: Making the final push to tip Release 15 from Non- Stand Alone to a full Stand Alone 5G. On the business side: What is going to be the economic impact of 5G?
The economic aspect of 5G has been stated many times before but Jongsik Lee, VP of 5G R&D at Korea Telecom (KT), had an interesting perspective on how to kick start the cash flow. Obviously the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games saw some of the first public forays into 5G powered applications with impressive wireless spectacles powered by KT including live first-person on-board HD footage from many of the events, simultaneous omni-angle camera capture of the athletes using tens of cameras, autonomous car demos, gigabit speed wireless tablet and almost gigabit speed connected shuttle busses.
Many were inclined to agree with the vision of Jongsik Lee that to cause ripples through the telecom industry and really get the investors flooding in, one of these applications would have to act as a proof point that goes mainstream before all the others. “Discovering the new killer device to ignite 5G data consumption” as he put it.
Rate of Change
The impact that the exponential rate of technology development will have on our near future is not lost on the business players in the wireless market.
“the future needs to be open
for innovation, scale and speed”
Marc Rouanne, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia, offered a great deal of guidance during his keynote encouraging us to “be prepared to act fast to deal with accelerated speed of change”. Business models will evolve alongside Release 15 and 16, as well as the network technology, especially given the Next Generation (NG) Core is poised to replace the LTE Evolved Packet Core which would otherwise bottle neck mainstream mass-distribution of many the applications we discussed earlier. 2020 isn’t far away! A lot needs to happen before then, and the rate of change will only continue to accelerate after that date as 5G applications roll out into the public domain.
Nokia’s approach to this run-away challenge is an open platform made of a mix of open community, open interfaces and open analytics. As Marc put it “the future needs to be open for innovation, scale and speed” of development. Those with history in the early days of 2G and 3G will know that this open and collaborative approach isn’t new for Nokia and their continued investment into this approach should come as very pleasing news for academic researchers around the world.
The next 18 months will be a telling time where the telecoms industry transitions from a collection of 5G standards to a living and breathing 5G market. The market size and what application areas take off first is the focus investors worldwide who are poised to sink or swim based on actions that come from within the 5G community in the present day.