With the average ten-year time cycle between two generations of communications infrastructure narrowing, several companies and organisations worldwide are accelerating research and development into the technology platforms that will lay the basis for the “next frontier” of mobile innovation.
First commercialisation of so-called fifth- generation (5G) technology is only expected from 2020. But 5G is expected to be a simultaneous outcome, and driver, of the ‘Internet of Things’, which many see as the future of connectivity and economic activity.
“5G will provide the foundational infrastructure for building smart cities, which will push mobile network performance and capability requirements to their extremes,” a Huawei study, ‘5G a technology vision’, reports, noting that the development of 5G technologies is a cornerstone for realising breakthroughs in the transformation of information and communication technology (ICT) network infrastructure.
The next-generation technology will drive the future evolution of the Internet itself, delivering an ubiquitous ultra-broadband network that will require a “rethinking, restructuring and redesigning” of the approach to mobile network construction and expansion.
An Ericsson business review notes that 5G should be seen as the next chapter in an ongoing journey from fixed to mobile broadband, and then to “everything connected”.
However, emerging economies, such as those in Africa, will take longer to implement, and experience, 5G technology.
Huawei Global research senior director and 5G research programme leader Dr Peiying Zhu predicts that infrastructure challenges will delay the roll out of 5G to developing economies.
“Operators will find that they will struggle to cope with the huge demand for broadband access [to the current] third-generation (3G) and fourth-generation (4G) [technologies], which will have an impact on the transition to 5G,” she comments, pointing out that, “when the time comes”, operators will need to upgrade their network architectures and transmission speeds.
“In Africa, long-term evolution (LTE) and, in some cases, 3G are still in early stages of deployment and stabilisation, and it will take some time for operators to be able to monetise and generate adequate returns on these investments before considering 5G investments,” PwC associate director Sanesh Bodasing says.
However, there are positive indicators that the additional speeds and expanded capacity proposed for 5G will likely benefit a continent rapidly adopting technology to solve societal and infrastructure challenges amid an increasingly “technologically sophisticated culture”.
By the end of 2013, about 86% of Internet connections in sub-Saharan Africa still used second-generation (2G) technology, with 3G accounting for the bulk of the balance. LTE accounts for 0.1% of the total connections, which is expected to rise to just 2% by 2017.
Bodasing says, with LTE advanced proposed to provide theoretical peak download speeds of 1Gb/s and peak upload speeds of 500Mb/s, consideration will have to be given to key drivers for monetising and justifying the 5G investment, as these LTE speeds are “more than sufficient” to meet current and expected product and service demand requirements for the foreseeable future.
European Union Commission (EUC) VP Neelie Kroes says the roll out of 5G will require 4G and 3G – and possibly 2G and WiFi – networks, with Ericsson sub-Saharan Africa head of engagement practice for mobile broadband Hans Piet saying that 5G will build on LTE and the enhancements of the 4G standard that will take place over the next few years.
Future of the Internet
As the use of smartphones and tablets grow, data traffic and capacity demand will drastically jump by 2020.
“The interest is so high is not surprising as societal development has been leading to changes in the way mobile and wireless communication systems are used. In fact, it is predicted that smartphone subscriptions will grow from 1.2-billion in 2012 to 4.5-billion by 2018,” the EUC says.
However, owing to a “massive” growth in the number of machines and sensors using the Internet to communicate, the type of data traffic will also change.
The commission notes that 5G will bring the capacities needed to cope with this increased growth in the use of communication technologies by humans and machines.
“5G will not just be faster, it will [also] bring new functionalities and applications with high social and economic value,” Kroes says, pointing out that it is the key to “a new paradigm” of the Internet of Everything.
“It will enable new fields of application and new solutions for society, including medical monitoring, smart cities [and] augmented reality.”
Zhu explains that 5G wireless networks will support a thousandfold gain in mobile data volume per area capacity, the capacity for the connection of at least 100-billion devices and a 10Gb/s individual user experience capable of “extremely” low latency and response time.
5G will deal with needs emerging from Ericsson’s view of a Networked Society, in which everything that benefits from being connected will be connected, Piet says.
The Leap Forward
Huawei predicts that the first 5G networks will be ready for commercial deployment, in developed markets, between 2020 and 2030, with the first 5G full system prototype field trials to start in 2017.
The research required for the development of 5G is now well under way, with several public– private partnerships (PPPs) and individual companies embarking on research and trial initiatives.
The European Mobile and wireless communications Enablers for the Twentytwenty Information Society (Metis) project, established at the end of 2012, aims to develop the fundamental concepts of the 5G system and aligning industry views.
In line with this, the EUC established the 5G infrastructure PPP in December 2013 to jumpstart European research and development (R&D), with the EUC noting that the next generation of communication networks will be “Made in EU”.
The 5G PPP, comprising a broad range of stakeholders from the communication technology sector, will deliver solutions, architectures, technologies and standards for the ubiquitous next generation communication infrastructures.
The public sector has committed a budget of €700-million, which was matched by private- sector stakeholders.
Further, it is expected that five- to ten times this amount will emerge from the telecommunications industry to undertake activities contributing to the ambitions of the PPP.
Huawei has also been involved in R&D work related to 5G since 2009, and had demonstrated 5G prototype base stations with the capacity up to 50 Gb/s at the Mobile World Congress in 2011 and 2012.
“Huawei’s approach to 5G innovation has been open and collaborative, working extensively with ecosystem partners. To date, Huawei has participated in the EU’s 5G research projects [and] worked on the establishment of the 5G Innovation Centre, in the UK. Huawei is [also] a prominent consortium partner in the Metis research project,” Zhu tells Engineering News.
Huawei also participates in joint research programmes with over 20 universities around the world.
Despite still being in the preliminary study stages, Huawei has committed a minimum of $600-million for research and innovation for 5G technologies by 2018.
Piet says Ericsson has also committed to continuous contributions to the development of new mobile broadband technologies in the future.
“We are doing research, develop[ing] concepts and evaluat[ing] various technologies; we [are] also [undertaking] propagation measurements and build[ing] test beds. We expect standardisation to start in a couple of years, which should allow for commercial deployments around year 2020. By then, there will be several markets that have deployed LTE for almost one decade and would probably be interested in going one step further,” he says.
Both Korea and Japan also committed to showcase 5G technology at the 2018 and 2020 Olympics events respectively.
This follows on the recent development of a trial system for a new 5G radio access technology, which Ericsson, in conjunction with NTT DoCoMo, will, in 2015, demonstrate data rates of 10 Gb/s using the 15 GHz frequency band, in Japan.
Further, Ericsson, along with Acreo and KTH, are undertaking noncustomer-specific indoor trials at the newly launched Kista 5G Transport Lab, in Sweden.
The Lab is designed to shorten the time between academic research and products reaching customers in an innovative collaborative environment.
Ericsson is also the ninth major international technology firm to become an affiliate sponsor of New York University Wireless, which was established by the university’s Polytechnic School of Engineering in 2012 to focus on mass-deploy- able wireless devices across a wide range of applications and markets.
The Ericsson Business Review notes that new demands and responsibilities will be placed on businesses, government and suppliers as the regulatory environment will have to evolve in order to reflect the increased role of connectivity.
“Network reach will no longer correspond to national boundaries, which creates both opportunities and also potential vulnerabilities,” it points out.
Questions such as who shares responsibility for keeping the system running will become increasingly urgent – resolving these issues and finding ways to operate effectively and responsibly within a changing legal framework will be a key priority for all stakeholders.
Huawei says 5G networks faces significant design challenges to simultaneously meet all service requirements, while the flexible and efficient use of all available noncontiguous spectrum in different network deployment scenarios and the freeing up of additional spectrum will also need to be addressed.
Bodasing says one of the proposed 5G considerations is frequency harmonisation over the global telecommunications sector, which would allow for global standardisation of mobile devices.
“This results in scale benefits for 5G devices and a device cost reduction, stimulating demand,” he says.
With variable levels of regulatory maturity and various levels of analogue-to-digital migration, the allocation of additional spectrum, in particular digital dividend spectrum, for mobile broadband and its harmonisation would need to be addressed.
The journey towards 5G in Africa will require close interaction and collaboration between various stakeholders on resolving issues around spectrum availability and supply, standardisation and key market, business and socioeconomic drivers.