Vendors start to put flesh on their 5G roadmaps

In its core event of the year, the GSMA predicted there would be 1.2bn 5G connections in the world by 2025, and that by the end of 2020, the mobile industry would have invested about $500bn, with 5G accounting for a big proportion of that capex spend.

Mats Granyrd, director general at the GSMA, told attendees: “Last year the mobile sector generated some €3.6 trillion for the global economy – that is equivalent to 4.5% of the world’s GDP. By 2022, we expect that figure to have grown to around 5%.”

Big figures apart, many operators were honest that they were still seeking strong business models to justify that level of investment in 5G networks, spectrum and services. Ericsson and NEC were both eager to help, each publishing a guide aiming to help operators plot a course to large-scale 5G.

NEC’s white paper was called ‘Making 5G a Reality’, and outlined the developments and market conditions that are required for successful deployment of 5G. These include further standardization efforts, and a response by the BSS/OSS community (in which NEC’s Netcracker subsidiary plays) to ensure they re-architect their solutions to harness the new specifications at the network level.

Ericsson’s report – ‘The guide to capturing the 5G industry digitalization business potential’ – identified nine clusters of use cases which would be key for MNOs to

maximize revenue opportunities in the IoT and on the road to 5G.  In a survey of 5G industry players, 73% told the Swedish giant that their most strategic 5G objective was to gain first mover advantage. That would clearly suit Ericsson well, since it would imply a race to deploy the new networks, but was not reflected by some of the operators represented in Barcelona, many of which are still evaluating new business cases before they plot a firm timeline to deploy at scale.

Ericsson examined more than 400 industry digitalization use cases across 10 industries: energy & utilities; manufacturing; public safety; healthcare; public transport; media and entertainment; automotive; financial services; retail and agriculture. 5G is expected to play a vital role in about half of these cases.

The report calculates that of total 5G-enabled value generated by 2026, up to 47% will be addressable by operators. The largest cluster is real time automation, with an estimated revenue potential of $101bn by 2026; followed by enhanced video services on $96bn. Ericsson claims that its research shows 70% of companies, which are trialling or evaluating 5G use cases, aims to have these in production by 2021, with the early movers being manufacturing, energy and utilities, public transport and financial services.

As for the technologies that will make this supposed race for a 5G-enabled IoT happen, it was notable that many stakeholders do not think 5G will be significantly superior to 4G in most IoT applications, until the next wave of standards – Release 16 – starts to address issues like ultra-low latency and enhanced security. That would make Ericsson’s 2021 date for mass deployment seem optimistic, given that Release 16 will not be frozen until early 2019.

However, there were hordes of 5G innovations on show in Barcelona. A select few include:

  • Nokia said it was engaged with over 50 operators for 5G, including NTT Docomo (its first commercial 5G customer), KT and SK Telecom, Orange, Telefónica, Verizon, T-Mobile, Etisalat, Zain, Vodacom and Vodafone Italy. Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri talked up the role of the firm’s recently announced ReefShark silicon in securing some of these deals – over 30 of the triallists are already working with prototypes of the chipset. Nokia claims ReefShark can treble cell site throughput, significantly reduce Massive MIMO antenna size and power consumption, and support embedded AI for radio optimization. This will help drive a more cost-efficient 5G platform, and one with the flexibility to support many use cases simultaneously, and look towards network slicing.
  • Ericsson achieved latency levels of just 6ms on a live test at MWC. The test took place in the 28 GHz band with a VoIP use case. Among many 5G demonstrations, the vendor showed off the results of a New Radio (NR) trial with Qualcomm, focused on dense small cell deployments in 3.5 GHz; while it also had NTT Docomo’s smart ICT platform research group showing off a 5G core and network slicing trial, also developed with the Swedish vendor.
  • Intel showcased the first 5G-enabled two-in-one hybrid PC on its stand, showing a prototype with two large 4×4 MIMO antenna blocks integrated into the back of the device. One of the issues of larger MIMO arrays in devices is that they will compete for space with batteries and other components, and they have to be cleverly positioned to ensure the moving signals don’t easily get lost. This is complex in a PC, as Intel’s very obviously pre-commercial design highlighted – even more challenging in a smartphone, once companies start to try to support millimeter wave bands in mobile gadgets.
  • Huawei had 5G stories for every part of the network from OneCore (a multi-RAT core which supports the forthcoming 5G core network standards) to a device chipset (see separate item) to Massive MIMO arrays to customer premises equipment (CPE) for fixed wireless. Most of the early 5G fixed wireless deployments are set to be in the US, where Huawei cannot sell, but other operators are likely to support FWA, especially if they secure mmWave spectrum and want to understand how it operates before taking on the added complexity of full mobility. Thus, FWA is important to vendors and operators as a first step towards 5G, and a way to generate experience and revenue even before there are many smartphones to lure consumers. Huawei said, with some justification, that it was “the first company offering an end-to-end 5G solution through its network, devices, and chipset level capabilities”.
  • Qualcomm showed off simulations of real-world scenarios in Frankfurt and San Francisco, both based on existing cell sites and spectrum allocations. In San Francisco, it modelled a 5G mmWave network operating in 800 MHz of 28 GHz spectrum. The median browsing speed on 4G was 71Mbps; on 5G, it was 1.5Gbps.