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Mobile execs mull future of 5G at MWC

5GMobile technology executives used a wide-ranging conference session on 5G at Mobile World Congress to spell out radically divergent visions of the future of the technology and its prospects.

The views ranged from 5G having little chance of success in the current framework of its evolution, to predictions that 5G represents the future of fixed broadband access and can help end the annual slaughter of millions of people in road accidents.

Hayim Porat, CTO of ECI Telecom said that “the future of 5G is bleak” because of a gap between perception and reality. He said that faster speed would “not cut it” as a killer app, and argued that 5G must be “ more about services” if it is to have any chance of success.

Porat cited a lack of consensus and movement towards open systems built on Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) as key challenges.

“We need automation using SDN and NFV. We need to change the way networks are built. At the moment we do not have good implementation of SDN and NFV,” he said.

“NFV today is makeshift… It doesn’t cut it in terms of cost-effectiveness and can’t replace the hardware elements that it should replace.”

Porat argued that unless carriers changed their approach, only OTT service providers would benefit from 5G. He said that most things connected to the internet in the future will be connected to mobile networks. However, to provide quality assured services across different carriers would be a significant change.

However, other speakers saw strong progress being made towards next-generation mobile. Speaking on the same session, John Naylon, CTO and founder, CBNL, said that the adoption of millimetre wave technology – technology applying to the Extremely High Band frequencies between 30-300GHz – would enable operators to occupy wide channels of bandwidth, overcoming the problem of spectrum fragmentation in lower frequency ranges.

“Millimeter wave and low frequency spectrum are complementary to each other,” he said, acknowledging that mmWave would not be suitable for some next-generation mobile applications such as the Internet of Things. “You can combine them to get the best of both worlds and maybe this will create more than the sum of their parts.”

Naylon said that millimetre wave frequencies are already used widely today for backhaul and fixed access because the technology enables the use of wide channels, comparable with fibre. He said that in addition to boosting mobile speeds, mmWave could enable wireless technology to be more widely used for high-speed fixed access as an alternative to expensive fibre rollouts.

Naylon said that CBNL had built a residential ISP for US provider Vivint in Utah and Texas over a 2,500km sq. area using 28GHz and 5GHz spectrum to provide a 200Mbps service – a speed that he said is dictated by market requirements rather than any technical constraints. Vivint has connected 20,000 paying subscribers to date, he said, adding that tests had shown this to be the fastest statewide wireless ISP in the US.

“In the markets in which it is present it is outperforming cable networks and ADSL,” he said, adding that wireless could compete with low end FTTH networks. Building fibre is expensive, and fixed access could be a very good application of 5G, he said.

No one technology

Also speaking in the 5G session, Stuart Revell, external engagement advisor at industry body 5GIC, said that no one technology could form the basis of 5G, which will have to support applications ranging from faster mobile broadband to new Internet of Things services. “We will be able to put things on wireless networks that are business critical and life critical”.

Potential applications range from transport and logistics to healthcare, said Revell, claiming that vehicle-to-vehicle communication encompassing entertainment as well as safety is a “classic” application for the technology. “We are doing testbeds and trials to show that these things work.”

Radio technology is one of the building blocks of 5G, and Revell said that 5G would use a wide range of frequencies, arguing that WiFI will be important as part of 5G in addition to 3.5GHz, 700MHz and 26GHz frequencies. However, he said that the first key challenge is to isolate a base technology and create something that all players in 5G can use. “Isolate the technology and the standards first,” he advised.

Dino Flore, director general of automotive industry body the 5G Automotive Association, put the case for 5G automotive applications. He said there were 1.25 million road fatalities in 2013, with another 20-50 million people injured or disabled by traffic accidents. The economic impact of road accidents was estimated at US$518 billion.

Flore said that advanced sensing, communication and computing technologies should be integrated into vehicles to improve these statistics. Beyond that, fully autonomous driving systems lie further down the road.

The 5GAA is looking at a number of areas to drive the requirements for next-generation automotive systems, according to Flore. Communication with other vehicles, road infrastructure and pedestrians are three of the key elements. Use cases include left turn assist, remote vehicle health monitoring, real-time high definition maps, HD sensor sharing, and technology to allow ‘see-through’ of vehicles in front through the use of shared camera images.

The V2X is a framework that will allow vehicles to communicate with each other and with other connected objects around them. V2X is a 3GPP standard, currently at Release 14, and 5G V2X capabilities are under discussion. Tests are currently underway in various countries around the world.

Jin-Hyo Park, SVP, head of network R&D Centre, SK Telecom, said that the trend towards multimedia streaming will accelerate with 5G, becoming the primary mode of consumption for video as well as music. Other apps include true live streaming of 4K and 360 live VR and UHD live conferencing. SK Telecom will launch trial services this year with a target date of 2019 for commercial services, subject to progress in standardisation.

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