5G grabs the spotlight at MWC 2017

Monday 6 March 2017 | 13:01 CET | Background

Within just ten years there will be over 1 billion 5G connections around the world, according to an outlook issued by the GSMA at Mobile World Congress. The mobile industry's biggest trade show showed the high expectations for 5G, with both mobile operators and equipment vendors outlining their plans in Barcelona. 

Bringing 5G to the market will still take a few years. The next generation of mobile network technology will offer a very high level of connectivity, and the number of applications appears endless, but commercial launches are still a ways away. At MWC, demonstrations focused on high-bandwidth services such as 4K video, new ways to provide broadband to every home, and public-benefit services such as critical communications for public safety and new transport systems with autonomous vehicles.

A number of cooperation agreements were announced at MWC, underlining the need to work together to bring about the digital transformation, especially in this early stage. While the first commercial networks based on 5G standards are not expected until 2020, many operators and their equipment suppliers are already making a first attempt. A group of major players, including Ericsson, BT, Qualcomm, Intel and Deutsche Telekom, announced a proposal to accelerate the roll-out of 5G. They hope to bring forward the launch of 5G to 2019 by developing intermediary standards relying in part on existing LTE networks.


Verizon said just ahead of MWC that it plans to launch "pre-commercial" 5G services already this year, in 11 markets in the US. The US operator, which is leading the standardisation and testing of 5G through its own technology forum, said late last year that it expects 5G to come to market faster than expected. ZTE said it expects to be ready to roll out commercial 5G networks from Q3 2018, and services should then start from Q1 2019. 

Huawei and China Mobile showed already last summer at MWC Shanghai prototype radios for 5G in the 3.5 GHz band and spectrum above 6 GHz. In Barcelona, the focus shifted to network slicing. Huawei has agreed to work with BT on the technology and unveiled at MWC a 5G network slicing router, a world first according to the company. The router offers 50GE connectivity for base stations and can be upgraded to 100GE. The cloud plays a major role in the migration to 5G, and Huawei predicts this will be the basis for the transformation in the coming years. 

Samsung and Deutsche Telekom also demonstrated 5G Guaranteed Latency (GLA) as an end-to-end network slice. SK Telekom showed at MWC its experience with Federated Network Slicing, in cooperation with Deutsche Telekom and Ericsson.

While use cases for 5G continue to grow, the business model still needs work. This will require a great deal of cooperation, Ericsson said. In a keynote session at MWC, Ericsson CTO Ulf Ewalsson noted how most of the company's mobile operator customers have seen their revenues come under pressure in recent years. While they haven't benefited as much from the rise of smartphones as handset and app makers, 5G offers an opportunity to work more closely with business and industry to develop new services and sources of revenue, he said. While Ericsson itself has had a few difficult years itself, the company plans to position itself clearly as a developer of services for industry verticals, said CEO Borje Ekholm.


Ericsson's rival Nokia, which acquired Alcatel-Lucent last year, tried to make its lead in 5G clear at MWC. It launched a new portfolio called 5G FIRST, which Nokia says will give operators a "first-to-market advantage" based on early draft specifications. The company wants to have the first products ready in the second half of 2017. Nokia also announced a new 5G Community to work with other industry players on realising the promises of 5G.

Nokia CMO Barry French and CEO Rajeev Suri underlined in their keynote speeches that Nokia has become a true 'technology leader' following its transformation and acquisitions such as Aclatel-Lucent and more recently Comptel. In the coming years, it will invest in specific sectors such as mining and transport, to develop in parallel with its network technology new business services.  

Check out the Telecompaper dossiers on 5G and MWC 2017 for all the latest news and information.

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