5G: replacement for 4G, IoT and fixed, or something altogether new?

Tuesday 6 March 2018 | 12:04 CET | Background

5G development has entered a new stage since the 3GPP published the first standards last December. Operators and vendors have moved from setting up partnerships and labs to the first practical tests of networks and interoperability.

The development of 5G, known formally as IMT-2020, started already a while ago. In 2012, the University of Surrey was an early starter, while South Korea set in 2014 the target of having a test network ready for the Olympic Games in 2018 (mission accomplished). 

Subsequent years saw a number of partnerships started, as operators, vendors, universities and governments joined in to get a head-start on patents and standards. This led to the development of a number of concepts that now form part of the new technology: New Radio, Massive MIMO, Mobile Edge Computing, LAA, network slicing, beamforming and use of high frequency bands (mmWave). Everything is aimed at three main features: high capacity (up to 10 Gbps), high quality (latency of 1 ms) and mass adoption of connected devices.

MWC 2018: test networks and use cases

The latest edition of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was the opportunity for many companies to unveil their progress and plans for 5G:

5G: alternative for 4G, IoT, fixed - or something altogether different?

The big question remains: why 5G? There are multiple answers.

  • More capacity. Data traffic is growing, so networks need to be more dense, and more spectrum is needed, also to be used more efficiently. 
  • Better than 4G networks. 4G provided an excellent network for video and will continue to support these services for years to come. But 5G can do it even better.
  • Better IoT networks. The current IoT networks based on LoRa and LTE also will serve well for years to come, even if only to earn back the invested costs. A 5G world means a true network of sensors, able to deliver the promised applications such as self-driving vehicles. 
  • New applications. Examples include the partnership between China Mobile and Nokia to develop smart city, smart transportation and video analytics services.

Surprisingly enough broadcast TV also is becoming a part of 5G. The LTE Broadcast concept gained little traction due to a lack of devices, although Telstra is still pursuing the technology. The new Samsung Galaxy S9, as well as the S8, support LTE-Broadcast, and Telstra is looking at applications for sporting events. A consortium involving Telefonica Deutschland is researching whether 5G can deliver live TV based on the Further evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (FeMBMS) protocol.

Winter Olympics Pyeongchang: live pre-5G network

The Olympic Games in Korea gave us a first taste. Operator KT successfully tested a pre-5G network in the 28 GHz band, with Ericsson, Intel, Toyota and Samsung as supplier of a 5G tablet. Cameras on the helmets of bobsledders and 300 drones resulted in 3,800 TB of data. In comparison, that's how much KPN's 3.7 million mobile customers consume in around 13 days. The tests delivered 3D video and razor-sharp freeze frames. At the next Olympics in 2020, DoCoMo promises to deliver a commercial 5G network, supporting applications such as 360-degree video, 8K video and smart city services. 


With 5G gathering speed, we can already started looking ahead to 6G. Each new generation of technology seems to disappoint the market, falling short on development schedules and demand estimates. 4G was different, as it was a clear answer to the passive consumption of traditional video. BT has suggested that 6G may not even be necessary, as long as 5G doesn't disappoint. And the US cable company Charter has already started talking up '6G' as a way to maximise the potential of its Docsis network.

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