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Five Things About 5G

1. To believe in 5G, you must understand there is no 5G

Recently I heard a panel discussion opened with this zen-like statement. And with all the hype around 5G today, I think it’s important to remember that this statement is literally true. The first set of 5G standards are not expected to be released until June, 2018 and the second phase not until December 2019.

So why are credible Carriers like Verizon are saying they will be doing 5G as soon as next year? That is the basis of the rest of this blog.

2. Marketing 5G will exceed Technical 5G by years

Back when 4G LTE was first being deployed , I went into the retail store of a major Carrier to buy a new phone. After they transferred my subscriber data and fired up the device, “4G” popped up on the screen. I was very excited, saying to the sales associate “I didn’t know that 4G radios were already being deployed here!” By then he knew that I wasn’t the average consumer and he said, “oh no, that’s not Technical 4G that’s Marketing 4G”. And I expect the same thing to occur with 5G – only the time gap between the two will be greater. The truth is by the time 5G radios are actually being deployed in 2020, 5G branding will already be firmly entrenched in consumers’ minds.

3. LTE will be the workhorse technology through 2020, at least

So what does that mean in terms of the network? I think “5G” services will actually be based on 4G LTE with at least one more standards release of LTE coming sometime next year. You currently hear that evolutionary step referred to as LTE Advanced and/or LTE Pro. And given how long it takes new radio devices to penetrate the marketplace, it seems clear that LTE will be the workhorse for the wireless networks for at least the next 4 years and beyond.

4. Early 5G trials will focus on fixed wireless and gaining knowledge about upper frequency bands

So what are these 5G trials (announced by Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and C-Spire) really about? If you read the announcements carefully you’ll learn that these are primarily efforts to learn more about the propagation characteristics of the centimeter and millimeter bands anticipated to be used for 5G. We’re talking 6GHz, 15GHz, 28GHz, 39GHz, and 64GHz. AND, the initial trials will be based primarily on fixed applications versus mobile. This is particularly important for Carriers like Verizon and AT&T who offer home broadband services like FiOS and U-Verse to their LEC customer base. So you can expect “5G” to be a potential player in the broadband data space in the near future and perhaps in advance of the more complex mobility 5G use cases.

5. 5G Network building blocks can and will be done well in advance of the actual 5G radio

So, does that mean “5G” is all hype from a technology standpoint and Carriers can sit on their hands? NOT AT ALL! Whereas the new radio access technology (cleverly named by standards bodies as “New Radio” J ) will not be defined for a while, all the other network building blocks are possible to be done in advance and that is exactly what’s happening today. These include efforts to add small cell densification to the networks, Network Function Virtualization (NFV), Software Defined Networks (SDN), as well as sophisticated transmission schemes (backhaul, fronthaul, mid-haul) required to carry higher speed data. That’s why you will see gradual improvements in data speeds by the major Carriers over the next few years, with the “NR” of 5G providing the last piece of the puzzle.

Conclusion

The 5G evolution represents exciting opportunities for Carriers to provide services like enhanced mobile video and significantly higher speed data services over the next few years. Just keep in mind that it will be an evolution, not a revolution, nor a stair step of network improvement. And yes, try not to confuse Marketing 5G with Technical 5G.

Share your thoughts in the comments below. What topics would you like to see covered next?

Bill Mayberry
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