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5G in 2018: Harbinger of Things to Come

In July of 2016 I wrote the Zin like statement “to believe in 5G, you must understand there is no 5G”. Which was literally true at the time despite industry and marketing hype to the contrary. However, with the release of the first set of 3GPP New Radio (NR) standards in December of last year (R15, Phase 1, works on LTE Core) and with the 5G Core standards expected for mid-2018 (R15, Phase 2) we have entered a phase in which we will finally begin to see the reality of what 5G networks will become.

So, looking ahead for 2018, these are some of the things we can expect to see.

1. Early NR Deployments: Some will be fixed wireless focused. A few may attempt early mobility deployments. But for the first time the 5G New Radio (NR) will be appearing in commercial networks. And while the underlying core will be LTE, we will begin to get some sense for the actual speeds and latency characteristics of the much anticipated 5G air interface.

2. Early 5G Devices: Most industry veterans acknowledge that device availability lags the implementation of new generation technology. I’ve been around long enough to remember when GSM was referred to as “God Send Mobiles”. 😊 However, particularly towards the later part of 2018, we will begin to see some actual 5G fixed units on houses for broadband and early 5G devices for mobility. What these devices look like and how customers respond to them will be early indicators of things to come.

3.Spectrum Performance: One of the lessor discussed but still important aspects of 5G is how both licensed and unlicensed spectrum is expected to be used for 5G deployment. Early implementations this year will help us understand how well (or perhaps not) that will work out. In addition, the ultrahigh spectrum bands (millimeter bands) will begin to be used in actual deployments. There are concerns about the limitations of millimeter band spectrum, so this is an area to keep an eye on too.

To be clear we still have a way to go to have a complete 5G specifications. The next major chuck of standards (3GPP R16) takes on the more complex aspects of 5G including IoT, high speed trains, and autonomous driving and will likely not materialize until late 2019. (Spoiler alert: I’m thinking R16 will get broken up into Phases, like R15, to get some functionality to market sooner.) But we are, finally, at the starting line for real, standards-based implementations. What is learned this year will be important to shaping what 5G will actually become.

Bill Mayberry
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