5G depends on standards
The 5G standards process is an obvious starting point to understand the timeline for service delivery. 5G standards are necessarily highly technical and include a raft of specifications primarily around radio frequencies (RF) and technologies that enhance performance such as massive multi-user multiple-input multiple-output (MU-MIMO) or millimeter wave (mmWave). However, they also lay out a development path for the technology underlying 5G use cases and therefore provide a baseline timetable:
More phases are planned for Release 16 through to March 2020 which, together with Release 17, will ultimately disperse control plane functions and create a set of services that enable an entirely fluid, dynamic approach to location and scaling. The technical realization of the full 5G vision will take several more releases over subsequent years. The 5G vision is also reliant on the availability of enough of the right spectrum.
In our survey 63% of respondents stated that lack of standards was an important barrier to 5G deployment, and 69% declared availability of spectrum a significant barrier, making it the No. 1 impediment to 5G rollout. These issues will dictate the speed of deployment. Therefore, in countries where capacity is constrained, or business cases can easily be built for fixed wireless access (FWA), CSPs will roll out 5G sooner, beginning in 2018 and becoming more widespread in 2019. This conclusion is also backed by trials that are underway.
Trials proving technology, not use cases
FWA is the most advanced use case globally, but still many trials are focused on understanding RF performance and the quality of service being delivered. In Europe, Orange completed a month-long FWA customer trial in Romania in July 2018 and is now moving on to focus on the business. Yves Martin, Orange Romania's Chief Marketing Officer, told journalists that 5G could feasibly be used to connect about 10% of homes in the future.
AT&T, Sprint and Verizon are the most advanced, and their trials have included additional services such as smart home. Still, issues around signal interference from foliage are as central as service innovation.
In the UK, an Innovate UK-commissioned report, 5G Nation, identified 66 different industry-led 5G projects but few were service-related.
This next generation technology will enable medical services that could save lives, from remote surgery to remote care for the elderly,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery, speaking after the first UK trial of 5G at 3.4GHz in April 2018.
“It will enhance industrial applications, from automated systems to robotics, helping manufacturers across the UK boost their productivity. And it will enable families to share their experiences with loved ones wherever they are, thanks to innovations like augmented reality.”
Big changes are required
This is the vision, but as Vodafone Group CTO Scott Petty says, “5G is a multi-year project,” and it is because so much more than the air interface must change.
The infographic below shows the major changes required. Making these changes is a massive undertaking that fundamentally impacts many traditional operational and business support system (OSS/BSS) functions, from planning and optimization to business and revenue assurance. To do this requires a fundamental change in the way that networks are designed, planned, operated and managed beginning with slicing up the network.