5G: Six Predictions for the Future of Mobile Telecom

5G. It’s coming, but there are still so many aspects of its implementation to figure out, nobody is really sure what the next generation of mobile telecom will look like, or what it will be used for. We have some pretty good guesses, though. Here are six 5G predictions from industry analysts and researchers. 

1. Network slicing requires collaboration between operators 

Network slicing—”a processing path containing all the networking functions needed to 
deliver a service”—is a cornerstone of 5G if the next generation of mobile telecom is to deliver on its promise, stressed Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst at Heavy Reading, in a recent article. Defined that way, he elaborated, slicing extends across network domains, operators, and industries, therefore requiring industry collaboration. 

Easier said than done, of course. Brown noted that such collaboration depends on common interfaces interoperable between providers, “that can be built and operated using multi-vendor technology,” with global reach and economies of scale. Outside of the standards process, operators must also cooperate to ensure components work together in reality and not just in theory.

“There is no question that network slicing will be difficult.,” Brown concluded. “Operators must think strategically and practically about how to deliver this capability.”

2. 5G depends on converged architecture

Over the past decade, a variety of market factors have driven the development and deployment of new, high-bandwidth technologies designed to achieve ubiquitous coverage, said Wim Rouwet, Senior Principal Engineer at NXP Digital Networking, in an RCR Wireless News Reader Forum column about NXP’s approach to a unifying, programmable network architecture. One result of this is that networks’ physical layers have converged on OFDM and wide channel bands.

“But not every aspect of networks has converged and none will be forever static,” Rouwet elaborated. Today, “network systems must either rely on unique hardware for each standard as they have in the past or hardware with revolutionary flexibility,” even as “vendors continually upgrade their designs, and the industry periodically updates its standards.”

Something has to give, and a different type of convergence is where Rouwet sees the solution.  

“What is required Is a new approach, combining hardware and software architectures to enable a solution which leverages networking and wireless domain expertise to solve the challenges of multi-generation support efficiently while delivering a scalable solution for multiple segments,” he concluded.

3. Spectrum must be managed globally with sharing and innovation in mind

Unavoidably, radio spectrum and how it is managed play a huge role in the success of 5G. And, the devil is in the details. 

“The wide range of frequencies in play creates a lot of opportunities for the next generation of mobile networks, but could also serve to fragment the global market creating problems around interoperability and seamless service delivery,” noted Sean Kinney, RCR Wireless News Managing Editor, in a recent article. That’s why nonprofit trade group Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) is “working to build global consensus around 5G spectrum harmonization.”

A global approach to this is needed, Kinney elaborated, because of “the explosive growth in the volume and type of mobile data traffic, as well as the ongoing number of connections coming from the internet of things.”

Both regionally and globally, that means making more, and higher frequency, spectrum available, and doing so in a way that focuses on harmonization to be sure everyone’s needs are met.

4. Millimeter wave’s role is certain but unclear

No doubt, millimeter wave spectrum will play a role in 5G, but exactly what that looks like isn’t yet clear. After all, while mmWave wireless broadband is fast, but the connectivity technology needed to enable it isn’t necessarily easy for users to install, noted Dan Jones, RCR Wireless News Mobile Editor, in a recent article. He added that range, propagation, and installation are all factors to consider with mmWave.

Range is a particularly thorny issue; even professionally-mounted mmWave rooftop radios set up to make line-of-sight connections top out at about 3 miles, Jones elaborated. 

“And therein lies the rub: Operators hoping to use fixed 5G as a cable alternative want it to be cheaper than digging up roads for cable installations,” Jones explained. “Obviously, using a 5G radio to connect several houses helps to reduce costs. This will not be the case, however, if the operator has to make a truck roll — or two! — to get the user connected.”

Nonetheless, “mmWave use is being hung around the 5G standard with the promise of delivering a gigabit-speed fixed wireless alternative to cable,” both in the U.S. and internationally, Jones concluded. 

5. Fiber is the future for transport networks

The time is now to prepare transport networks for 5G, said Heavy Lifting Principal Analyst Sterling Perrin in a recent article. “But preparing for 5G is a tricky proposition, given that 5G New Radio is still in the early stages of standardization.”

Yet, Perrin predicted, one thing is clear, at least at the physical network layer: “The network will be fiber-based, and the network architecture will be centralized RAN (C-RAN).”

“Testing requirements at the physical layer are also straightforward, with the focus on the fiber characterization tests that are critical for any fiber-optic network,” Perrin added.

6. 5G’s impact will be felt across the industrial sector

5G will be a tech platform for innovation in just about every industrial sector, predicted RCR Wireless News’ Kinney, citing research by IHS Markit Chief Economist Nariman Behravesh. If successfully implemented, then, 5G will also have a huge impact on the U.S. and global economy.

“In his analysis,”Kinney said, Behravesh focuses on the ability of emerging ultra high capacity and ultra low latency networks to drive ‘productivity gains gains in the utilization of…capital and labor,’ but also boils down the impact to how quality of life for people around the world changes as a function of, for instance, advances in health care and urban living.”