Date
23 November 2017
Leading mobile operators are struggling to make a case for 5G networks as consumers strive to take full advantage of the capabilities of 4G. Photo: Reuters
Leading mobile operators are struggling to make a case for 5G networks as consumers strive to take full advantage of the capabilities of 4G. Photo: Reuters

Mobile industry tiptoes toward 5G

Leaders of the world’s wireless industry agree their next big idea is 5G, the fifth generation of networks they expect to have up and running by 2020, Reuters reported.

But first they’ll have to decide what 5G needs to do that the 4G will never offer.

“It is unclear what the opportunity or weakness that 5G should address is,” researchers at GSMA, the global trade group of mobile network operators, said in a report issued in December.

There is no need for the industry to spend heavily on new network equipment or force consumers to upgrade phones unless the new generation of wireless standards delivers radical improvements in speed or functions, mobile operators say.

Discussions on setting 5G technical standards have yet to begin, although a final standard is expected in 2019, experts say.

Meanwhile, network equipment makers like China’s Huawei and France’s Alcatel-Lucent and dozens of newer players are touting projects as ready for 5G.

Most industry experts expect the first commercial deployments of 5G in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

“What happens before that is a lot of marketing,” Lauri Oksanen, vice-president of research and technology at Nokia’s Networks business.

Of course, 5G promises to do a lot more of everything users are just coming to expect from 4G, in terms of watching video, faster download times and denser network coverage. Major vendors predict a 100- to 1,000-fold increase in network capacity.

But the technology will also have to grapple with a new challenge: the fact that much of the world’s spectrum in lower frequency bands is used up. What remains is higher frequency spectrum that can only carry traffic over shorter distances.

The biggest thing that works in this spectrum is small things, lots and lots of connected things operating in close proximity. This spectrum will fuel the “Internet of Things”, the biggest big idea justifying the upgrade to 5G.

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