5G talk heats up, but launch still far off

5G services could appear in 2020, might not reach Australia until 2025, analysts say

The 5G hype machine hit a fever pitch this week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but wireless services based on the still-to-be-formalised wireless standard are not expected to launch in any markets until 2020 at the earliest.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, Telstra revealed it would launch 5G services with Ericsson in “around 2020.”

Separately, the European Commission’s 5G Public-Private Partnership (5G PPP) issued a vision statement on 5G stating that the next-generation wireless services should be 100 time faster than 4G, connect 1000 times as many devices and carry 1000 times as much traffic in a given area.

“Commercial 5G is expected to start to arrive around 2020 with full employment towards the end of that decade,” according to Australian telecom analyst Paul Budde.

“The engineers are still busily working on what the standard will have to include and this process is expected to take another 5 years to fully finalise.”

While the outlook for 5G is 2020, it might happen later in Australia and possibly not until 2025, said IBRS analyst Guy Cranswick. He cautioned that it’s a long way away to speculate.

Budde, writing from the Barcelona conference, noted a large amount of hype about 5G from an assortment of vendors.

Korean companies including Samsung and Korea Telecom seem to have taken the lead on 5G development, with China not far behind and Sweden’s Ericsson – which announced a 5G partnership with Telstra – also hard at work on the next wireless standard, he said.

While a standard has not been formalised, expected key technical benefits of 5G are greater network capacity, lower latency, support for many more devices, and more flexible use of spectrum including higher frequencies than traditional mobile bands.

5G could bring 10 to 100 times the current data speeds for end users, five times the battery life and 1000 times the data capacity, among other attributes, said Budde.

The added efficiencies will support the communications of a growing number of connected machines engaged in machine-to-machine (M2M) exchanges of data and linked via the Internet of Things, he said.

“It's the Internet of Things that seems to be where 5G will reap benefits,” Cranswick concurred.

“Sensors, augmented reality, surveillance and data analysis are embedded into so many activities.”

Chris Coughlan, an independent telecom analyst, agreed that the Internet of Things will drive some of the demand for 5G. He added that the focus of 5G appears to be dense urban areas with high demand.

Challenges remain

Budde said there are still significant regulatory and technical hurdles to overcome before 5G reaches maturity.

“It is very unclear what 5G will do to WiFi,” he said. “Will it start crowding out this space once it starts encroaching on it; what will be the effect to the massive amount of free WiFi services that are now available around the world; [and] will unlicensed spectrum become licensed?”

The success of 5G also depends on connected systems, he said.

“5G will involve a range of industry sectors and can only be successful if the applications are built in partnership and in collaboration with those sectors. This means that new business models will have to be introduced in order to develop this market.

“5G also requires a very sophisticated cloud computing market as the applications that can be created can’t be managed in any efficient way other than in the cloud. Security and privacy are key as without them there will not be sufficient trust from companies to deploy new business models based on these high levels connectivity and interconnectivity.”

Another possible challenge is that there are not yet regulations for M2M, which will be a major application for 5G, he said.

“Very serious and robust discussions will need to happen before M2M can reach its full potential,” the analyst said.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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