Franklin Flint, CTO of the Telecommunications Industry Association, kicked off a panel on the potential for 5G at CES in Las Vegas this week by asking how soon the industry might see 5G deployments in the wild.
Flint cited South Korea's claims that it will debut 5G wireless, which they specified as 20 Gigabits per second (Gbps) data transfer speeds for all users, when it hosts the Winter Olympics in 2018. Flint also referred to Verizon's chief information and technology architect Roger Gurnani's bolder claims in a September interview with CNET that the company will begin "some level of commercial deployment" in 2017.
One of the few points on which the panelists agreed was that neither of these claims mean actual 5G networks will be available so soon.
Fran O'Brien of Cisco's Mobility CTO team pointed out quickly that the 5G standard isn't set to be complete until 2020. The industry saw similar claims in the early stages for both 4G and 3G networking, O'Brien said. Right now, it only amounts to "a little bit of marketing," he added.
That's not to say these organizations won't roll out a network that they call "5G" within the timelines they've promised. Some operators might market their networks at 5G if they meet some of the requirements, O'Brien said.
"Will it be full-blown 5G?" he added. "Who knows?"
Ed Tiedemann, senior vice president of engineering at Qualcomm, said he sees the "serious technology work" kicking off by about March of this year. From there, the 5G standard will follow a schedule that sees its first release phase by the "second half or maybe third quarter of 2017," and the second phase by the end of 2019, Tiedemann said.
That means the organizations talking about deploying won't align with 5G's actual standardization process, Tiedemann added.
Tiedemann also says talk of 20 Gbps speeds per user, as was raised after South Korea released its definition of 5G for the 2018 Olympic games, may not come to fruition for a while simply because of limitations with mobile devices. More realistically, the development of 5G will focus on offering ubiquitous 100 Mbps speeds, which most discussion of the 5G standard has identified as a target, Tiedemann said.
A complicating factor for 5G will be how it evolves to accommodate a broad range of devices. Glenn Laxdal, CTO and head of strategy for Ericsson North America, said the IoT, which requires low-power and long-range devices sometimes deployed within buildings, will be just as important a use case for 5G as massive mobile broadband, which will need to handle high-definition video streaming for millions of users simultaneously. Enterprise and industrial organizations "can't be moving mission-critical workloads to mobile platforms until they are highly reliable, ultra real-time, and highly secure," Laxdal said. The continued explosion of the IoT will be a very important consideration for 5G.
"I don't know if there's going to be one killer use case because there's going to be so many use cases," Laxdal said. "It's not about everyone being connected, but everything being connected most efficiently."
Overall, the outlook for 5G remains uncertain. Even the groups that claim they'll be first to bring a 5G network to reality aren't ready to promise a permanent deployment. At the same meeting where they targeted the 2018 Winter Olympics as a debut for its 5G network, South Korea's delegates from the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning said they aren't expecting commercial availability until 2020.