MWC2014: NGMN Alliance gets cracking on 5G

27 Feb 2014

ITEM: After months of vendors touting plans to develop “5G”, an operator alliance has launched its own 5G initiative – and it’s not the GSM Association.

The Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that it has begun work on defining “key operator requirements intended to guide the development of future technology platforms and related standards” related to 5G.

The NGMN board will focus its future work program on defining end-to-end requirements for 5G, with the understanding that the scope of 5G goes way beyond the radio access segment.

From the press release:

A global initiative is being launched by NGMN to define consolidated operator requirements for the benefit of the end-users. This will be in close collaboration with all industry partners and relevant initiatives and within the well-established NGMN processes.

The first major outcome of the NGMN 5G initiative will be an industry White Paper delivered before the end of 2014, intended to support the standardisation and subsequent availability of 5G from 2020. The White Paper will set challenging technical and other ecosystem requirements for 5G, and accelerate the adoption of new emerging technology innovations.

The NGMN Alliance is the latest entity to announce work on 5G. Ever since Samsung announced its “5G breakthrough” in May last year, a number of other vendors (including but not limited to Huawei, Ericsson and NSN) have promoted work on 5G. And we’ve seen several academic and government-led initiatives to develop 5G in South Korea, the UK and New York.

The problem with 5G buzz – apart from the fact that the majority of cellcos are still working on rolling out 4G – has been that the terms tends to be used rather loosely.

As IDC research manager Sathya Atreyam told NetworkWorld last month:

“There are many players right now who are claiming that they are investing a lot of dollars in 5G research, [but] they’re all investing in different areas of 5G … somebody’s focused on increasing data speeds, somebody’s focused on better coverage,” he says.

“It reminds me of a story which is often heard,” Atreyam adds. “There are six blind men feeling and touching an elephant and giving their definition of the elephant. Every one is true, but it’s only part of the puzzle.”

If nothing else, based on various conversations I’ve had in the past six months (including here at MWC), there will be at least three (3) distinct elements to 5G:

  1. It will sport Gbps-level data speeds, minimum
  2. It will be extremely heterogenous – meaning it will knit together various access links across various frequencies with the end goal of making connectivity so seamless and automatic that users won’t know what network they're on and won’t care
  3. As the NGMN statement notes, it won’t be just the radio access link, but also most if not all of the entire architecture that sits behind it.

Something like that.

Anyway, with 5G not expected to come a commercial reality for at least another six years, there’s still time for the industry to sort that out.


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