MWC2016: 5G will get here when it gets here

23 Feb 2016

Nokia chief Rajeev Suri may be convinced that 5G is coming sooner than you think, but telco executives who took the stage at Mobile World Congress on Monday are sticking by more conventional timelines for now.

Standards bodies like 3GPP and the ITU plan to finalize 5G standards by 2020, although a couple of markets like South Korea hope to see the first 5G services as early as 2018. Telecoms and IT CEOs in Monday’s opening keynote sessions at MWC 2016 in Barcelona don’t see that schedule changing, albeit with a few caveats.

“I think by 2018 the hardware and the fundamentals will be in place, then it will be a question of how fast Ralph [de la Vega] buys the equipment,” quipped Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, adding that the ramp-up will also depend on the ability of vendors reduce their prices.

De la Vega – vice chairman of AT&T and CEO of AT&T Business Solutions and AT&T International – said 5G rollouts and uptake will also depend on whether that market has a pro-investment policy in place to justify moving ahead with 5G.

Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao made the same point during his morning keynote, renewing his annual call for regulators to update their frameworks to better facilitate open competition and create a level playing field that doesn’t favor players in dominant positions (which also includes OTT players like Google, although this year Colao didn’t mention names).

“We need to look at what conditions will make 5G and the IoT profitable,” he said. “To start, we need pro-investment policies for telcos, so that we can be rewarded for this massive bet. These policies should not look to telcos as a lemon to be squeezed but an engine for economic growth.”

However, regulatory policies aside, and despite optimistic projections on 5G’s arrival, Forrester consumer mobile analyst Thomas Husson maintains 5G will have no impact whatsoever for consumers in the next five years.

“This is for now a standard battle,” Husson said in a research note. “The history of 3G and 4G networks tells us it will take years before we reach any critical mass after commercial launches at the end of this decade. End of story."

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