Before we get overly excited about 5G, bear in mind that this new technology isn’t simply a faster pipe. When it comes to wireless networks, faster isn’t automatically better. The next generation of wireless technology isn’t only about faster technology or more capacity, and that needs to be understood for 5G to take off. 5G must address today’s wireless problems - reliability for multiple devices, energy efficiency, bandwidth standards, and more.
Speaking of standards, let’s also remember that there currently aren’t any for 5G - they’ll have to be developed first. Right now, 5G is an elusive concept that probably won’t be deployed until 2020. This raises some important questions: What should 5G standards include? How should we evolve from 4G to 5G, and what strategy will lead to successful deployment of 5G technologies?
The evolution from 4G and 5G should focus on improving user experiences and lowering costs. This makes capacity and scale major considerations for any 5G development roadmap.
Improved user experiences: 5G should provide an improved, uniform experience across multiple frequency bands and enable streamlined communications between various machines and devices within the IoT. 5G standards should support all connectable devices, reduce battery consumption, and lowering cost-per-module. The number of connected devices increases dramatically and constantly, and it’s up to the mobile community to develop standards for these connections and ensure the reliability of essential communications like emergency services.
Decreased costs: 5G standards should provide the foundation for easier deployments and lower operating expenses. This means introducing virtualization from a radio network perspective, or the core network, or both - as well as lower battery consumption and efficient use of spectrum.
Capacity and scale: 5G should enable high density and scale in specific environments. For example: the ever-increasing burden of video - with its high density and high throughput challenges - on wireless networks.
Analytics lends insight into usage patterns - leveraging this wealth of data will help target and optimize 5G deployment. Analyses of usage patterns will show when users are inside buildings and when they’re out. Usage inside buildings influences network-deployments, leading to small cell initiatives. Small cells are low-powered wireless access points designed to solve network capacity problems inside homes and office buildings. With 5G, base stations should proliferate within buildings and in consumers’ homes.
Finding technology that works across assorted bands (both unlicensed and licensed spectrum) is an essential part of 5G standards. But 5G is not only about spectrum and access networks. There’s a clear opportunity to integrate fixed and wireless networks, and build in technologies such as IoT, cloud, and SDN/NFV.
It’s not yet known what the specific requirements for 5G will be, partly because it’s so difficult to determine requirements for the next generation when technology is rapidly changing - especially when there seems to be plenty of room for growth in 4G. However, with new connected device released every week, the next generation of networks will need to provide sophisticated services that support multiple devices, combined with affordable, reliable access. Plus, handling the volumes of data that 5G will collect - from home security systems, light bulbs, wearables, refrigerators, manufacturing locations, oil rigs, and more - with the right analytics capabilities will be one of the critical “next steps” in wireless capabilities.
And that’s where 5G will assume the role it is meant to play: as an evolution, rather than a revolution, in connecting digital devices in a seamless way, and ultimately improving the customer experience for increasingly demanding users.
Miguel Myhrer is managing director for Accenture’s North America group
This article first appeared in Telecom Asia 5G/IoT Insights July edition