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5G is almost here…

Unlike previous generations it is predicted that 5G will transform the role that telecommunications technology has adopted over the years. There is an expectation that it will enable economic growth1 and facilitate further digitisation of what will eventually become a hyper-connected society. So, it is no surprise that around the world governments of the most advanced economies have been influencing and demanding an accelerated introduction of 5G.

5G is designed to meet the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) requirements of IMT-20202 thereby providing more advanced and enhanced capabilities when compared to the requirements of 4G LTE. Of note is that in relation to 4G, 5G aims to provide 20 times the speed, 10 times lower responsiveness and be 3 times more efficient in its use of available spectrum.

As part of the preliminary work several scenarios were set out3 , including Enhanced Mobile Broadband, Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications and Machine to Machine communications, more commonly referred to as the IoT (Internet of Things). It is these scenarios that have helped to form the foundation by which industry has been able to develop the technical specifications4 . Subsequently enabling the equipment vendors to produce the network components thereby allowing service providers to bring 5G networks and services to market.

5G Deployment Options

Figure 1 – 5G Deployment Options

To assist with the roll out of 5G it is possible to integrate elements of different generations in different configurations. As such the deployment options are based on two high level options; Standalone or Non-Standalone. Generally, Standalone connectivity is based on a single radio access technology and Non-Standalone combines multiple radio access technologies, as illustrated is Figure 1. These options provide a variety of deployment solutions assisting service providers with choosing their preferred approach on how they wish to evolve towards 5G.

Global market assessments indicate that there are more than 200 network operators currently trialling or deploying 5G5 . Eleven of these have already announced limited 5G service launches, although services are restricted in terms of their availability geographically, the limited availability of devices, as well as the types and numbers of customers. Assessments of vendor activity indicate that towards the end of 2019 there will be around 8 first generation smartphones available. Second generation 5G capable devices with enhanced capability and lower power consumption will then start to become available in 2020. It is at this point that 5G is expected to really hit the mass market.

From a UK perspective, announcements over recent months indicate that a number of leading service providers are looking to deploy 5G in 2019. This supports the UK Government’s commitment6 in ensuring that the majority of the UK will have 5G coverage by 2027. EE7 have announced their intention to deliver 5G services to 16 major cities across the UK in 2019; this includes London, Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester and Edinburgh. In addition, Three UK8 have stated that they will also be deploying 5G this year and there is a joint venture9 ongoing between both O2 UK and Vodafone UK. These early deployments are expected to be a blend of 4G enhanced with 5G NR technology. These early deployments will initially be delivering Enhanced Mobile Broadband services, providing super-fast broadband access, a huge attraction for mobile subscribers. It will also provide the service providers with a platform upon which to further evolve their mobile network towards a full and complete 5G network deployment, an example approach is shown in Figure 2.

5G Deployment Approach Example

Figure 2 – 5G Deployment Approach Example

Future enhancements and more mature 5G networks will be able to provide the more stringent IMT-2020 capability requirements in terms of latency and mobility; example use cases include wireless control of industrial manufacturing, remote medical surgery and transportation safety systems. As well as this the IoT will come into being seeing billions of low powered devices and sensors wirelessly transmitting relatively small volumes of delay tolerant data.

For many, the increased data rates associated with Enhanced Mobile Broadband will be the biggest attraction in the beginning, but the reality is that 5G was also designed to serve a huge number of end devices. In the longer term it is envisaged that these devices will proliferate the 5G network, contributing to the predicted growth of CIoT (Cellular Internet of Things) based applications and devices. It is only when the delivery of the additional capabilities and services come to fruition that service providers will start to see a return on their initial and early investment.

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  4. 3GPP TS 22.261: Service requirements for next generation new services and markets; Stage 1