Initially, the timeline for 5G suggested that the ambitious technology would be ready in the 2020 timeframe. That’s still the date people are using, but there are more than a few hints that vendors and operators are speeding things up a bit.
The latest example is Ericsson’s announcement earlier this month that it is preparing software that will help network providers evolve their LTE networks to 5G. Industrial IoT 5G said the “plug ins” will include Massive MIMO (multiple in multiple out), radio access network (RAN) virtualization, “intelligent connectivity,” and software aimed at reducing latency. Ericsson is at the forefront of the carriers that could beat the original 2020 target:
Ericsson has been aggressive in moving towards 5G and software deployments, touting 5G network trials with more than 20 operators, and planned field trials starting this year. 5G standards are not expected to be finalized until at least 2019, with commercial deployments using that standard not expected to roll out until the 2020 time frame. However, some carriers are looking to begin those field trials this year, with pre-standards-based commercial deployments beginning as early as 2017.
Indeed, there are several signs that the technology is moving quickly. AT&T is conducting 5G trials with Nokia, and Verizon seems to be ahead and is hoping to pilot 5G services this year and launch in 2017, according to Business Insider.
More evidence of efforts to move quickly comes from Qatar. Ooredoo Qatar, a carrier in the Middle East, is quite clear in its intentions with 5G, according to The Peninsula:
Waleed Al Sayed, CEO of Ooredoo Qatar, told The Peninsula that it is working to bring forward the introduction of 5G technology from the current goal - it is expected to go on trial in 2018 and then launch globally by 2020. He said: “We believe 2020 is very far away. So we are trying with manufacturers and other concerned entities such as ITU and GSM Association (organiser of Mobile World Congress) to bring the launch date forward.
The general consensus clearly is that the 2020 deadline can be beat. Indeed, it seems to be the accepted reality. Nokia CEO Rajiv Suri suggests that 5G will roll out in an evolutionary manner, with large-scale deployments in 2020. However, lots of incremental steps will be taken between now and then. These will result in 5G-based services being available to the public.
There are a couple of things of which to be wary, despite the general optimism. One is whether the 5G that executives are talking about is the same technology that was originally promised. It is possible, and even easy, to gloss over technical differences.
The move to 4G LTE was characterized by incremental steps beyond 3G, but somewhat short of true 4G. Marketing departments always push the envelope, and they generally sought to portray 3G-plus as 4G. Also keep in mind that there are still significant technical and standards steps that must be taken to achieve fully fledged 5G. None of the voices suggesting that 5G will arrive before 2020 seem to be from the people who are tasked with working out those highly technical details.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.