The increasing hype surrounding 5G technology has been greeted by a surprising source of scepticism: that of the GSMA.
Speaking at 5G World Summit, as part of the wider LTE World Summit in Amsterdam, Dan Warren, Director of the Technology at GSMA, said his role was to try and slow down the seemingly inexorable march towards 2020, when the first 5G commercial launches are expected.
He said: “I don’t buy into the drive towards it. A lot of the technology we have heard about is being lumped into 5G because it’s cool and sexy. NFV and SDN are design options and can be used in 2G, 3G and LTE networks. When it comes to requirements about densification and power efficiency, these are not new and apply to any generation.”
Warren argued that in the race towards 5G, the industry was forgetting about the problems of coverage in existing 4G networks.
He said: “Only six percent are connected through an LTE network. That will be 28 percent by 2020. To get to that point, the expectation is that will be drive by a capex of $1.17 trillion. Do we really want to commit to another round of capex on 5G?”
Warren sat in the minority on the panel, with Ralf Irmer, Senior Manager at Vodafone, arguing 5G was critical for driving better reliability and better latency in networks.
Paul Ceely, EE’s Head of Network Strategy, said one of the main 5G use cases would be for industrial and professional use, whether it is logistics or in transport.
He said the ever-growing customer expectations surrounding connectivity is only going to get more demanding. “People will expect ultra reliable networks and that might drive the complete rearchitecture of a network.”
The opportunity of rethinking how a network operates also affected the thinking in a separate panel. Sharam Niri, General Manager of the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey, commented: “I think 5G is an opportunity for the entire telco industry to revisit and rethink many aspects of the technology. Like how do we allocate and use spectrum. If we play this right this could define a new era of broadband communication.”
According to Vodafone’s Irmer, the opportunity of 5G was akin to being able to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and work out what companies want from their network.
However, Warren said despite the hopes that 5G could revolutionise the industry, there was a danger of forgetting what came before.
He commented: “Unless you are able to deploy 5G everywhere, you need to have 2G, 3G and 4G interoperability and fall back because you would have places where services don’t work anymore.”
While the talk was of professional and industrial use cases, discussions around exactly what the killer app of 5G would be continued to be vague.
However, as was noted on stage, the telecoms industry has not had a lot of success in saying what the best use case of new technology would be.
As Niri said: “We designed 3G for video telecommunication and it never really happened.”
By devoting an entire track to 5G technology, the organisers of LTE World Summit are clearly convinced by the arguments put forward by EE’s Ceely and Vodafone’s Irmer.
But when the trade industry body is calling for a degree of calm, it adds a new dimension to the debate.
Not only should the industry be talking about 5G will be used for, but whether it is worth talking about at all now, when there is work to do on existing networks.