While the 5G wireless standard is still in development, a handful of companies began previewing their “pre-5G” solutions at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
5G networks and devices will support higher capacity than current 4G systems with lower latency and higher reliability – meaning users will be able to send more data at a faster rate. That could benefit remote monitoring and remote control industrial applications because it would provide real-time response rates.
Qualcomm already announced its first 5G modem (Snapdragon X50), and Samsung, Verizon, Ericsson, NTT DoCoMo, and others have begun 5G trials and tests. The move to 5G will require architectural changes in wireless network infrastructure, as well as new types of device radios.
At the Mobile World Congress (MWC), the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards group (which includes Qualcomm, Intel, AT&T, Sprint, and Deutsche Telekom) announced that the technology should be available for deployment at scale by 2019, a year earlier than most analysts had predicted.
The first 3GPP 5G NR specification will be part of Release 15, a global standard that will use both sub-6 GHz and mmWave (millimeter wave) spectrum bands. According to the group, a new proposal will introduce a more immediate milestone to “complete specification documents related to a configuration called Non-Standalone 5G NR to enable large-scale trials and deployments starting in 2019. Non-Standalone 5G NR will utilize the existing LTE radio and evolved packet core network as an anchor for mobility management and coverage while adding a new 5G radio access carrier to enable certain 5G use cases starting in 2019.”
Qualcomm also unveiled new modems that included embedded 5G, 4G, 3G, and 2G in one chip (the X50 only supports 5G). In other MWC-related events, NTT DoCoMo demonstrated virtual reality control of robotic systems using 5G technology, and Samsung showed off its own 5G products.
Verizon is developing its own version of 5G, which will be available in 11 cities by the middle of the year. According to the announcement, these will be “5G pre-commercial services.”
"5G technology innovation is rapidly evolving," said Adam Koeppe, vice president of network planning at Verizon. "Network density is increasing to meet the demands of customers, and following the FCC's aggressive action on 5G spectrum, the time is right to deliver the next generation of broadband services with 5G."
ZTE, meanwhile, debuted what it is calling a Gigabit Phone at the MWC, which the company says is the first phone capable of achieving a 1 gigabit-per-second wireless connection. That would make it 50 times faster than the typical speed possible on current wireless networks.
However, the device on display at the conference was not actually a functioning phone – it was more or less a prototype that could display the speed of the connection. The release of an actually working phone that provides those speeds is still far off in the future.
As with 4G, carriers and device manufacturers are jockeying to position themselves as the earliest 5G providers, well in advance of the technology actually being available on a wide scale. Those same tactics are what made 4G roll outs so confusing for consumers and businesses looking for faster service.
With a promised latency as low as 1 millisecond and throughput of 10Gb per second per user, the technology does hold the promise of making some existing applications (include the Internet of Things) much faster and more reliable while enabling new classes of solutions that weren’t possible before because the networks couldn’t’ keep up.
Still, there is no current 5G deployment standard, but work is progressing. Earlier this week, the 3GPP announced that a specification on service requirements for the new 5G system had been submitted for approval at the Plenary meeting of the Service and System Aspects Technical Specification Group (TSG SA-75) in March.
There will be significant infrastructure challenges to meet before 5G is a reality for enterprise applications. Right now, 4G penetration in the U.S. is just over 20 percent, while many regions still rely on 3G connections. Traditional machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions typically use 2G cellular technology.
With the explosion of the IoT, though, there is more pressure to meet demand for faster, better bandwidth. The announcements at the MCW are giving us a glimpse of what those networks might look like.