4G may be just coming into its own, but it’s clear that mobile data and video traffic is only going to continue to exponentially grow as time goes on. That’s prompted some to start discussing 5G, which for now is a technology vision of a network that enable ubiquitous, real-time, multimedia-ready mobile connectivity with speeds up to 1,000 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks.
Verizon Wireless is starting to market “XLTE,” which is an initiative to double the available 4G bandwidth in congested areas by using its AWS spectrum holdings. More capacity could lead to more throughput in the short term, but in the end, LTE is LTE.
In it won’t be enough to accommodate the coming glut of bandwidth demands, largely driven by video. According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast, by 2017, global network users will generate 3 trillion Internet video minutes per month, which is roughly equivalent to 6 million years of video per month, or 1.2 million video minutes every second or more than two years’ worth of video every second. And most of that will be coming from mobile connections.
All of that is expected to drive a 2017 three-fold increase in global IP traffic from 2012. On a monthly basis, consumption is expected to reach nearly 121 exabytes per month by 2017, up from about 44 exabytes per month in 2012.
According to Huawei, a first mover in the 5G space, the next generation of wireless will enable networks capable of providing “zero-distance connectivity between people and connected machines”—in other words, no buffering, no performance delay, and no problems crunching the Big Data analytics required to enable new personalized service models for things like mobile TV. The idea is to support ubiquitous multimedia delivery, between billions of devices.
While the technical underpinnings are still being planned out, 5G is expected to support 1,000-fold gains in capacity, connections for at least 100 billion devices and a 10Gbps individual user experience capable of extremely low latency and response times, to support applications like multiuser UltraHD telepresence, real 3D, virtual reality and augmented reality services.
Ramping Up Investment
Huawei isn’t the only vendor working on 5G, but it’s notable that the Chinese giant has pledged to spend $600 million through 2018 to develop real technology to make the vision a reality. Its hope is for deployment of these networks to emerge between 2020 and 2030, driving economic and societal growth in entirely new ways, especially in emerging areas such as machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
For now, 5G remains a conceptual idea, even though 2020 is only a mere six years away. Ericsson developed the ideas behind it a bit more in a brief. “5G is an evolution of existing standards and arise of new complementary technologies,” it said. “5G solutions will not consist of a single technology but rather an integrated combination of radio-access technologies. Smart antennas, expanded spectrum – including higher frequencies – and improved coordination between base stations will all be crucial to fulfilling the requirements of the future.”
Radio access optimization, new spectrum and fresh core elements will all be part of the final schema for 5G, and it will be rolled out in tandem with cloud, software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) technologies. To that end, last December, vice president of the European Commission Neelie Kroes signed an agreement with the 5G Infrastructure Partnership, which is an industry association that includes Nokia Solutions and Alcatel Lucent’s Bell Labs. The Commission has set aside up to €700 million (roughly $950 million) in public funding to develop ubiquitous 5G communication systems during its seven-year Horizon 2020 program.
For its part, the private sector has agreed an ambitious set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to leverage this public stake – seeking a five-fold return on investment – and will support the Commission in analyzing the effectiveness of the resulting research effort.
Individual countries are stepping up too: the U.K. for instance has given a $56 million-dollar grant to the
Communication Systems Research Centre, spearheaded by academics at Surrey University. The Centre is working with a range of vendors, including Samsung, Huawei and AIRCOM International.
"The boundaries between mobile communication and the internet are blurring, so the fifth generation is Internet on the move," said Prof Rahim Tafozolli, head of the Centre. "4G for us is old hat. We started working on 4G 10 years ago.”
Hurdles to seeing 5G becoming reality are, of course, myriad. Potentially astronomical deployment costs and spectrum availability are but two bugbears. However, there are signs of things moving in the right direction: new International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum is expected to be agreed upon next year at its meeting in Geneva. ITU is currently at work on IMT spectrum requirements for 2020 and beyond, it said.
According to early proponents, 5G will radically transform how we live and enable new business models for operators. “The current generation of mobile networks continues to transform the way people communicate and access information,” Huawei noted. “Further developing and implementing technologies that enable true human-centric and connected machine-centric networks will come to redefine end user mobility along with the entire landscape of the global telecoms industry. 5G will herald an even greater rise in the prominence of mobile access for realizing total ICT network growth and expansion. Over time, any mobile app and any mobile service will be given the potential to connect to anything at any time – from people and communities to physical things, processes, content, working knowledge, timely pertinent information and goods of all sorts in entirely flexible, reliable and secure ways.”
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