How Different Will 5G Be from 4G?

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Though it is early to specify what characteristics future fifth generation (5G) mobile networks will feature, at least some think 5G will be the first next-generation mobile network with a specific applications focus and the first mobile platform that erases performance differences with fixed networks.

It is hard to say how much of that change will be based on mobile network performance - but it should be about a thousand times better than what was possible in 2010 - or how much that result occurs because all networks will interoperate, allowing all devices to connect to, and use, whatever resources are available.

Though 5G would not be the first next-generation mobile network to enable new apps, 5G arguably will be the first such network built with a specific category of applications in mind.

In some ways more dramatic, at least some observers predict 5G also will erase the distinction between “fixed” and “mobile” networks, with “capabilities and performances of mobile networks becoming similar to those of fixed networks in terms of capacity and services diversity,” argues the 5G “Public Private Partnership”  a new European 5G initiative.

That might sound fanciful, were it not the case that small cells, carrier and other Wi-Fi resources, ideally, will allow devices to interwork seamlessly, erasing, from a user standpoint, the difference between “using a fixed network and using a mobile network.”

Essentially, all those techniques shift bandwidth demand from “mobile” to “fixed” access.

The other change is the deliberate architecting of network standards to support both machine-to-machine apps (Internet of Things) and person-to-person communications.

5G will be about the Internet of Things, argues Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice president. If that prediction turns out to be correct, 5G will be the first next-generation mobile network defined by applications, not just air interfaces and bandwidth. “It will also offer totally new possibilities to connect people, and also things - being cars, houses, energy infrastructures,” Kroes argues. “All of them at once, wherever you and they are."

One might argue those sorts of comments also are part of a political agenda. Perhaps oddly, the mobile infrastructure business now is lead by European and Chinese firms. So initiatives related to 5G arguably are part of an effort to keep Europe at the forefront of mobile infrastructure businesses in the future.

On the other hand, initiatives such as the 5G “Public Private Partnership”  also speak to a fear that Europe fell behind in 4G device and application innovation and leadership. And, as always, the positive impact on economic growth and jobs are part of the rationale for pushing ahead in 5G.

Within Europe, the 5G PPP also believes, “revenue from mobile data services compensates for the declines in total spending for both the fixed and mobile voice services markets.” In other words, traditional fixed network and mobile network revenues are shrinking, and growth has to be lead by mobile data services and applications. 




Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Contributing Editor

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