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5G: How close are we to commercial reality?

Twitter: @v_held


… this was the big question of the 4th annual Brooklyn 5G Summit on April 19 – 21, 2017 – the industry’s 5G flagship event hosted by Nokia and the New York University (NYU) Wireless, NYU Tandon School of Engineering and IEEE communication society. I would argue that the summit is quite unique since it provides a truly open and common platform for an honest dialogue with room for very controversial points of view in order to take 5G forward.

Similar to the very first summit in the early days of 5G back in 2014, the two-day event was packed with more industry ingenuity and interesting ideas than a 5G network could carry. The participants represented the full scope of the wider ecosystem – service providers from around the globe, governmental bodies, equipment providers, academics, regulatory authorities and partners from different industries such as automotive and health – all of them sharing the genuine interest in making 5G a commercial success.

This year’s event performed a reality check on the different facets that are needed to make 5G a commercial reality: overall 5G end-to-end system design across the entire spectrum range including 5G New Radio (NR), 5G Massive MIMO, 5G Network Architecture, 5G Proof-of-Concept (PoC) systems and uses cases.

Technology development and standardization are on track

Although there are still a few technical nuts to be cracked, there was common agreement that 3GPP Phase-1 NSA spec will be ready according to plan, namely by end of December 2017.

One of these nuts include Massive MIMO transmit schemes. It’s clear that Massive MIMO using phased array technology is one of the key components of 5G NR since it is crucial for spectral efficiency gains and the generation of targeted spatial beams to give end users more capacity. Interestingly there was still lively debate on the definition of Massive MIMO and its distinction to traditional MIMO. As a simple conclusion, Massive MIMO must contain much more than 8 controllable antenna elements.

As a proof of industry progress, participants experienced Nokia’s 5G FIRST live showcasing of all 5G system components,including Massive MIMO and an Intel device modem.

Industries confirm real need for 5G…

In contrast to previous “Gs”, 5G is being positioned to address the specific needs of enterprises in different industries. There was a debate about how 5G can enable the “automation of everything” to make the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. Of course industrial automation already exists, nevertheless it lacks flexibilty in moving machines around, reconfiguring processes on demand and connecting the necessary components across factories, warehouses and transportation in order to tie them all together. 5G will be the glue that ties all parts together on a massive scale, potentially resulting in a large productivity leap. Of course the manufacturing industry will not immediatley cut all wires once commercial 5G has arrived, so this will take some transition time. And it’s not only a matter of technology, as new business and ecosystems have to be created.

This is also the case for the connected cars space. According to Toyota, “autonomous” driving requires connectivity since tracking accuracy of the car is significantly increased. However, DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications) technology is not suffcient to meet the requirements, providing a white-spot for 5G.

Another white-spot are large events, which will play a flagship role in the initial phase of the 5G rollout by demonstrating 5G capabilities to a broader audience. KT presented a clear roadmap of use cases for an upcoming global sports event in Korea, including services like 360 degree Virtual Reality, time sliced video and the world first autonomous 5G bus service. All in all, there is great demand for 5G from a use case perspective.

…with this caveat

Global alignment on spectrum, features and functionality and timely standard specifications seem to be progressing well. The current focus on enhancing Mobile Broadband use cases makes sense from a short term business perspective. There’s a danger, however, that the industry loses sight of the vast majority of cases which require ultra reliable low latency machine type of connectivity, such as the above mentioned industrial and automated driving applications. This concern has been flagged up in particular by European operators.

In addition, there are still differing opinions on network architectures, especially on network slicing which will be a key enabler for industry specific 5G applications and is seen as a key innovation of 5G.Some operators also questioned the advantages of a standalone 5G system.

There was an interesting anecdote in the presentation from NTT DoCoMo stating that the even number of G’s have been transformational (2G and 4G) while 1G and 3G have been mainly incremental technologies.The question is if there is a trend behind that can be extrapolated? I tend to say that the high dynamics in standardization, initial pre-standard deployment plans from many operators and the intensified collaboration across industry boarders are indicators for a transformational G – driven by entrepreneurship and true business needs. Looking forward to the first commercial services.

Watch this video for a 3 minute wrap up of the Brooklyn 5G Summit 2017 and to hear from industry leaders why 5G will be a success.


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Volker Held

About Volker Held

At Nokia, Volker is combining the technology and business side of innovation. He is a 5G veteran and the co-author of the famous 5G triangle with the three 5G use cases. Volker was leading Nokia’s 5G market development activities for several years. Right from the early days of 5G he has been advocating for the transformative benefits of the technology for enterprises.

Tweet me at @v_held

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