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Jun 29 2016

The foundations of 5G are here already

Twitter: @V_Held

Rather like a thunderstorm, you always hear about a new technology long before you actually see it. 5G is no exception. Even with 4G LTE – and even, in some parts of the world, 3G – still bedding down as a commercial proposition, 5G is growing closer at a steady pace.

This week, at 5G World Summit in London, Nokia is demonstrating just how much closer 5G is, with a showcase of commercially-available technologies that operators can, today, acquire to lay the groundwork for 5G networks that would be launched within the next three or five years. Importantly, these technologies serve as a bridge to 4G and earlier wireless platforms, ensuring that existing investments by operators are protected, while future-proofing themselves for enormous, multi-dimensional expansion of connectivity that 5G will bring about.

The demonstrations in London are important for several reasons, not least of which being an indication of 5G’s rate of progress. There are several stages of establishing standards to come, but the fact that foundational products are already available, such as Nokia’s AirScale and AirFrame platforms, which provide the basis for heterogeneous systems from which 5G networks can be launched, should be extremely encouraging to the operators and vertical markets hoping to benefit the most from the ubiquitous connectivity 5G will afford.

That’s what makes 5G arguably more exciting and more impactful than any wireless technology ever introduced before – the proposition of a truly seamless fabric for our connected lives. 5G is set to be a platform that will not only make consumer broadband services much better, but will more importantly drive the digitization of basically every industry - be it healthcare, manufacturing, logistics, automotive, tourism, entertainment or media. In order to progress fast we need to create excitement around these new possibilities in these industries and trial solutions as fast as possible.

We need to think in 3D when it comes to 5G

We can’t simply talk of 5G as merely the next thing after 4G, 3G and 2G – because it isn’t. One of Nokia’s key themes in London this week is the broad range of applications 5G will serve, all with a single physical network. Indeed, one way of describing 5G in this context is to consider legacy technologies as two dimensional and 5G as three dimensional. If 4G, 3G and 2G were, generally speaking, about speed improvements and providing mobile data for the first time, 5G will expand what digital communications can do in almost every direction, and beyond recognition of what exists today.

You may have heard many players in the 5G world talking about connected cars and autonomous driving. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year Nokia showcased 5G’s low-latency properties with a model car set-up. It may have looked just a bit of fun, but it was a compelling demonstration to public authorities, as well as the automotive industry in general, of how 5G could transform transportation, with less pollution and preventing the deaths of over one million lives annually around the world due to car accidents.

With as many as 75% of the world’s population likely to be living in cities by the middle of this century, the foundations of 5G networking that we can demonstrate today will be part of smarter, more connected cities, where services become more intelligent and integrated, bringing about dynamic changes to doing business, public safety, traffic management and a host of other social and economic benefits.

Smart cities might sound like just a concept, but greater integration of digital technology in, for example, street lighting and traffic management, will see citywide communications infrastructure grow more dynamic and more in need of capacity and distributed intelligence to ensure efficiency, especially of critical systems. Public safety will also benefit: today, LTE can be used to provide fast, simultaneous video feeds for first responders to aid command and control of emergencies. 5G will take this even further, as the fabric enhances safety and security in our ever-growing urban environments.

In the 1990s and early part of this century, the technology industry was championing the idea of the connected home, as WiFi and Bluetooth enabled consumer electronics devices to connect to the Internet and each other. 5G has the potential to turn this concept on its side and apply it in connected healthcare, transforming hospitals and hospital infrastructure by not only monitoring patient’s health status but also enabling remote examination and treatment, transforming the needs of patients and professionals alike. Likewise, as our populations age, chronic conditions that once needed in-surgery attention can become manageable by remote, wearable devices using 5G connectivity.

This is why Nokia holds the profound belief that 5G will provide a seamless fabric of connected living, with new business models benefitting from this new connectivity, and new applications being created for all kinds of industries solely as a result of this technology.

And this reality is closer than some might think. Although 2020 is the nominal target for 5G to become a full commercial reality, we will have already arrived at many of the major 5G implementation milestones by then. Some of the most important waypoints are the key components of 5G infrastructure – the ability to handle all spectrum and coverage needs to ensure capacity and latency requirements are met. Another consideration is that 5G will be much more energy efficient, both to satisfy operators’ sustainability responsibilities but also even lowering the total energy bill despite capacity build out.

These are considerations that potential 5G operators are considering now, and which Nokia is supporting with commercially available, 5G-ready technology that will provide them with a bridge to the new from the existing. Operators want to transition to 5G at their own pace, keeping in mind the needs of consumers and the business development into various industries. The technologies and services that Nokia can already provide to these customers will ensure that preparation and implementation of 5G – either partially or fully – is seamless.

New players will emerge

When I say “customers”, I don’t just mean mobile operators. The possibilities of vertical applications like smart cities, connected cars or connected health will bring new opportunities for new players in these spaces. Some of this will be enabled, already, by the convergence of IT and telecommunications, which has seen enterprises adopt cloud and virtualization technologies to change how they digitally do business. 5G will play a significant part in this process.

Already next year we’ll see the first commercial 5G implementations and 2018 will likely usher in the first mobile 5G services in Japan and Korea. So the ‘magic’ date of 2019/2020 is really just around the corner and Nokia’s view is that the clock is ticking. That’s why this week at 5G World Summit, Nokia will be showing just how close to commercial reality 5G is by demonstrating the world’s first 5G-ready network, built using commercially-available platforms and solutions including AirScale Radio Access and Cloud Packet Core running on our Nokia AirFrame data center. This is not a lab concept. 5G will be up and running sooner than you think.

Take a deeper dive on all things 5G on our website.

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #5G

About Volker Held

At Nokia, Volker is focused on combining the technology and business side of innovation. He heads Nokia’s 5G market development activities for the company, helping to create the future of telecommunications. He was also one of the founders of Nokia FutureWorks and brought Technology Vision 2020 to life.