5G on the horizon. Robert Fox gives us insight on what to expect

5 minutes

We’re preparing for the next gen networks to take the world by storm with aspects of 5G bein...

By Philip Jones

Regional Director - Europe

We’re preparing for the next gen networks to take the world by storm with aspects of 5G being researched, trialled and modelled by the top vendors around the world. As former Chief Branding Officer for Huawei Wireless Networks, Robert Fox gives us his insight on 5G and what we could expect in the coming years.

In terms of commercial outlook, what is the difference between 4.5G & 5G?

There’s a big difference between branding of a new generation of mobile technology and applications of the same brand name for marketing purposes. Within less than a year of 4G being launched several carriers announced “4.5G” but, at that point in time, the launches related to competing marketing bundles more than any actual supporting technology. In similar fashion hyped marketing and resulting expectations of 5G will, at the outset, likely exceed actual technological deliverables.

How do you think 5G will be represented from a brand standpoint?

The most obvious answer is new business offerings, services and applications where use of the term 5G will create essential distinction from whatever has come before. Logically we will see primary use of 5G in those areas of industry where the most expeditious, lowest cost with greatest and most immediately relevant applications can realize the greatest benefits and ultimately the greatest fiscal rewards. Around the world industries from Agricultural and Automotive to Health, have long been preparing for products to be introduced based on the capabilities of 5G.

For carriers, branding of first-to-market with true 5G in any region provides essential competitive edge. This will be followed by inclusion of 5G as relates to specific benefits and bundles as the are evolved to create added market distinction and advantages. At some point 5G ubiquity will dictate marketing based on appearance of a more advanced iteration, where announcement of “5.5G” offerings may once again pre-empt actual technological evolution.

What locations will be taking the lead with 5G?

Existing deployed strengths in LTE provide best indicators of which locations will dominate with operator 5G leadership. With a massive national LTE advantage, China brought together three ministries back in 2013 to focus on 5G. However, in China and Europe, the carrier investment of recent years in LTE must be recouped before committing even greater human and capital resources to the transformation commanded by 5G. While advanced in R&D, fiscal responsibilities may see these regions be slower to assert actual 5G deployment leadership.

As something that has widescale cross industry potential, 5G competition is not just between operators, it is between countries. To stress technological emancipation and accelerated infrastructure improvements, governments from east to west set today’s stages for 5G leadership.

As of 2016, the USA gained a leadership reputation for regulatory focus and is being looked to by Western countries as the model for 5G.  Korea, as a more compact country with several commercial advantages supported by an early 5G Forum and government incentives around 2018 Winter Olympics targets, may well be one of the first locations to realize 5G at scale.  With less government involvement but considerable corporate commitment backed by extensive industry R&D, Japan appears to be on target for 5G trials in conjunction with the 2020 Olympics. Russia is also extremely keen to be viewed as a future oriented technology leader and strong government insistence on 5G success may easily accelerate the federation’s position in the run-up to 2020.

But, however close the calendar predictions of 2020 are for 5G there are far too many variables, from IPRs to spectrum and standardisation, to be considered between now and then for any more absolute forecast to be made. Only combined efforts by committed governments, fiscally sound carriers and across-the-board technologically advanced vendor and partner participation will determine who is successfully first and where with fully viable 5G.

What reservations are there with 5G at the moment?

The heterogenous convergence of many technologies being evolved to address the needs of multiple industries – far beyond traditional operator subscriber bases alone – means cross industry alignment, standardisation, and agreement between more than telecommunications regulators creates innate challenges to emergence. The same plethora of challenges can be seen as unlimited opportunities – where the potential value and lifetime of patents becomes greater than ever before – in turn making patents and IPRs litigation even more widespread and protracted.

Cost of transformation, adoption and education will be among other primary inhibitors.

The urgent need is for group leadership efforts; involving regulators, standards orgs, carriers and vendors to minimize the challenges of reservations and expedite focus on realistically achievable objectives over time with minimal fragmentation.

What will delay 5G?

Beyond the reservations already noted, political & economic events will invariably have a major impact on time scales.  The unexpected always results in periods of investment and consumer uncertainty.

In terms of capacity/equipment, are vendors ready for 5G?

Initial mobile vendor R&D and solutions remain common in response to common RFP requirements and interests of leading carriers. Differences in offerings will become more apparent as vendors start to build individual relationships beyond operators alone. When this happens, the many different avenues of potential opened by 5G will evolve into much more varied needs, resources and solutions.

How do you think it will change the telco landscape? Will it impact broadband services for home?

Greater speed and increased broadband capacity have always been at the heart of telco requirements.  Services to the home should become more reliable. With dramatically increased IoT potential, 5G will also see multiple added applications, where start-ups will become more prominent, and increased use of AI will lead to greater autonomous responsiveness.

Will there be a 6G? If so, how long will 5G last?

A major differentiator between 5G and preceding technologies is its essentially homogenous nature. In and of itself this creates more evolutionary paths yet to be determined by actual applications. The complexities of 5G already beg the question, how can there be anything as simplistic as 6G with a determinable date and time to suit all?

5G is not just the first true cross-industry technology, it is the first where support, enablement, go to market and even standards and regulation may be affected if not implemented by the accelerating involvement of AI. Maybe 5G simply evaporates into a new series of iterations at different levels for all the different industry applications that evolve. Maybe 5G becomes the ghost in an AI machine of our wireless future.  Maybe, who knows?

Based on branding as relates to marketing, one can be fairly confident in making 5G predictions.  As it relates to what occurs where next from a technological perspective, predictions become much less certain and ultimately more foolish this early in the game.

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