On the Move with 5G Technology?

While IP dominated discussion throughout the content production industry in 2016, last year’s IBC show in Amsterdam also saw much discussion around what is considered to be an equally transformative technology in the form of 5G mobile services.

With video over mobile forecast to multiply exponentially in the next five years and represent 80% of all internet traffic by 2021, it is thought that existing 4G mobile network technology will quickly become unsustainable. 

Proposed base specifications include regular mobile data speeds clocking 1Gbps, peaks of 10Gbps, a latency below 1 millisecond and very low power consumption that could see devices last a decade – spurring internet growth in emerging markets.

European telcos, including Deutsche Telekom, Nokia, Telefonica and Vodafone, say they will begin conducting large-scale tests by 2018, with a launch in at least one city in each EU country by 2020. Before then, 5G will be demonstrated to the public at the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia and 2018 Glasgow-Berlin European Athletics Championships.

North Asian countries will be early adopters of 5G technology and will use various international sporting fixtures to provide an impetus for rollout. Korea’s SK Telecom launched a 5G pilot in 2016 and will launch a large-scale trial for the 2018 Winter Olympics (staged in Korea) before a full commercial launch in 2020. Korea Telecom, meanwhile, will undertake a 5G pilot in 2017 with a soft launch in 2018 at the time of the Winter Olympics. It, too, is looking at a full commercial launch in 2020.

Also using the Olympics as a springboard, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo has launched field trials which will culminate in a full commercial launch in time for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.

China Mobile, meanwhile, has started trials which will take in more than 100 cities and is aiming for a full commercial launch in 2020. 

The year 2020 is also significant as it is when the ITU expects to complete its 5G standardisation work and release its final specification (IMT-2020) for the new network topology.

At IBC 2016, Discovery Communications’ CTO John Honeycutt said the broadcaster will be studying VR and AR as it heads towards Eurosport’s coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

“We had access to an early Microsoft Hololens, and when you put it on you can start to imagine walking up the street with a map in front of you, with restaurant menus and personal reminders all while you’re having a Facebook chat,” Honeycutt said. “From a content consumption and a utility perspective 5G is a big deal.”

The technology is expected to allow the growing number of sensors to communicate with one another. Intel expects this number to hit 50 billion by 2020. This will drive the digitisation of every industry, from healthcare to manufacturing. Applied to the automotive sector, for example, it is thought that 5G will open up the car as a mobile venue for content consumption.

Of course, while the 5G picture painted by IT and telco companies has a rosy inevitability about it, a global conquest by the technology is likely to take longer than many anticipate. In the case of 4G, for example, adoption over the last five years has seen its highest figures in Europe with regional coverage coming in at 95.6%. In Asia, the figure is 79.6% coverage, with the Americas coming in at 67.6%. 

It seems inevitable that many countries will face a “4G crunch point” for many years to come. While some parts of the world may leapfrog 4G and go straight to 5G, some will remain in the 3G environment. Those who have recently rolled-out 4G may not have the appetite for an upgrade while they are still recouping their 4G investments. Then there is the issue of spectrum sales with telco operators baulking at the pre-2008 price expectations still held by various Governments. 

The scope for “re-farming” additional spectrum for mobile broadband is the subject of a recent discussion paper, Future use of the 1.5 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands, released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. This “re-farming” will have implications for satellite and fixed-broadband services in the 3.6 GHz band, and defence use and fixed services, particularly in Australia’s regional and remote areas, in the 1.5 GHz band.

According to ACMA Chairman Richard Bean, “There are international standards that support 4G technologies in both the 1.5 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands. Importantly, the 3.6 GHz band is also being looked at internationally as an early band for 5G and the ACMA has decided to bring forward discussion of its future use. Re-farming these bands would enable additional capacity for new or existing operators’ mobile networks.”

Time, as they say, will tell.

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