As the tail-end of February rolled around, there were only two things I felt comfortable saying about “5G” with any certainty:
1. Given South Korea’s penchant for using the international event to showcase technological wonders, Pyeongchang would likely be hosting 5G demos, along with the next Winter Olympics four years from now.
2. In the meantime, the 2014 edition of Mobile Word Congress would include its fair share of 5G messaging and positioning.
Coming out of MWC 2014, then, it’s worth reflecting on whether or not I can say much more.
The answer is: yes, but just barely.
The notion that 5G will be an optimized collection of various technologies was repeated over and over. There was less agreement, however, over whether or not 5G would be a commercial reality come 2020; some people argued that we would see early deployments about a decade after the first 4G rollouts, while others figured that the standards and specs would only then be agreed on. Would those standards and specs include a new air interface? Again, there was no real consensus.
Where MWC 2014 did shed some light on 5G was around architectures and the relevance of 5G at a time when many operators still haven’t moved forward on LTE.
While 5G may or may not include a new air interface, it will introduce new network architectures. In the RAN, this means everything from broadcast to peer-to-peer connectivity, Cloud-RAN and self-interference cancellation in order to eliminate the distinction between TDD and FDD. However, 5G architecture discussions stretch well beyond the RAN. They also include a solid adoption of virtualization in the core.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because a lot of it is currently in play. That’s why discussions of 5G in the here and now make sense. Many of the technologies being developed today will be a part of a 5G implementation. In other words, while 5G may be a long-term development, the foundations of 5G are being built (and commercialized) in the near and medium term. Today’s network investments will have far-reaching implications. Today’s network R&D will help to decide the 5G winners and losers.
Of course, this also means that we should expect to hear a lot more about 5G at MWC 2015.