5G research: Reaching the future

The journey towards 5G has already started in the region
Operators in the region have started to work on a 5G roadmap with their vendors.
Operators in the region have started to work on a 5G roadmap with their vendors.

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“Operators in MEA have already started to explore the use cases of 5G and moving ahead in exploring the potential of 5G.” These are the words of Ricardo Silva, head of mobile broadband and sales development, Middle East and Africa at Nokia Networks. His idea is shared by his colleagues in the industry, as the region has started to show its interest in developing 5G.

Silva said that a country like Saudi Arabia, where the mobile broadband utilisation is among one of the highest globally, would be a perfect candidate to explore how 5G technology could further improve end-users experience in the future.

“Operators are also actively participating and contributing into the standardisation works. In MEA we see countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates leading the exploration phase on 5G front,” he added.

Following this idea, Pan En, vice president of Huawei Middle East, said to CommsMEA: “We know that 5G will not be fulfilled overnight. The smooth integration of existing infrastructure is a crucial factor to be considered in the case of 5G network development so as to maximise the value of previous investments wherever possible. In that respect we see many telecom operators in the region—especially within the Gulf—already priming their networks for the jump to 5G.”

En believes that 5G will be commercialised by 2020, as it is predicted by several analysts and companies, although that evolution will certainly happen in phases. “Some of the regional market leaders may even be early adopters of 5G services worldwide,” he said.

Setting global requirements

“5G is not simply about speed. 5G is a comprehensive enabler. The future of the digital landscape – the digital lifestyle – is dependent on networks keeping pace with vision. But 5G is partly about speed, it is also about efficiency, intelligence, effective management, and boundless innovation. It’s a game changer,” Hatem Bamatraf, chief technology officer at Etisalat Group, said to CommsMEA.

Vendors, operators and regulators believe that 5G will not only offer more speed to users, customers or enterprises. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) released a consolidated view in order to offer a basic standard for the industry. In parallel, the European Commission has started its research with 5G PPP and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with South Korea in order to develop 5G collectively. The GSMA is working closely with its members and it has published guidelines to determine what the industry should aim when offering 5G to its clients.

“At this stage, the 5G research is evolving in all regions pretty much at the same pace. However, the European Commission is keen on seeing EU take back its mobile broadband leadership and has implemented programs like the 5G PPP, and METIS before that, to drive the European 5G leadership,” Silva added.

Alistair Urie, Bell Labs Fellow, architecture strategy director, Wireless CTO at Alcatel-Lucent said to CommsMEA that 5G standards work is now starting in ITU-R and 3GPP with valuable input from many regional research initiatives and the recent release of consolidated view from a number of leading operators working in the NGMN organisation.

“We expect the first version of 3GPP specifications to be in place in 2018. First networks are expected to open in 2020 with other countries following over the period 2020-25,” he added.

“Currently 5G is still in the early research stage. The industry standard is expected from the 3GPP R14 in 2016, but there is already technology primed for 5G that is being tested” En said.

According to Urie, 5G launch will be a more “gentle” process than 4G with services introduced in a number of waves. “First, we will see the addition of a new 5G ‘low’ band carrier on macro cells using frequencies in one or more of the existing cellular bands from 400 MHz to 6 GHz, to be followed by the launch of new 5G ‘low’ band and then ‘high’ band (above 20 GHz) carriers on small cell sites in high traffic areas. Finally we will see a gradual expansion of 5G capacity on macro layers as new spectrum is released and legacy 2G and 3G systems are switched off and their spectrum re-farmed for additional 5G ‘low’ band capacity,” he said.

LTE to continue evolving

The industry do not question the evolution of LTE while developing 5G, both technologies will emerge and they will support each other when creating this new ecosystem.

“LTE is still a relatively young technology and we expect LTE to continue to evolve well after the launch of 5G and that the two radio technologies will be used in parallel linked together using technologies such as dual-connectivity. This is a very similar situation to today when WCDMA has continued to evolve in parallel to the deployment of LTE,” said Urie.

En said that LTE and 5G are complementary technologies, and LTE standards have already started heading to 5G. “We live in an All-IP era, and many LTE-compatible solutions and architectures can be used to scale to future ambitions for 5G broadband,” he added.

“5G is a symbiotic integration of existing and new radio access technologies. It will include and complement the existing cellular systems, 2G/3G/LTE, and Wi-Fi as it will be a combination of existing and evolving systems, coupled with new, revolutionary access technologies,” said Silva.

Vendors agree that LTE will be part of the 5G ecosystem, as this technology will help to develop and improve connectivity. Experts state that 5G is not following the same improvement path that 2G and 3G had, as 5G will further enhance the connectivity ecosystem.

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