The next stage of wireless innovation will be 5G. While it is expected to launch in 2020, it is still in the early stages of development. This means that market drivers, use cases, requirements, regulatory considerations and technology elements will all need to be taken into consideration in the further development of the end-to-end 5G system.
Increasingly machines, and not people, are the top customers for wireless service (utility meters, digital signage and vehicle infotainment systems for example.) 5G will expand that and so, rather than just being 4G with additional features, 5G will seek to create a new paradigm of interconnectedness between people and their machines, often referred to as IoT or “The Internet of Things”. This will effect everything from Smart Grid and Critical Infrastructure Monitoring, to health and telemedicine, the vehicles we drive, and even sports and fitness. It will support much more advanced versions of current immersive multimedia services like augmented and virtual reality. This in turn will lead to a massive increase in data usage, far beyond current network capacity. Robust, reliable infrastructure that also supports legacy features can lead to significant improvements to public safety if created and implemented well.
In terms of the co-existence of current LTE with 5G, the industry consensus is that LTE will evolve while a new radio access technology – free of the backwards compatibility constraints of LTE – will be developed simultaneously. While developed in parallel, a tight interlocking of the two systems may create the greatest benefit. LTE’s lower frequency can make it useful for control plane connectivity and wide coverage in a tight coupling scenario. Another option is a loose coupling scenario in which the new radio access technology is the primary carrier in both low and high frequencies. In this scenario a loose interlocking with LTE will still be used to create wide area network throughputs where needed. Both The Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance and 4G Americas are advocating principles around design and infrastructure where this is concerned.
5G will, of course, have both user and network requirements. User requirements will include battery life, per-user data rate and latency, robustness and resiliency, mobility, and seamless user experience, and a context-aware network. Network requirements will include scalability, network capacity, automated system management and configuration, evolution of Self-Organizing Networks, network flexibility, improved coverage, security, diverse spectrum operation, and a unified systems framework. The advent of 5G has the capability to greatly enhance 4G architecture with increased flexibility of both network and mobility solutions, increased commonality in network functions and procedures, superior short-burst data solutions, and increased self-organization. There are also regulatory considerations and challenges that that must be addressed including location accuracy, lawful interception, tower sharing, flexible spectrum use, mandated digital roaming, critical infrastructure, Emergency Telecommunication Service, Public Warning System (PWS), accessibility, and use of SIM, E164 and TAC.
The potential technologies for 5G are vast, including Massive MIMO, RAN Transmission at Centimeter and Millimeter Waves, New Waveforms, Shared Spectrum Access, Advanced Inter-node Coordination, Simultaneous Transmission Reception, Multi-RAT Integration and Management, Device-to-Device Communications, Efficient Small Data Transmission, Wireless Backhaul/Access Integration, Flexible Networks, Flexible Mobility, Context Aware Networking, Information Centric Networking (ICN), and Moving Networks. Each provides it’s own exciting opportunities for growth and innovation, and also its own challenges in development and implementation all of which must be addressed during the planning stages.
User expectations and rapid technology advancement have created an environment that demands advanced technology and higher spectrum bands with increased bandwith to support the increase expected with 5G traffic. This may require changes to the one-size-fits-all air solutions that have been the typical solution, emphasis placed on attaining globally harmonized frequency bands, and the increased use of licensed assisted access schemes, shared spectrum arrangements and other concepts.
As we hurtle toward 2020 (with some countries expressing an interest in launching 5G even sooner) the basic questions of what will characterize the networks, and what solutions and technologies will need to be utilized and developed, will continue to be central to the future of 5G.