The fifth generation of mobile networks, expected to fully unlock the potential of the Internet of Everything, is moving from concept stage to soon to be reality as demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress.
While last year in Barcelona it was only Nokia showcasing its microwave solution for 5G mobile data transmissions, this year 5G is certainly one of the dominant themes of the show with dozens of prospective devices on display and experts ascertaining that the development of standards will commence as early as spring 2015.
All this while the current 4G networks are only partially rolled out providing about 40 per cent of the total global wireless coverage.
Companies working under the EU-funded 5G Public Private Partnership together with European Commissioner Gunther Oettinger introduced the EU’s Vision for 5G, presenting a strategy for speeding up the development.
“The roll-out of the 5G PPP Vision is a global milestone in the global 5G development that will hopefully enable starting the standardisation process,” Commissionaire Oettinger said during a press event in Barcelona.
“5G will open the possibility of exciting new applications such as connected cars, safer and autonomous driving, remote surgery, real time industrial applications and robotics. 5G will be a major step towards the Internet of Things in terms of cost and efficiency.”
The partnership, funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme includes global leaders in the telecommunications and mobile networks market including Nokia Networks, Intel, Alcatel and Ericsson.
“We are all aligned around the vision what 5G is,” said Markus Weldon, CTO of Alcatel Lucent. “With 5G we will be able to digitise and connect everything that we haven’t already digitised and connected. So far, we have digitised books, music and video but now we will be able to connect all other aspects of our lives.”
According to Nokia Networks CTO Hossein Moiin, flexibility would be the key requirement for the nascent system that promises to provide an order of magnitude improvement in capacity, latency and availability but also increase battery life-time of the connected devices by up to ten times.
“I think flexibility is the most important thing so that we can address issues that we don’t even know about yet,” Moiin said.
“When we were designing the previous generations of communication networks we had no idea that the world will become as digitalised as we see today.”
With the growing number of connected devices, increasing data transmission requirements, the boom of cloud-based computing and the emerging Internet of Things, experts agree that 4G is already showing its limitations.
And with the frequency spectrum being a finite and nearly used up resource, the need to come up with innovative solutions gains urgency.
“We are currently five years into 4G and we already know that once it’s completely rolled out, it won’t be enough to keep up with what we are demanding, with the number of devices and data we are sending across the network,” said Jeff Phillips, product manager at National Instruments, a US-based company developing hardware and software for communication technology testing and prototyping.
“That’s why we are already looking at 5G. We are looking at various technologies that could be used to increase the bandwidth.”
Being it Massive Mimo base stations, equipped with multiple antennas or millimetre waves technology, 5G networks will attempt to pack more into less.
“Millimetre waves allow you to increase the frequency tens of times and that’s without doing anything radical,” said National Instruments James Kimery.
“We are currently in the prototyping stage, in the very first phase when we are developing and testing ideas. We work with researchers and the industry and academia to help them prototype these ideas. The target date for the 5G roll-out to start was set for 2020, when we hope to have new standards to roll out this infrastructure.”
The experts say the development of 5G will represent a more significant qualitative leap than any of the previous transitions.
While 1G gave the world phone calling on the go, 2G added text messaging and digital voice, and the first tentative steps into email and Web connections. 3G promised a mobile Internet of pictures and video that did not happen until 4G.