The race to 5G

An increasingly central focus of industry and international competition, 5G has been taking shape very rapidly in 2018. Recent trials have validated the promises being made, and opening up new prospects. The publication of the first specifications, along with pioneer trials with global implications, will give 5G a further boost.

Presented as a disruptive technology, 5G constitutes a major development and innovation challenge for our increasingly connected world, and is galvanising an incredibly wide array of stakeholders: standardisation bodies, regulators, equipment suppliers, telcos. Also involved are players from the main vertical manufacturing industries who are attracted by the paradigm shifts at the production level that 5G is promising.

Regional initiatives

Regional initiatives began emerging in 2014 – 2015, in a bid to encourage the deployment of an homogenous and harmonious technology worldwide. The 5G-PPP is spearheading Europe’s ambitions in this arena through its 40 projects (19 in phase 1 and 21 in phase 2), while 5G Forum is representing South Korea; the 5G Mobile Forum is promoting Japan’s interests, 5G Americas those of the Americas, and the IMT-2020 (5G) Promotion Group is focused on China’s 5G efforts.

Pending full standardisation, 5G trials are legion

The race to conduct 5G trials began in 2016 and picked up speed in 2017. Multiple trials have been conducted on the different technical building blocks of this new technology, primarily involving telcos and equipment suppliers. In Europe, the United States and Asia, these pioneer trials with international implications have been conclusive, achieving download speeds in excess of 10 Gbps (and as much as 70 Gbps in some cases) using centimetre (3 to 30 GHz) and millimetre (above 30 GHz) wave frequencies. New applications have also been tested in concert with players from the automotive, health and media industries. Several cities have been selected to host the first full-scale trials. The first among them was Pyeongchang, South Korea, which held the Winter Olympics in 2018.

Standalone 5G standardisation is accelerating technological developments

Another crucial step forward was achieved in late 2017 with the publication by 3GPP of final 5G NR (New Radio) Non-Standalone specifications, a transitional technology between LTE and 5G. Completed by the Standalone version in summer 2018, these specifications will give a serious boost to the technology. After being deployed in late 2018 in the United States, the very first true 5G mobile services (to be distinguished from fixed-mobile 5G services accessed from a hotspot), are expected to become more widely available in 2020.

 
One generation per decade
1980-2020: 40 years of mobile network generations
Source: IDATE DigiWorld in ''From LTE to 5G''
 
Network softwarisation and very high frequency bands
The technological components of 5G
Source: IDATE DigiWorld in ''From LTE to 5G''