5G: The State of the Industry

In 2019, 5G communication will become a reality. Manufacturers are getting ready to bring phones to the market. Infrastructure is being built in many cities. By the end of the year, consumers will have a wide choice of models and, if they live or work in the right locations, will be able to use them in 5G mode.

One of the most innovative features of the 5G architecture is its dependence on 5G network slicing. Learn how it allows operators to provide special services on our blog post What is Network Slicing?

To be precise, we should refer to5G NR(New Radio), which is the set of standards released by the ITU and 3GPP. Anyone can claim to be “fifth generation,” but only NR is the industry-wide standard. It’s designed for higher speed, lower latency, and greater capacity than the 4G LTE standards. It will lead not just to improved performance but new M2M uses, such as driverless cars and the Internet of Things.
In many places, 5G will make wireless communication a first-class competitor in broadband markets. Under optimal conditions, data speeds can be 10 Gbps or higher, with latency as low as a millisecond. The best speeds will come in stationary settings, where devices can be positioned for the strongest signal.

The Challenges

There are two main aspects to bringing 5G to the market:

  • New devices. Phones made for 4G and earlier technologies aren’t 5G-compatible and can’t be upgraded. New phones will be backward-compatible with 4G.
  • Major infrastructure changes. The 5G approach replaces big towers, as much as possible, with small cells that are closer to the user. Existing towers don’t have to be scrapped, but they require a hardware upgrade.

It will be years before 5G completely displaces 4G, but the process will be well underway before 2019 is over.
Communications using 5G NR use different frequency bands, including ones in the gigahertz range. In the United States, 5G will use frequencies from 27.5 to 28.35 GHz and 37 to 40 GHz, as well as lower frequency bands. The bands allocated vary by country. The high frequencies can carry a huge amount of data, but they require line-of-sight connections. Hence the need for small cells to get the greatest benefit. There needs to be enough 5G infrastructure before anyone but the most adventurous will buy 5G phones.
Antenna design is an issue in the production of the phones. Millimeter wave connections are more difficult to get, because of line-of-sight requirements. For the foreseeable future, devices will need to include a separate LTE antenna. The large size of many of the early 5G phones isn’t just to appeal to the upscale market, but to accommodate the required antennas. Metal in cases will have to be reduced or eliminated.
The phones have to go through FCC approval in the US, like any telecommunication device. The NR technology pushes the permitted limits of microwave emission more than previous phones have, so there could be complications. Some phones are using special tricks to reduce exposure to millimeter waves, such as shutting off transmission when a human finger is in their path.

The Phones

The 2019 CES, held in January, saw a demonstration by Sprint of a working 5G phone on the 2.5 GHz band. The demonstration included audio and video calls, messaging, and YouTube streaming. Additional announcements and demonstrations followed at MWC 2019 in Barcelona.
Early products make heavy use of Qualcomm chips, including the Snapdragon 855 processor. Intel is somewhat behind in the race; its XMM 8160 multimode modem chip won’t be available till the second half of 2019.
Actual phones for sale may be available by the time you read this. Many have been announced but not shipped. Unless otherwise mentioned, release dates haven’t been announced as of this writing.

  • Samsunghas announced the Galaxy S10 5G, with a 6.7-inch screen. The company has shown a 5G tablet but hasn’t made a release announcement for it.
  • TheLGV50 ThinQ 5G was announced at MWC 2019.
  • TheMoto Z3is currently available as a 4G phone, and it will be upgradable with a snap-on 5G Moto Mod, to be released later.
  • The Huawei Mate X, introduced at MWC 2019, offers 5G along with a screen that unfolds into an 8-inch Android tablet. The announced price is €2,299. The planned release is between June and August, but it may not be for sale in North America.
  • OnePlus has declared it will be the first company to release a 5G smartphone in Europe. It doesn’t have a model name yet.
  • ZTE announced the Axon 10 Pro 5Gat MWC and gave details later. It features a 6.47-inch display and 128 GB of internal storage. It will initially be available in China and Europe.
  • There is no word yet from Apple on a 5G iPhone. Apple hasn’t been on the leading edge of new communication technology, preferring to deliver polished products when technologies have become more mature.

The Infrastructure

The first 5G network deployments are already here. They are in large cities, where the small-cell technology can be put to best use. The spotlight of publicity is on small cells with the millimeter wave spectrum, but the low-spectrum bands will continue to be important, especially in the United States where much of the land is thinly populated. If 5G is going to serve everyone, it will continue to rely heavily on towers with a high distance range.
The initial rollouts won’t be throughout the cities listed. The main focus will be on the areas with the highest business density.
The early networks will be mostly in non-standalone (NSA) mode. An NSA network is built on top of the 4G LTE infrastructure, and phones use some of its protocols. Over time networks will move to standalone (SA) mode, replacing the LTE network with 5G Core and providing better performance. A 5G-compliant device can work equally well with both types of networks.
AT&T has been one of the biggest advocates of 5G. It rolled out its 5G+ network in 12 cities in late 2018 and plans to make it available in at least 21 cities in 2019. The cities in the 2018 rollout include Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Waco, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis, Louisville, New Orleans, Raleigh, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Jacksonville. Its initial focus is on business customers.
Sprint announced that it will launch its 5G network in May. The planned initial cities are Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, and Dallas. Houston, Washington, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and New York are likely to follow by the end of 2019.
Verizon confused the issue in 2018 by introducing its proprietary version of 5G, called 5G Home, which isn’t fully compliant with 5G NR. Its 5G Ultra Wideband network will be NR-compliant. It will be deployed in 30 cities, which haven’t been named yet. It will use the millimeter wave spectrum, i.e., over 30 GHz.
T-Mobile is aiming to deploy a network in the second half of 2019. It’s focusing on the 600 MHz spectrum, with the aim of providing a smooth transition from existing 4G customer plans.

IoT and M2M

Little is happening so far in 5G markets for the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine communications. Many of the applications are very cost-sensitive, and use in industrial and home equipment won’t become widespread until prices come down. Others, such as remote surgery and self-driving cars, require a proven infrastructure and reliability record before they become feasible. Significant adoption for these uses is still a few years out.

5G in Europe

Europe is lagging in 5G network deployment. Spectrum licensing isn’t well established yet, and concerns about the trustworthiness of Huawei equipment have increased the uncertainty. Europe’s mobile infrastructure depends heavily on Huawei products, and the US has been urging European countries to avoid them because of espionage and sabotage concerns. Since 5G will ultimately connect more kinds of devices, the security stakes are higher than with 4G.

This doesn’t mean that Europe will be a 5G backwater. Once current issues are resolved, growth is expected to be rapid. Amarket research report anticipates a compound annual growth rate of 141%. If this is correct, the European market will reach $47.63 billion by 2025.
In the UK, BT has deployed a trial site. It is working toward the deployment of a 5G network in 2019, with or without Huawei. EE, which is now a subsidiary of BT, may also launch a 5G mobile network before the end of 2019. Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom are aiming for deployments in 2020.

5G in Asia

All indications are that the growth of 5G in the Asia-Pacific region will be huge.GSMA estimates that there will be 675 million 5G connections, more than the entire rest of the world, by 2025. China, Japan, and South Korea are all investing heavily in the new infrastructure. The early effort focuses on mobile broadband services, to be followed by specialized applications requiring high reliability.

The Future

The next few years will see 4G and 5G working together, with complete replacement a decade or more out. In 2019, people in some geographic areas will be able to use 5G for telephone connections and high-speed broadband. As the technology grows, it will become an important part of the broadband market, giving people more options and raising their service expectations.
The growth will be exponential in the truest sense of the word. An exponential curve grows slowly at first, then increases faster and faster. There are still important difficulties to overcome, but 5G has arrived and will quickly assume a major role in communications.

One of the most innovative features of the 5G architecture is its dependence on 5G network slicing. Learn how it allows operators to provide special services on our blog post What is Network Slicing?

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