DENVER — Early instances of 5G in the United States have limited coverage, but the work from standards adoption to commercial deployments is occurring at a rapid pace, Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, told SDxCentral this week at the Big 5G Event.
“5G is a commercial reality [and] I think we’re at the very tip of the iceberg of what 5G is and will be as far as a transformational technology,” he said. “This year we expect overall 25 total commercial deployments (globally), so we will start building momentum pretty quick.”
Looking ahead to 2020 when the commercialization of the standalone 5G standard is formally adopted, Pearson expects deployments to really hit their stride as more carriers that have been waiting to do 5G on a standalone basis enter the space.
Meanwhile, discussions about the potential services and use cases to be enabled by 5G is an important effort, Pearson explained. “If you start to look at this new era that we’re moving into and want to move into, it’s more transformational about hyper-connectivity and starting to think about wireless cellular technology without the limits that we’ve always had in terms of capacity, latency, and how many sensors we can support in a geographic area.”
Gaining interest and adoption in vertical industries is going to require more work than selling 5G-capable smartphones, he added. “This is going to be a much bigger process and I think there needs to be time spent on services and use cases.”
Defining Use Cases
One of the more exciting and oft-repeated prospects for 5G is still yet-to-be determined. “There is a lot that we don’t know,” Pearson said. Much like the technology companies that were developed and gained mass adoption riding on LTE networks during the last decade, 5G will enable the same thing for new businesses, he added.
Early pieces of that framework are coming together as more companies involved in network software, edge computing, network slicing, and service orchestration enter the market. Radio access networks, however, are a critical piece of the market that is unlikely to be disrupted or expanded with new entrants in the near term, he said. “Historically, the RAN has been the one area that’s been a bit more difficult to challenge.”
Because 5G is young and relatively untested by the public or enterprise market at large, it’s important to remember what Pearson describes as the two key ingredients for the success of 5G: network densification efforts and more licensed spectrum in the low, mid, and high bands.
Mid-band spectrum availability is a particular concern in the United States, but Pearson doesn’t expect that to impact momentum. “We’re optimistic that the U.S. carriers are innovative in utilizing existing spectrum and, if you look at the four national carriers, they’re not waiting around for mid-band spectrum. They’re moving forward with the spectrum assets that each of them has in their portfolio to deploy 5G and we expect that to continue.”
The membership of 5G Americas represents a broad group of players, including three of the top four U.S. wireless operators, three of the top four infrastructure vendors, and leading chipset and software providers. Although these companies are major competitors, the association’s technical and regulatory projects are designed to reach consensus and make recommendations.
“There is a lot of momentum in 5G, but like any new technology that has a new standard that the commercial side is manufacturing to and providing software updates, it takes some time,” Pearson said. “There’s nothing holding it back, but it does take time to make sure everything’s right in the infrastructure, the software, as well as the devices. But the momentum is definitely there.”