5G was a big topic of discussion in 2016 as operators from around the globe partnered with vendors and embarked on some early technology trials. And it looks like 2017 will be a big year in 5G trials as well. 5G observers predict that there will be an acceleration of trials in 2017 as the wireless industry fine-tunes its 5G vision and as friendly users get their first taste of a 5G experience.
AT&T has already announced that it is conducting 5G trials with Intel (a friendly user) at the company’s offices in Austin, Texas. The trial is using millimeter wave (mmWave) technology over the 15 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum bands to deliver real-time camera feeds and 4K HD video. AT&T says it is clocking network speeds of nearly 14 Gb/s using the mmWave technology.
According to Ericsson CTO and Head of Strategy for North America Glenn Laxdal, other operators besides AT&T will also likely embark on friendly user tests of 5G in 2017. “The trials will move from the lab to the field,” he said. “And we will start to see pre-market trials with actual field demonstrations to friendly users.”
But some experts take issue with all these different terms for essentially what is not a commercial deployment. “What is a test network vs. a pre-commercial network?” asks Peter Jarich, vice president of consumer and infrastructure services at Current Analysis. “Some of this is just a marketing game.”
Non-Traditional Players Will Enter 5G Fray
Don’t expect all 5G trials to be conducted by mobile operators in 2017. According to Ericsson’s Laxdal, non-traditional players like large multinational companies are looking at 5G and may want to trial the technology. And it’s possible for them to use unlicensed spectrum like the 3.5 GHz band to do this.
Last April, the FCC adopted rules that allow 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz to 3.7 GHz band (referred to as the Citizens Broadband Radio Service) to be opened up for commercial use. The FCC is allowing both unlicensed and licensed users in the band, and unlicensed operators will have access to many frequencies without having to bid on spectrum.
Google has already expressed interest in this spectrum, and earlier this year, it asked the FCC for permission to conduct experiments in the 3.5 GHz band in up to 24 cities in the U.S, including San Francisco; Boulder, Colorado; and Provo, Utah, according to Business Insider.
Big industrial companies like GE may also be eyeing 5G. “These types of companies are looking at ways that they can use 5G to improve their work processes,” Laxdal said. “They have vast, sprawling operations, and everything can be connected from turbines to jet engines.”’
Will the U.S. Lead in 5G?
Many 5G trials will still be focused on millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum in 2017 because that’s where a lot of the early innovation is occurring. And that’s also where the U.S. seems to be leading the pack.
“We’re the first country in the world to allocate what is considered 5G mmWave spectrum,” said Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, an industry trade group. “That’s leadership.”
U.S. operators are primarily interested in delivering broadband wireless to the last 500 meters, Laxdal said. “The lead use case is fixed wireless access,” he noted.
But that’s not the case in Asia where many operators are more focused on mobile services. Ericsson recently teamed with SK Telecom and BMW on an outdoor multi-vehicle 5G trial at a BMW test track in Yeongjong-do, South Korea.
SK Telecom, together with Ericsson, deployed network slicing and 5G radio network infrastructure to cover the test track and then used BMWs outfitted with V2X (vehicular connectivity). The test demonstrated the low latency of the technology as well as consistently high bi-directional throughput. “We were able to drive and log speeds of 1 Gb/s,” Laxdal said.
New Use Cases
Look for 2017 to also bring about new 5G use cases. While operators in the U.S. have talked about short-distance connectivity to deliver video, and Asian operators are exploring mobile applications, Laxdal predicts that there will be more industrial applications attracting attention in 2017. “There are a lot of critical machine-type communications that use remote drones that will play a significant role in the industrial community,” he says.