BARCELONA, SPAIN —What a difference a year makes. At last year’s Mobile World Congress, the 5G discussions focused on standards schedules and technology partnerships. Fast forward to 2017 and we are now talking about 5G use cases, network speeds, latency, and friendly user trials.
Perhaps most importantly, the 5G timeline has accelerated from 2020 for commercial services to late 2018 or early 2019.
For example, Verizon has announced “friendly” user trials of a pre-standard fixed 5G service in 11 markets. Adam Koeppe, Verizon’s vice president of technology planning, said that if those friendly user trials are successful, the company could have commercial equipment deployed and live by year-end 2018.
Korea Telecom is also aggressively moving forward with 5G. The operator has said it will deploy a pre-standard 5G trial network by September 2017 so it can provide service for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Vendors Feeling Pressure
Vendors are working furiously with standards bodies to get their 5G product roadmaps in order, but it appears that the mobile operators, not the vendors, are the drivers behind the acceleration of the 5G timeline.
“The operators are driving the deployments,” said John Smee, Qualcomm’s vice president of engineering at an interview here at Mobile World Congress. That switch, from vendors driving a technology to operators pressuring vendors to accelerate their technology timelines, is a big change from the past. And that change has put pressure on chip companies like Qualcomm and Intel as well as infrastructure vendors like Nokia and Ericsson.
Earlier this week, Qualcomm announced it was expanding its Snapdragon X50 5G modem to include the 5G New Radio (NR) multimode chipset that is compliant with the 3GPP-based 5G NR standard. Intel, meanwhile, has said its 5G modem, code-named Goldridge, will support the 3GPP 5G new radio (NR) specification. It will be available for sampling later this year.
One reason the operators are pushing for 5G is that they realize they need to dramatically change their networks to accommodate new business opportunities.
Ericsson CTO Ulf Ewaldsson said that this 5G acceleration is prompting a dramatic change to the core networks. “The change has started to happen but it happened on the IT side of the networks first,” he said. For example, the OSS and BSS systems are already transitioning, and that’s now spreading to the core network.
And Ewaldsson says this change to the core and the virtualization of the network is leading to fewer differences between the fixed and mobile network. “That’s a good thing,” he said. “In the technology world they are becoming one. That means we can have one use case.”
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