5G development ‘should focus on consistent connectivity’

5G development ‘should focus on consistent connectivity’ [Image: koo_mikko via iStock]

A leading figure in the wireless technology arena has said that 5G development should focus on providing “consistent connectivity” rather than faster download speeds.

Professor William Webb is the deputy chair of Cambridge Wireless – a forum and community of around 400 companies around the world – as well as chief executive of the Weightless Special Interest Group (SIG) – a non-profit global standards organisation formed to co-ordinate the activities needed to deliver the world's best Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity technology.

He has now told The Inquirer that the “visions set out by the key players are unrealisable and the technology to deliver a new generation has not materialised”. He went on to add that “5G as currently proposed is a myth.”

His is a view not often heard. Global companies are currently working on 5G and have expressed hope that it will be deployed by 2020. With 5G essential to the IoT, there has been a great deal of focus on it.

However, Prof Webb’s comments could potentially cause consternation among the technological elite.

Rebranding 4G

Prof Webb told The Inquirer that the industry building up around 5G will likely claim to have deployed the next generation of mobile wireless networks while still using 4G technologies.

He said: “There are already signs, for example, that some manufacturers are proposing that the implementation of NarrowBand-IoT coupled with a virtualised core would comprise a 5G solution. These developments are very much 4G solutions, implemented now on current 4G networks, but 5G is ultimately just a name.”

Prof Webb is also an advocate of more mergers and sharing of infrastructure among mobile operators. He explained that while regulators claim they want to promote innovation and new technologies, their focus on competition will likely undermine network operators’ ability to “find innovative solutions to the problem of financing 5G deployments”.

According to Prof Webb, it would be better to allow mergers, the deployment of shared networks and the emergence of over the top and mobile network virtual operator-like models. However, he said, “given the impression from the industry that 5G is thriving and imminent it is unsurprising that regulators see no need to change their current positions”.

Developers

The companies working on developing 5G would likely not agree with Prof Webb’s comments. They have been steadily making improvements on existing mobile networks with the intention of deploying 5G in the near future.

For example, Ericsson, Qualcomm and SK Telecom have announced their plans to conduct interoperability testing and over-the-air field trials based on 5G New Radio (NR) standards being developed.

These trials are intended to propel the mobile ecosystem towards the “rapid validation and commercialisation of 5G NR technologies at scale,” which, it is hoped, will enable timely commercial network launches. These technologies will be based on 3G Partnership Project Release 15 standard compliant 5G NR infrastructure and devices.

Meanwhile, Nokia and Smart, a subsidiary of PLDT, claim they have achieved 5G speeds of 2.5 Gbps using 100 MHz with a latency of just 1 millisecond for the first time in the Philippines over a 'live' network.

NIC report

Prof Webb’s comments follow the release of a report by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which found that mobile connectivity has become a necessity.

The NIC said the market has driven great advances since the advent of the mobile phone but government must now play an active role to ensure that basic services are available everywhere and that the UK’s roads, railways and city centres must be made ready for 5G as quickly as possible.

According to the NIC, the government must take responsibility to secure the UK’s digital future, which must begin with the creation of a digital champion backed by a dedicated cabinet minister to drive change.

Releasing the report, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission Lord Adonis said: “5G is the future – ultra-fast, and ultra-reliable it has the potential to change our lives and our economy in ways we cannot even imagine today.”

It all means that there are conflicting ideas about 5G. Whether it is delivered remains to be seen, but what is certain is that there are many key players trying to establish the next generation of mobile wireless networks.