NetGuide NZ - 5G is on its way

Warning: This story was published more than a year ago.

5G is on its way

4G may have finally made it to New Zealand, but Huawei (whose technologies powers two out of the three 4G networks operating in New Zealand) are already eying up the next generation of mobile technology.

At the recent Mobile Broadband forum held in Shanghai Huawei outlined their 5G roadmap, stating that 5G should be commercially available by 2020.  If the specifications they presented are anything to go by, the prospect of 5G sounds very exciting indeed.

According to Huawei, 5G networks will support up to 1,000 times more connections than 4G. Better still, you’ll be able to zap data to and from smart devices at a whopping theoretical peak data speed of 10Gbps. Latency could also be as low as 1ms.

A thousand-fold increase in connection capacity is likely to be pretty important as Huawei are talking up 5G as being the glue for connecting the internet of things.

Under this scenario, sensor laden widgets in smart homes and other environments will use 5G to connect to the internet.  Huawei forecast that connections from the Internet of Things will swell to between 50 billion and 100 billion by 2020. GSMA CEO John Hoffman is equally optimistic, also predicting billions of mobile connections by 2020.

Such huge numbers aren’t news to Huawei who started research and development for 5G back in 2009. In 2013 to 2018 Huawei will invest a staggering US$600 million, employing 300 people to work on 5G.

They’re thinking big when it comes to applications for 5G. One particularly compelling use for the next generation network being talked up by Huawei is driverless cars, that will connect using 5G to take advantage of 5G’s low latency to safely navigate roads.

While Huawei isn’t planning on manufacturing cars any time soon, they are looking to design the 5G modules that’ll connect driverless cars to 5G networks. Another low latency application also being talked up is tele-surgery. This could have huge implications for New Zealand’s cash-strapped health sector who could, in theory, use the scarce skills of a specialist in one city to remotely do surgery at a hospital in another city who lack their particular skills.

Speed will be 5G’s headline feature. Ultra-fast gigabit broadband may now be the exclusive preserve of those lucky enough to have fibre on their streets, but from 2020 onwards, anyone with a 5G capable device should be able to get comparable speeds. Being able to shunt such huge volumes of data about could also open a vast array of new opportunities.

Dr Li Zhengmao, executive vice president of China Mobile, is especially bullish about the commercial potential of 5G, saying that in China the ARPU (average revenues per user) of a 4G user is 1.5 times that of 3G users and that it’ll be even higher with 5G.

Ying Weimin, the president of Huawei’s wireless R&D sees higher definition video also driving demand for bandwidth with 8K (that’s 8x 1080p HD) capable displays and content likely to play a big part in consuming the enormous bandwidth on offer. At the conference we also learned that in Korea, LG are working on an early prototype of a gesture controlled holographic smartphone display. Aside from being very sci-fi, it’d also need a fair amount of network capacity to really work.

So what exactly is 5G? At the moment there is no concrete specification for 5G from standards bodies such as the ITU. 5G tends to be used to sum up the technologies that’ll most likely replace today's 4G LTE networks.

There are still a bunch of issues that need to be worked through before 5G can become commercially available. The single biggest issue at the moment revolves around the availability of radio spectrum. Another involves getting telcos and network equipment companies to agree on the architectures capable of quickly and efficiently handling such massive volumes of data.

The theory may already be in place but the reality is that it is still early days. The 5G roadmap is still in the research and development phase and a 5G standard isn’t likely to emerge until 2018. Products and commercial deployment is expected to follow from around 2020 onwards. Given how long it took NZ telcos to deploy 4G, it is probable that Kiwis won’t be seeing 5G until at least 2025. I can’t wait.

Pat Travelled to Shanghai as a guest of Huawei.

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