Can 5G Erase Difference Between Mobile and Fixed?

Though it is early to specify what characteristics future fifth generation (5G) mobile networks will feature, at least some think 5G will be the first next-generation mobile network with a specific applications focus and the first mobile platform that erases performance differences with the fixed networks.

Those are among some of the conclusions one might draw from the 5G “Public Private Partnership,” a new European 5G initiative.

Ironically, given the amount of present argument advanced about the need for maintaining “best effort only” access (no packet prioritization), the 5G PPP document also notes the “future challenge will be to guarantee and continuously improve customer experience offered by cloud-based services.”

“Such experience relies on the end-to-end QoS, and more generally on respective SLAs in place for a given service,” the document notes.

So there, once again, you have the inherent tension between “best effort only” access and “quality of service,” which in the 5G PPP document explicitly indicates that QoS mechanisms are necessary to ensure good end user experience.

There are, to be sure, many ways to enhance experience at the end user level. But “admission control” always has been a feature of public networks that must share key resources, and can become congested at peak hours of use.

Among other key 5G objectives is a mobile network with three orders of magnitude more capacity than was typical in 2010.

Another angle is that the 5G PPP envisions devices connecting with multiple networks over time, and possibly more than one network at any moment, meaning there will be more orchestration of access.

Whether that enhances, degrades or is neutral with respect to the “value” of networks, and how such orchestration affects the “commodity access” or “dumb pipe” position of access networks also is unclear.

Though 5G would not be the first next-generation mobile network to enable new apps, 5G arguably will be the first such network built with a specific category of applications in mind.

In some ways more dramatic, at least some observers predict 5G also will erase the distinction between “fixed” and “mobile” networks, with “capabilities and performances of mobile networks becoming similar to those of fixed networks in terms of capacity and services diversity,” argues the 5G “Public Private Partnership”  a new European 5G initiative.

That might sound fanciful, were it not the case that small cells, carrier and other Wi-Fi resources, ideally, will allow devices to interwork seamlessly, erasing, from a user standpoint, the difference between “using a fixed network and using a mobile network.”

Essentially, all those techniques shift bandwidth demand from “mobile” to “fixed” access.

The other change is the deliberate architecting of network standards to support both machine-to-machine apps (Internet of Things) and person-to-person communications.

5G will be about the Internet of Things, argues Neelie Kroes, European Commission VP. If that prediction turns out to be correct, 5G will be the first next-generation mobile network defined by applications, not just air interfaces and bandwidth.

“It will also offer totally new possibilities to connect people, and also things, being cars,
houses, energy infrastructures,” Kroes argues. “All of them at once, wherever you and they are."

One might argue those sorts of comments also are part of a political agenda. Perhaps oddly, the mobile infrastructure business now is lead by European and Chinese firms. So initiatives related to 5G arguably are part of an effort to keep Europe at the forefront of mobile infrastructure businesses in the future.

On the other hand, initiatives such as the 5G “Public Private Partnership”  also speaks to a fear that Europe fell behind in 4G device and application innovation and leadership.

And, as always, the positive impact on economic growth and jobs are part of the rationale for pushing ahead in 5G.

The document also notes why mobile data is at the heart of the proposed 5G architecture.

Within Europe, “revenue from mobile data services compensates for the declines in total spending for both the fixed and mobile voice services markets,” the group says.
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