5G Really Will be Quite Different

It is easy to argue that 5G is different from prior mobile network generations. It is the first network intentionally designed to serve non-human users; the first to support gigabit speeds to every connected device; yet also the first to simultaneously support low-bandwidth apps and devices consuming very little power; the first air interface built on network virtualization; the first to commercialize millimeter wave assets for consumer uses; the first to incorporate in a fundamental way the use of licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

But 5G also follows another pattern set in 4G, where the fundamental objective of the  mobile network is to support internet access, not voice. One has to search pretty hard to find any discussion of voice, in any discussion of 5G, simply because voice will be supported as just another IP or internet-based app. In other cases, voice will supplied by the 3G or 4G network.

Some might argue voice should be a bigger part of the 5G standard. Others will argue that voice can be handled by the 3G and 4G networks, and as voice becomes a feature, not a revenue driver, that low-investment approach arguably makes sense, as nobody expects voice to be a big or bigger revenue contributor in the 5G era.

Global harmonization of 5G spectrum, as with global harmonization of every mobile platform’s spectrum bands, or global air interfaces, is helpful to grow big markets and create network and consumer gear economies of scale.

On the other hand, there often are countervailing pressures, of the “market creates the standard” sort. That often happens when a large internal market, available resources and first mover advantages all align.

In other cases, the key enabler seems to be that significant spectrum is available for use, in regions adjacent to currently-used bands.

Right now, the best characterization is that 5G will use all kinds of spectrum, at many frequencies.

That is a pretty big change from past practice, where specific frequencies were allocated for specific network platforms. Much of the attention now centers on use of frequencies below 6 GHz, even if most of the additional spectrum will come in the ranges beyond 6 GHz.

GSA, for example,  believes 3300 MHz to  4200 MHz and 4400 MHz to 4990 MHz will be the primary spectrum between 1 GHz and 6 GHz for the introduction of 5G.

Parts of the band 3300 MHz to 4200 MHz and 4400 MHz to 4990 MHz are being tested:
  • Europe                   3400 – 3800 MHz (awarding trial licenses)
  • China                      3300 – 3600 MHz (trial), 4400 – 4500 MHz, 4800 – 4990 MHz
  • Japan                      3600 – 4200 MHz and 4400-4900 MHz
  • Korea                      3400 – 3700 MHz
  • US                           3100 – 3550 MHz (and 3700 – 4200 MHz)

In the regions above 6 GHz, a number of bands are being looked at:

  • USA:      27.5 GHz to 28.35 GHz and 37 GHz40 GHz deployments in 2018
  • Korea:   26.5 – 29.5 GHz trials in 2018 and commercial deployments in 2019
  • Japan:   27.5 – 28.28 GHz trials planned from 2017 and potentially commercial deployments in 2020
  • China:    24.25 – 27.5 GHz and 37 – 43.5 GHz studies
  • Sweden: 26.5 – 27.5 GHz awarding trial licenses for use in 2018 and onwards
  • EU:        24.25 – 27.5 GHz for commercial deployments from 2020

In addition, the bands 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1.5 GHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz and 2.6 GHz may be of  interest for traditional and new applications in the internet of things (IoT) areas.

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