5G to create infinite opportunities, but clarity needed

Read time 4min 40sec

While 5G is setting the stage for incredible digital transformation globally, the networking technology remains a confusing landscape, with varied and conflicting interpretations of what to expect from it and its technical requirements.

This is according to the "The Promise and Potential of 5G" white paper, compiled by business information provider IHS Markit. The research explores the opportunities and challenges surrounding the global rollout of new 5G wireless networks.

As the first commercial deployments of 5G appear globally, the technology will enable the creation of applications that could open new opportunities, inform new business models and transform everyday life for multiple industries throughout the world, notes the report.

However, many of these capabilities will not be available in initial 5G rollouts, but will arrive in subsequent releases of the standard to be implemented over the next few years.

To optimise short- and long-term 5G adoption, it is imperative there is clarity, for consumers and the ecosystem, according to IHS.

With Release 16 expected later this year, gaining insight will help in understanding the changes brought by each phase of 5G deployment and how to adequately implement the technology to gain envisioned value, it adds.

"The marketplace implicitly understands 5G represents an unprecedented growth opportunity, with the initial smartphone rollout set to generate record shipment volumes," says Francis Sideco, VP of technology at IHS.

"However, few people understand the iterative nature of major technology rollouts such as the one we are going through now with 5G; a process involving multiple major updates that will add new capabilities in the coming years. With each of these updates having the potential to significantly disrupt the market's competitive dynamics, it's critical for companies to clearly understand the implications of each rollout, or risk falling behind the competition."

5G confusion impacts consumers and complicates the industry's ability to measure itself against a standard set of expectations and requirements, according to IHS.

Why the confusion?

This situation developed because there are three distinct use cases for 5G: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and fixed wireless access (FWA), mission-critical applications and massive Internet of things (IOT). These present at times contradictory technical requirements, notes IHS.

"Understanding the architecture of these three use cases is a critical step toward achieving the economies of scale and technical coordination needed to make the use cases envisioned for 5G not only possible but also technically and commercially viable.

"For eMBB to deliver faster data speeds and greater coverage, it will need to provide higher capacity in crowded situations and enhanced mobility coverage for commuters and others on the move. For 5G FWA to achieve much higher bandwidth of up to 1Gbps, it will require an outside receiver, as the frequencies to be used face challenges with propagation," it states.

Mission-critical applications require high security standards, nearly universal coverage, and a signal that supports ultra-reliable, low latency communications.

The third use case, massive IOT, is characterised by huge numbers of connected devices typically transmitting data that is not delay-sensitive in the same ways mission-critical applications are; this requires deep coverage and density to support connected devices that have long battery life and send low rates of data via machine-type communications.

"For companies throughout the technology supply chain (from network operators, to smartphone brands, to industrial and automotive device manufacturers and electronics suppliers) it will become increasingly important to understand the requirements of each use case, and the phases of 5G deployment, to be ready to capitalise on the latest capabilities to gain a competitive advantage," points out Sideco.

SA's 5G reality

Ernst Wittmann, global account director MEA and Southern Africa country manager at telecommunications provider TCL, points out that while 5G will deliver significant improvement in network latency, greater capacity and larger bandwidth to South Africans, widespread commercial availability of 5G may be some way off.

"Most of the larger network operators have piloted 5G, but are still appealing to the Independent Communications Authority of SA for network spectrum so they can deploy it more widely. It seems likely the evolution to 5G will be a gradual one, as was the transition to LTE/4G and 3G before it.

"We'll see 5G networks appearing in the major cities at first, followed by wider national rollouts. Commercial rollout may take a lot longer than our global counterparts, with the other challenges being the vast land space of SA and local operators expected to deal with security issues and ensuring connectivity during periods of load-shedding. But in less than five years from now, 5G will become ubiquitous in SA," says Wittmann.

According to Frost & Sullivan, although local telcos are conducting trials and preparing for 5G, commercial rollout will take a little longer than initially anticipated.

"While mobile operators are ready to develop 4G networks and deploy 5G services, 3G will be the dominant technology over the next three years. Expensive data packages and delays in spectrum release are hampering subscriber base growth for 5G."

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