It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but 5G is nearly here. After the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) published the first specifications in December 2017, 5G gained real momentum following its successful commercial debut at the Winter Olympics. The Games showcased a range of advanced applications delivered at scale, including driverless buses using 5G links to navigate, and live 4K video streaming of high-profile events.
This was followed closely by the giant Mobile World Congress 2018. During the event, leading mobile operators including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all announced timetables for commercial 5G rollouts in the U.S. over the next 18 months. The 3GPP is also expected to publish the final 5G standards in the next few weeks.
However, despite all this high-profile activity and media hype around applications such as autonomous cars and instant HD video streaming on mobiles, there’s still a long way to go before the technology becomes fully mainstream. Progress towards large-scale 5G deployments is going to take time. Innovative new products and services will need careful development and exhaustive testing to ensure they meet the required performance and reliability standards.
With this in mind, what will the initial 5G implementations look like over the next 18 to 24 months? And what can we anticipate from the technology in the longer term? Network Computing recently published our article describing what we can realistically expect to see between now and 2020, and here’s a recap of what’s coming into view:
Raising speed limits
Commercial 5G networks are due to be in place in several cities worldwide by the end of this year, with South Korea likely to be first and the U.S. and Europe close behind. But this won’t immediately herald a raft of new services and applications. Instead, consumers in these cities will experience faster performance on their mobile devices (regardless of whether they are 5G enabled) as carriers test the scalability of their networks and services.
As a result, existing high-bandwidth, low-latency services such as video streaming will be the most notable difference experienced by users. As we move into 2019, we’ll also see the launch of a range of 5G-enabled devices, which will be able to exploit emerging fixed wireless internet services. These will deliver even faster content delivery for both consumers and business users.
Catching the mmWave
3GPP’s imminent release of the next set of 5G standards will be focused on mmWave. We can expect rapid progress to be made in the next 12 months in high-density deployments of small cells and mmWave-ready devices, ready to take advantage of the higher bandwidth and low latency it offers. mmWave will also be the enabler for large-scale IoT deployments. This will accelerate the move towards smart cities, in which tens of millions of devices will connect and interact to streamline processes and inform decisions.
Diving into immersive experiences
Much has been made of the immersive VR and AR experiences that 5G will support, in areas ranging from leisure and sports to education, training, and even remote medicine. In most cases, we’re unlikely to see these become everyday applications until at least 2020. However, many leading carriers and manufacturers such as Korea Telecom, Verizon, Samsung and Qualcomm are conducting demonstrations at scale, so we can fully expect the promise of these experiences to be realized.
In conclusion, the rollout of 5G will not be a sprint, but a marathon. While the deployments we’ve seen to date show how the technology can be deployed at scale, there’s still a way to go before it can be extended to a national or international level. As the standards crystallize, 5G will evolve through extensive testing of networks and devices in real-world conditions, to ensure that it delivers the performance and reliability expected of it.
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