Roger Nichols

Blessings and Curses: Firsthand Commentary on the State of 5G Wireless Conclaves

Blog Post created by Roger Nichols Employee on Nov 9, 2016

I hate trade shows. But this element of my role is both a curse and a blessing. Whether you call it a symposium or a circus, a convention or a carnival, events such as Globecom, EDI CON, European Microwave Week (EuMW), and Mobile World Congress mean long flights, jetlag, sore feet, and being subjected to the requisite barrage of wireless hype. But they are also an important and engaging part of staying in touch with the communications industry and the fascinating personalities therein. In the past few weeks I have added two of these events to my diary: Microwave Journal’s EDICON in Boston, and the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Industry Conference and Exhibition in Frankfurt. With a focus on 5G wireless, here are a few observations and comments.


At this point, we really do know what 5G is.

Most 5G presentations still start with “nobody knows what 5G will really be” followed by the ubiquitous “the vision for 5G” summary. Consecutive speakers (me too) cannot resist the urge to show and describe that “5G Vision Slide.” There is beauty in consistency. There is also boredom. I am sure there are people in the world who have not seen such presentations, but by now that group is constrained to dairy farmers and rat-poison chemists.


We are gaining clarity on new “vertical businesses” enabled through 5G applications.

My reference to gaming in the now-famous Pokémon GO blog post was further clarified during the NGMN event. High data-rates, ubiquitous coverage, and low latency will enable opportunities for gaming and other emerging entertainment industries (and likely some that are not quite so innocuous).


There also seems to be more and more compelling arguments for the automotive industry to fully embrace wireless communications. While I still believe that a relatively conservative and highly regulated industry will take its time steering in this direction, the first clear lanes ahead will be navigation aids and mobile entertainment.


Open source is changing the game.

The NGMN event featured compelling sessions that examined open-source software. One was in the context of new business models, and another was a rather heated exchange around different approaches to intellectual property. The business models evolving around open source infiltrating network virtualization will be driving significant change in the industry. Giving away the code your software gurus struggle to generate while guzzling gallons of Mountain Dew and Rock Star may have once seemed anathema—in some circles, it now appears to be a requirement.


The industry is dead serious about mmWave.

EDI CON and NGMN featured plenty of discussions and exhibits regarding 5G mmWave in mobile communications. “Gee Roger, what about the other 25 5G shows so far this year that also had plenty of mmWave?” OK, I admit that this is nothing new, but the innovation featured at EDI CON (and immediately thereafter at EuMW) was then underscored by the MNO-focused NGMN event in which AT&T, SK Telecom, KT, and of course Verizon, highlighted their mmWave trials and plans.


My earliest posts stated that I do not see mobile multiple-access mmWave being commercial before 2022 or so. While I still believe this to be the case, these MNOs, who are the single most important entities to determine whether or not a new air-interface technology will be commercialized, are “all in”—and when they are successful, others will rapidly follow.


Wrapping up and looking ahead

One final comment: panel discussions are the most useful when panelists disagree. Now I am not advocating the circus of the recent U.S. Presidential debates, but folks (especially you moderators), we do not learn much when everyone smiles and nods in these discussions. More interesting to me have been a recent academic-versus-commercial showdown on massive MIMO and a dustup around the respective merits of open-source and royalty-based business models.


Here’s hoping there will be more such lively discussion at IWPC’s pair of meetings in November—featuring automotive wireless and (ahem!) mmWave in 5G—and then I’m off to Globecom. I look forward to providing some serious updates regarding our favorite 5G themes, and likely some flippant remarks about still more “5G Vision” and “5G KPI” slides as well as a few more “Kumbaya” panel discussions.


Industry gatherings: Love them? Dread them? Why?