I recently attended the Brooklyn 5G Summit 2018 with luminaries such as Thomas Marzetta, Arun Ghosh and Marty Cooper. Over the two day conference, these innovative minds and their peers impressed with insightful talks about the latest technology that will make 5G successful. I was much amused by the fact that by the end of the conference, only one brave soul admitted to actually knowing what 5G was… and a significant amount of attendees were already heralding 6G!
Using 5G to improve human existence
However we choose to define 5G, the conference reminded me that there are many different drivers that play a role in making 5G a reality. Some of these are commercial in nature and others revolve around the satisfaction of solving complex technical problems. Marty Cooper – the inventor of the first portable handset and the first person to make a call on a portable cell phone in April 1973 – shared his vision, which is that we will use the technology to improve human existence and solve problems associated with poverty, healthcare and education. He pointed out that thanks to the mobile industry with all its talented and driven engineers, 1 billion people in Africa have moved out of poverty in the past 20 years.
Creative minds love to solve tough challenges
But not everyone draw their energy from knowing that the technology they’re part of developing will help to improve people’s lives. Creative minds love to solve tough challenges and 5G will definitely serve up some interesting technical challenges around mmWave, Massive MIMO, Beamforming, etc.
Thomas Marzetta, Distinguished Industry Professor Electrical and Computer Engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering elaborated on this topic: ‘Massive MIMO, in its ultimate embodiment, is most likely to take place in the hugely valuable sub-5 GHz spectrum, driven by the staggering throughput and latency requirements of ubiquitous VR/AR. Although a complete reduction of Massive MIMO to commercial practice has not yet happened, already a fundamental question has emerged: Will future developments in wireless physical layer technology be limited to incremental improvements upon Massive MIMO, or are genuine breakthroughs still possible through some as-yet undiscovered principles of operation?’
Several speakers, including Melissa Arnoldi, President for Technology & Operations at AT&T were excited about offering vertical industries (e.g. Autonomous Vehicles) and consumers (e.g. AR/VR) use cases only achievable with ultra low latencies. These will be delivered by deploying ‘secure, flexible networks that operate at the edge’ by virtualizing the network and by deploying cloud technology and mobile edge computing (MEC). “In the short term, MEC is the key technology that will enable low latencies and in many cases also security. This will also bring machine learning based intelligence to wireless networks, which in our opinion will be the next big thing in mobile technologies,” commented Matti Latva-aho, Academy Professor at University of Oulu.
New business opportunities in vertical industries
But you may not be that excited about the prospect of applying your insights, education and grey matter to solve complex technical challenges. Instead, the idea of creating consumer value through new use cases such as VR, AR, 5K video and the commercial possibilities these will bring to your business might get your juices going! Marcus Weldon, CTO & President of Nokia Bell Labs, discussed some of the commercial drivers that will make 5G a success. He claimed that 5G technology will increase productivity, lower costs and create new business opportunities in a wide range of vertical industries. Other speakers chimed in – vertical industries will be the ‘killer app’ that will make 5G successful!
Weldon pointed out that we are reaching the limits of TCO due to operational complexity. However, 5G technology will deliver fully automated network slicing across the RAN and core to address a diverse set of requirements, which will lower the cost of delivering high speed data and in turn open up new applications and drive new use cases – many of which are not yet known. Mikael Hook, Research Area Director for Radio-research within Ericsson Research commented: ‘The first version of 5G is now materializing - a result of quite some years of research, standardization and trials of both Mobile Broadband use cases and proof-points from several vertical segments. Guided by insights from these activities, the first 5G release can support a wide range of industrial use-cases besides MBB. The future-proof design of NR and expected continuous evolution of 5G mean that we will be able to meet also future requirements emerging from use cases no one has thought of yet.’
With the launch of the 3GPP 5G NR specifications, we’re on the cusp of unleashing the full potential of 5G and the benefits this technology will deliver in terms of improving productivity, opening up new business models and opportunities, improve humans’ existence and increase the GDP in countries that choose to invest in its technology. I left the conference feeling invigorated – whatever is driving 5G development and deployment, it has a true chance to be a force for good and that is an exciting prospect to be a part of!