MNO’s arrive on time to give 5G both credibility and direction

MNO’s arrive on time to give 5G both credibility and direction

A lot of 5G White Papers emerged just before the Mobile World Congress to grab a bit of media attention. Many saw the announcement of the NGMN 5G White Paper as just another such 5G White Paper. They entirely missed the point. The mobile industry is one of the few industrial sectors in the world where two sets of arch competitive rivals sit down and reveal to each other their ideas for the future and try to agree a common new air-interface and other network elements to be standardised to grow and sustain a future mobile market.  This highly successful model emerged out of GSM and has been carried forward with even greater global inclusiveness by 3G PP. At the very core of this model is a very open negotiation between network vendors and network buyers. The tango is not a bad metaphor as it is a dance of equals but opposites (buyers and sellers), it’s robust in its movements and each set of partners has to be in precisely step with the other. A successful outcome will be the birth of a 5G global standard with the right commercial characteristics to make it attractive for mobile network operators to invest in. Governments and Regulators can help or hinder this process of infrastructure modernisation. It is all about getting the conditions right for early roll-out.

The past two years has seen a lot of ideas being pushed by vendors looking to create their next big market for mobile networks after LTE has run its course a decade from now. It has been a period of “letting a 1000 flowers bloom” with some of the flowers looking more imaginary than others. The emergence of a powerful group of buyers of mobile networks putting on the table “a statement of requirements” has created the starting point for this important two-way dialogue. The timing could not be better. 3GPP has already taken note of addressing the 5G standardisation needs.

Whilst the White Paper lacks a lot of detail it has created useful boundary conditions.  It contains a good vision statement, reasonable depth of use case examples and some stretching targets.   NGMN envisions 5G as an end-to-end system that includes all aspects of the network with a design that leverages today’s access mechanisms (including fixed) together with some new 5G Radio Access Technologies (RAT’s). Twenty-five use case examples are given that are grouped into eight use case families. The concept of a 5G network slice is introduced that comprises a collection of 5G network functions and specific RAT settings that are combined together for the specific use case or business model. Some numerical KPI targets appear for connection density and traffic density linked to the use cases. A striking aspect of the White Paper is the very low priority that has given to extravagantly high access data rates. The highest data rate mentioned is 1 Gb/s indoors. The core statement is “50+ Mb/s everywhere”. Even this comes with some small print that it is only for 95% of locations for 95% of the time. That is a good place to start for new networks that are to be rolled out starting in 2020 with devices and access charges consumers can afford.

The most striking thing of all about this NGNM 5G White Paper initiative is the list of mobile operators who have put their names to it. They include leading mobile operators from Europe, USA, China, Russia, Korea and Turkey. That is a dream start to getting the 5G project onto a global track from the very outset.

But lest anyone think this is a “job done” moment it is in fact a job just starting. The White Paper has a lot of spaces still to be filled in, too many options and too many contradictions to be resolved. Three things now need to happen before global standardisation begins:

  • The consensus around this White Paper has to be widened though taking feedback from vendors and the research community (on what is doable) leading onto a revised version as an input to standardisation
  • A revolutionary new 5G network architecture needs to be drawn-up within which these network operators’ future requirements can be accommodated
  • The system elements within the architecture have to be identified. The aim must be the least number of new RAT’s spread over the fewest number of spectrum bands addressing the maximum number of use cases in order to secure the earliest scale economies.

These are the immediate challenges for our 5G Tango partners if they want to win the next world’s top mobile wealth generating dance prize…with another dazzling world championship standardization performance.

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