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Momentum is building towards the next generation of mobile networks. 5G will be lightning quick, and will also connected billions of ‘things’. Here is part one of your MEF guide to the mobile technology of the 2020s…

Earlier this month a consortium of European mobile operators pitched regulators with its plans for rolling out 5G.

Its 5G Manifesto put a fresh focus on high speed mobile broadband. Not that 5G has ever lacked for attention.

Anyone interested in the speed and availability of mobile data (i.e. just about every smartphone owner in the world) wants to know when the next iteration will land.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 16.27.00Obviously, 5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks, and will be much faster than 3G and 4G. The 5G Manifesto contained a commitment to launching 5G in a minimum of one city per EU country by 2020.

But that’s just Europe. Elsewhere in the world is a similar clamour to switch on the next gen network. Trials have been conducted by operators in every continent, while South Korean MNOs are confident they will launch 5G commercially first.

Though many observers are fixated on the speed of 5G and what difference that makes to watching movies on Netflix, the networks are at pains to point out that 5G is not only fast. It’s also wide. It has the potential to connect an almost infinite number of low-bandwidth objects.

In other words, 5G is not just for people. It’s for things. That’s why the 5G Manifesto outlined its potential to digitise ‘vertical industries such as transport, logistics, automotive, health, manufacturing, energy, and the public sector.

However, there was also some controversy in the pitch. This is thanks to Net Neutrality. In other words, should MNOs be permitted to offer higher quality broadband to service providers willing to pay for it?

From a business angle, why not? But the wider public interest argument says the publishing platform provided by 5G should be open to all, not just the rich.

In the light of so much conversation about 5G, here’s part one of your MEF cheatsheet on the topic…

1) What is 5G? In December 2014 the GSMA outlined eight criteria:

  • 1-10Gbps connections to end points in the field
  • 1 millisecond latency
  • 1000x bandwidth per unit area
  • 10-100x number of connected devices
  • (Perception of) 99.999% availability
  • (Perception of) 100% coverage
  • 90 per cent reduction in network energy usage

2) Based on the above, a full HD movie should be able to be downloaded in under 10 seconds. It takes many minutes over 4G.

3) The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) thinks 5G can be much faster. It has set a 20Gbps target.

4) 5G can support millions of connected ‘things’. By 2020 it’s predicted that there will be 50 billion to 100 billion devices connected worldwide.

5) Huawei and ZTE are acknowledged to have been first to work on 5G. They (separately) began investigating the technology in 2009.

6) 5G should be able to work in any consumer friendly radio spectrum band, such as 800MHz or 2.6GHz. However the best speeds are expected to come from far higher frequency spectrum, even though this may require a more expensive network architecture. The European Commission has proposed freeing up spectrum in the 700MHz band for 5G.

7) In the UK, EE has announced it will begin 5G trials in 2016. Vodafone and Huawei completed a 70GHz 5G test in Newbury, UK, reaching data rates of more than 20Gb/s, and supporting multiple users at 10Gb/s each.

8) Nokia Networks is in talks with Indian telecom operators to start trials of 5G. It expects commercial 5G deployment will start in 2020.

9) Ericsson is planning to demonstrate 5G at the Winter Olympics in South Korea and at the World Cup in Russia, both in 2018.

10) Telecoms suppliers have created the narrowband NB-IoT standard to make the best use of 5G for low power connected things. A report by the GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association) says that there will be 20 narrowband NB-IoT networks in commercial operation by the end of 2017. The GSA is also forecasting 75 billion connected things by 2025.