A group of industry experts provided updates on market and technology developments related to 5G deployment at the Telecommunications Industry Association’s (TIA) June 21 Policy Forum, “Federal Spectrum Policy for the 5G Era” in Washington, DC. Moderated by Dileep Srihari, TIA’s Senior Policy Counsel & Director of Government affairs, the panel followed a keynote address (covered in Part I) by David Redl, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Mary Brown, Senior Director at Cisco Systems, laid the groundwork by discussing the anticipated growth of consumer demand. Unsurprisingly, consumers’ thirst for data is not slowing pace. She stated that per person mobile data consumption is expected to quadruple, from an average of three gigabits per month in 2016, to 12 gigs per month by 2021. Eighty percent of this traffic is predicted to generated by video content. She also noted that seventy percent of consumer traffic is expected to be carried by unlicensed spectrum (such as Wi-Fi) at some point during its transit. She stressed how these figures underscore the need for the flexibility and robust capacity of 5G networks within a few short years.
Dean Brenner, Qualcomm’s Senior Vice President of Spectrum and Tech Policy, then pointed to the need for the “ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency” capabilities offered by 5G technology for applications such as intelligent transport, IoT, telemedicine, etc. While 5G has been under development for many years, he noted that standards organizations such as the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) have finalized some 5G standards only recently. However, now that standards are coming to fruition after years of work, the first 5G products should be seen in the marketplace in the near future. Brenner stated that 5G capable devices should be available by the end of 2018, and 5G phones will be in consumers’ hands by the middle of 2019.
The next panelist was Carl Povelites, Assistant Vice President of Public Policy, Mobility, at AT&T. As 5G consumer devices are becoming available, he stated that networks such as AT&T are upgrading to keep pace with demand. First, the LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology used by 4G networks is being augmented by LTE-LAA (Licensed Assisted Access), which uses unlicensed spectrum to increase network capacity and provide a better user experience. AT&T has deployed this technology in seven markets, and plans to launch 5G in 12 markets by the end of 2018. The 5G deployments will start in Atlanta, Dallas, and Waco.
A different approach to 5G deployment was offered by Jennifer Warren, Lockheed Martin’s Vice President of Technology Policy and Regulation. Noting that terrestrial 5G deployments depend on the dense placement of transmitters, which are generally only practical in more populated urban areas, Warren discussed high altitude platform stations (HAPS). This proposal would use a combination of satellite and airship-based transmitters to bring 5G and other wireless services to sparsely populated areas, especially in developing countries that currently have limited infrastructure. Satellite-based communications are inherently subject to latency lags due to the height of their orbits. However, proponents claim that the concurrent use of airship platforms, operating at about 65,000 feet (roughly twice the altitude of commercial aircraft), could cover wide areas on the ground with far less latency than satellite-only services would experience. This approach would make 4G and 5G service equally available in less populated areas, for less cost, according to proponents. A detailed presentation to the FCC on this proposal is available here.
While the perspectives vary, it is clear that consumers are more than ready for faster, more robust fixed and mobile wireless services. While deployments of the next generation of wireless technology always take time, the longstanding efforts of network providers, handset manufacturers, and standards groups appear on track to get the first iterations of 5G services to consumers within the next 12 months.
[Steve Pastorkovich is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant specializing in telecommunications, trade association operations, and public policy. LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/steve-pastorkovich-4a94412/]