5G Commercial Opportunities?
5G promises a step change in network performance compared to current 4G, which will enable new applications and services to become feasible over a wireless connection, opening new commercial opportunities.
What attributes of 5G create new commercial opportunities?
What is the reality of 5G versus the hype?
Examples of commercial opportunities enabled by 5G
Like many new technologies 5G has gone through a period of hype where headline capabilities have been promoted without communication of the practical reality. This is understandable to create excitement and interest in a new technology, but anybody wishing to develop commercial applications and services over 5G needs to be aware of the reality of performance, coverage, and features.
IMT-2020 defined a set of target requirements for the next generation of mobile (subsequently referred to as 5G). There are 3 main parts to these requirements:
Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)
Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC)
Ultra-reliable and Low-latency Communications (uRLLC)
The technical specifications for eMBB were defined in 3GPP Rel. 15 (with enhancements in Rel. 16). eMBB is the basis for all the current commercial network deployments.
mMTC and uRLLC technical specifications are due to be issued as part of 3GPP Rel. 16 in mid-2020.
As can be seen from the 5G usage scenario triangle below (taken from IMT-2020 Vision) this is anticipated to enable a range of new and enhanced applications. Associated with each of the corners of the triangle are target headline performance numbers:
eMBB: 10 Gbps peak speed
mMTC: 1 million connections/km2
uRLLC: 1 ms latency
In this article I focus on the opportunities from eMBB (i.e. the top third of the triangle) for mass market wide area coverage networks.
There will in addition be many opportunities created from mMTC, uRLLC and enterprise network deployments that are not the topic of this article.
Attributes of 5G
The principle technical attributes of 5G include:
Capacity Increased amounts of spectrum together with mMIMO active antenna technology provide a step change in capacity that is necessary to meet the ever-growing need for data capacity.
Speed Speed is the measure of how much data can be sent in a time period.
Latency Latency is a measure of how much time it takes a packet of data to traverse the network.
Massive number of devices 5G will provide the flexibility to support many more devices per kilometre. This is not required yet as 4G can support many IoT devices, but 5G provides a roadmap to massively expand the number of connections.
Architecture, e.g. Network Slicing 5G architecture builds on network virtualisation and adds the ability to logically “slice” the network to meet specific requirements. It is likely to appear in network with 5G Standalone mode in 2-3 years time.
For the current article I focus on Speed and Latency as these are the immediate benefits that will be seen by consumers from 5G rollouts.
Reality of 5G
The figure below shows where current 5G deployments sit versus both current 4G and the 5G headline targets.
The “headline” target for 5G is to reach 20 Gbps peak speeds. This is not feasible with the current spectrum deployments and not over a wide area. Peak speed is a theoretical number achieved with only one user in an ideal radio environment.
The reality of current deployments is a peak speed of 1.5 Gbps (if an operator has deployed 100 MHz of 5G spectrum) but a more realistic average speed of around 200 Mbps. This is a significant increase on 4G speeds of 20 to 30 Mbps average, but nowhere close to the 20 Gbps “headline”.
When designing applications and services it is vital to understand the realistic performance of the network. If the average speed is 200 Mbps this means an application will need to plan for something like 50 Mbps if they want a 95% service reliability.
This improvement in speed opens opportunities for higher quality video and faster cloud services.
The “headline” target for 5G is to reach 1 ms latency (or 2 ms if measuring Round Trip Time).
The current wide area network deployments are not aiming for such low latency figures (which are the targets for uRLLC) but are nevertheless achieving a significant improvement compared with 4G by shifting latency from ~40 ms down to ~10 ms.
This improvement in latency is particularly significant as it enables a range of interactive services with much improved human interaction and brings mobile latency closer to fixed line network performance.
Taken together, the improved speed and latency of 5G wide area network deployments can enable a new set of applications and services previously not considered feasible over mobile networks. This includes, for example, ultra-high-quality video streaming, panoramic video, augmented and virtual reality and cloud gaming.
For network operators there may also be opportunities to monetise the provision of guaranteed performance levels.
I include below a couple of reality checks based on requirements for two applications, taken from the GSMA Cloud AR/VR Whitepaper, 26 April 2019. The reality check is against current wide area 5G deployments (using mid-band 3.4-3.8 GHz spectrum). Please note that dedicated enterprise 5G deployments or localised higher frequency spectrum deployment would be able to exceed the wide area performance. The ticks, question marks and crosses are my view on feasibility based on requirements versus reality of network performance.
Panoramic Video – reality check
5G wide area networks will support reliable 4K panoramic video. Reliable 8K will be possible with some optimisation towards Field of View. 12K 3D would sometimes be possible, but unreliable based on network load and coverage.
Cloud Gaming (CG) – reality check
5G wide area networks will support reliable 2K cloud gaming and up to 4K cloud gaming but not with full reliability. 8K cloud gaming would sometimes be possible, but unreliable based on network load and coverage.
Quite apart from the new applications and services, 5G will deliver a much-improved internet experience, which is itself an opportunity for commercial growth. This includes:
Reliable High Definition video streaming
Faster file downloading and uploading
More responsive applications
Better gaming experience
5G creates new opportunities
Much improved human interaction
It is important to reality check
Be positive but realistic!