At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) later this week, Ericsson will go full tilt on 5G.
Like a jeweler showcasing its diamond, representatives for the Swedish telecommunications company said Ericsson is planning a massive display to highlight the many facets of 5G. In particular, Ericsson said it will focus on different use cases across a variety of industries and the new capabilities 5G will enable, honing in on six key areas including broadband, man-machine interfaces like virtual and augmented reality, critical services, sensor networks, machine-type communications, and remote devices.
But while Ericsson’s CES display will look toward the future, Wireless Week reached out to CTO Glenn Laxdal ahead of the show to get his thoughts on where 5G technology stands today and how exactly it will progress to that hyper mobile vision of the future.
Back in December, Verizon told Wireless Week that it was working closely with Ericsson and a handful of other vendors on pre-commercial fixed wireless 5G trials slated to kick off this month. Though many people like to think of 5G as a mostly mobile technology, Laxdal explained there are a couple of reasons Ericsson’s clients – including companies like Verizon – are focusing on fixed wireless as the initial use case.
It’s well known that the 3GPP standards for mobile 5G won’t be released for some time yet, but Laxdal said fixed wireless is possible because participants in the standards process can already see what the building blocks of 5G will be. Thus, he said, Ericsson can construct a solution around those foundations and start to deliver some components in a 2017 timeframe. Fixed wireless is a great vehicle to test those components because of the element of control it offers, Laxdal noted.
“I think the lead use case is going to be fixed wireless access because that’s a very contained use case,” Laxdal said. “We can control the devices that are being used for fixed wireless access as well as the network and co-develop those together.”
Additionally, Laxdal said the software Ericsson is developing for these early 5G components will be “completely upgradable” to the standards-based 5G system that will fully defined in the mid-2018 timeframe.
Laxdal said the evolution of 5G devices will likely unfold in a manner similar to the roll out of 4G technology. That is, Laxdal said with 5G we will see fixed wireless devices becoming available first since they don’t have to handle all the capabilities required by mobile broadband. Those devices, he said, will be followed by the roll out of hotspot devices (which would perhaps be the first fully standards-compliant devices) in a late 2018 timeframe and eventually smartphones with 5G capabilities in the early 2019 timeframe.
Once all of those pieces fall into line and the ecosystem includes a variety of devices that are able to “talk” 5G, Laxdal said the world will see a much broader deployment of the technology across the market. This, he said, will likely come in a 2019 or 2020 timeframe.
“When you’re out in the 2021, 2022 timeframe, now you’ve got a fully standards-based 5G system and you’re starting to ramp smartphones,” Laxdal said. “That’s when we really see the significant volume of subscribers starting to take advantage of 5G.”
According to the latest Ericsson Mobility report, the volume of 5G subscribers is expected to reach 150 million in 2021 before jumping to more than half a billion in 2022.
Building the 5G network
Laxdal said Ericsson is hard at work on everything 5G – from developing radio access network (RAN) technologies like beamforming and MIMO, core network features, and network management techniques to partnering with device vendors like Qualcomm and Intel – to help carriers build out the networks to support these users. But out of all these, Laxdal focused in on network function virtualization (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN) as key, can’t-do-without building blocks for the 5G future.
Why? Two words: network slicing.
As more and more use cases emerge that require dramatically different things from the network, Laxdal said NFV and SDN will become critical enablers of a dynamic and programmable network core that will allow for network slicing, or the ability to create new network paths in software.
“It’s not that you couldn’t deploy 5G without software defined networking and network function virtualization being implemented in your core, but to take full advantage of 5G you would need to have those technologies implemented,” Laxdal said. “To get the total benefit of 5G over time, as more and more use cases become implemented using the 5G network, you’re going to want a more and more dynamic software-defined core to take advantage of that. Over that longer-term timeframe that’s where NFV/SDN really starts to add value to the 5G network.”
Ericsson will be exhibiting at CES in booth #10939.