With all the chatter about 5G trials and prospective roll out dates swirling in industry hallways, it might seem like we know what’s coming. But according to Qualcomm’s senior director of engineering for Research and Development John Smee, it’s what we don’t know about 5G that should excite us the most.
Rather than cutting and replacing 4G and Wi-Fi technologies, Smee said 5G will be interwoven with what we know to create a new fabric of connectivity.
Though the exact specifications have yet to be addressed by 3GPP standards, Smee said the 5G networks of the future will incorporate higher, wider spectrum bands to allow for higher reliability, lower latency and higher spectral efficiency. Smee said 5G will also natively incorporate 4G technologies like network function virtualization and software defined networks.
But where the knowledge of what 5G will be ends, the vast unknown of what 5G might enable begins.
“(5G) is bringing in new value and new equipment but it’s really adding to this growing ecosystem (of 4G and Wi-Fi) and it’s looking to address from day one a larger number of use cases in a more efficient manner,” Smee explained. “When you can provide 100 mbps everywhere, that’s when you start seeing a wide range of new applications becoming possible. You’re creating a new network and platform for use cases we can’t even imagine yet.”
According to Smee, the use cases for 5G technologies extend far beyond handsets. For example, Smee offered up ride-sharing app Uber, which relies heavily on the increased smartphone use enabled by 4G technologies to reach its customers.
“Whether its headsets or something else, I think we’re going to be well beyond just a smartphone in terms of what 5G can offer,” he said. “I do think it’s an environment where people will have more connected devices per person. We want 5G to be something that from 2020 to 2030 enables a wide range of new applications.”
Smee said possible use cases could range from smart city and smart home applications to virtual and augmented reality headsets. The latter, he said, could revolutionize the way we live by providing us with more information that’s useful, in context and high value at the right time.
More than just a recreational tool, augmented reality could also serve as an educational tool to provide students with additional visual reinforcement during lessons and offer more personalization to fill in the gaps for lagging students or challenge more advanced students.
But Smee said the beauty of other potential applications is not knowing what they might be even as Qualcomm and other companies like Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung work toward making them possible.
“We don’t have to necessarily know the applications to design a network that’s moving in the right direction,” Smee said. “We know lower latency is better, we know higher efficiency is better. There’s a variety of things we know we can improve, and it’s those improvements that will enable applications we don’t even know yet.”
Though carriers like Verizon have trumpeted 5G trials that are expected to start as early as this year, Smee said all work done before the release of 3GPP’s 5G standards is just preliminary.
“The term 5G, no one owns that copyright, so it’s something where someone could label something before 2020 as 5G,” he explained. “The reality is that because the standards aren’t done yet if you do something ahead of the standards, it will be like what will be in the standards, but you can’t guarantee it’s standards compatible.”
The 5G standards are expected to be detailed in the 3GPP’s Release 15 in 2018 for implementation in 2020.