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The first 5G standards will become available in early 2018 and equipment will be ready in 2019, one year earlier than expected. This follows a decision by the 3GPP standards body to focus on 5G radio before standardizing 5G core technologies. With 3GPP's previous timeline, Release 15, the earliest 5G deployments using standardized equipment would probably not have been possible until 2020.

Industry-wide support for 5G is a solid foundation for early commercial success

Operators with cellular networks are likely to benefit the most from early 5G because they can offer enhanced mobile broadband services sooner than expected. The 5G standards should cover both fixed and mobile networks by mid-2018.

In 2016, Ovum warned that intense debate would surround the first phase of 5G standardization. Because 3GPP's latest decision has broad support within the industry, it is unlikely that 5G will see the kind of splits that impeded the commercial uptake of MMS and 3G.

Nokia, Samsung, and Verizon were among the key players against the acceleration of 5G commercialization using existing LTE equipment and a new 5G radio. But they have all got behind the acceleration effort, creating a solid foundation for early commercial rollouts with industry-wide support and fully interoperable equipment.

It's hard to gauge what will happen in commercial terms to the Verizon 5G Technology Forum (V5GTF), which comprises not just Nokia, Samsung, and Verizon, but also some vendors such as Qualcomm and Ericsson. The V5GTF will hope that its work will form a key part of the standards behind the 5G core. It remains focused on Verizon's 28GHz and 39GHz fixed wireless 5G ambitions and expects that its full-system trials will lead to commercial deployment by the end of the year.

Governments must work together on 5G spectrum

Now that standardized 5G is set to be a commercial reality by 2019, it's imperative that operators have ample spectrum at the right frequencies, and at a price that facilitates fast, nationwide deployment. National governments must work even more effectively together to ensure a solid foundation (i.e. spectrum) for operators to build 5G services on, whether this is within the ITU's WRC (not due to meet again until 2019) or through different channels.

The benefits of high-speed broadband for both urban and rural dwellers are considerable and undisputable. If governments can work with the industry to make a success of 5G, the technology will bring even more value to people, economies, and industry than previous technology generations have, because 5G is about much more than just enhanced mobile broadband, which itself is likely to be another major step-change for the industry.

Governments must declare very soon how much spectrum, and at what frequencies, they plan to make available for 5G, and when. This will allow operators and vendors to plan for the transition to 5G as effectively as possible. Some governments are already doing this, and they will benefit the most from 5G.


Further reading

5G in Europe,TE0014-000405 (May 2016)

Mobile Operators' Plans for LTE Investments, RAN Virtualization, Small Cells, and 5G, TE0006-001325 (January 2017)

5G Service Provider Tracker: 4Q16, TE0014-000434 (January 2017)

5G: Technology Perspective for the Next Generation of Mobility, TE0006-001295 (November 2016)


Paul Lambert, Senior Analyst, Europe

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