Robot cars: V2X communication is an important part of current 5G standardization efforts.
Robot cars: V2X communication is an important part of current 5G standardization efforts.
( Bild: gemeinfrei / Pixabay)

Communication 5G Myth #3: The new mobile phone will replace all communication technologies

Editor: Jochen Schwab

5G is defined as a comprehensive set of rules that includes functions for every communication application you can think of - from broadband turbo to low-power goods tracking to ultra-short latency automation. Can 5G actually replace existing techniques?

Some advertising and reporting make 5G seem like a true miracle network: it can use licensed and unlicensed spectra and is suitable for building a wide variety of public and private communications applications. In addition to mobile communications, satellite communication is also included in the range of services. 5G is, therefore, able to complement or even replace several other communication technologies. In short, it gives the impression that 5G is the only communications technology that can handle all applications, including vertical enterprise applications.

Part 3 of our 5G series makes it clear that advertising and reality are diametrically opposed. In its current form, the new mobile phone is not yet ready for a number of vertical applications.

Myth #3: 5G is the only connectivity technology sufficient for vertical applications

As always, reality is more complex. 5G is a mobile radio standard that is continuously being developed over many years. Responsible for this is the "3rd Generation Partnership Project", short 3GPP - a worldwide cooperation of industry committees for standardization in mobile radio. That means: It is still a very long way to the "5G can do everything" network.

Release 15 is an important milestone on this route: It has heralded the first phase of independent 5G networks. The core component is the "New Radio Stand-alone" radio interface (NR SA), which, unlike older specifications, does not require an LTE substructure (Non-Stand-alona, NSA). With this version, the functions eMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband), URLLC (Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications) and mMTC (massive Machine Type Communications) were introduced or expanded. Release 15 also includes improvements to LTE, such as the Evolved Packet Core (EPC). The specifications for Release 15 were finalized by 3GPP in mid-2019 and are currently in the ratification phase.

According to 3GPP, the older releases focused on eMBB - and thus the possibility of providing more bandwidth, supplemented by moderate latency improvements for 5G NR and 4G LTE. Consumer applications, such as Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR), UltraHD or 360-degree streaming video and more, are expected to benefit most. mMTC has also been developed as a Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technology in 3GPP releases 13/14, including NB-IoT.

3GPP Release 16 is essential - but not before 2020

With Release 16, the development of the 5G standard is currently in a decisive phase: the focus here is on topics such as application layer services for vehicle-to-everything (V2X), 5G satellite access, the use of unlicensed frequency bands, local area network support in 5G, the merging of wireless and wired communication in 5G, positioning and location, optimisation of URLLC and network automation as well as new radio technologies. Other important topics are security, codecs and streaming services, network slicing and the Industrial IoT.

Many of these topics are essential for vertical enterprise applications. For example, Phase 3 of the V2X specification defines framework conditions for platooning (automated convoy traffic), extended use of sensors, autonomous and remote-controlled driving. Release 16 is "Work in Progress": The 3GPP roadmap currently envisages achieving the "Freeze" status by March 2020. Ratification is to follow in June 2020. This means that for mission-critical 5G applications that require particularly low end-to-end latency times and high reliability of the network infrastructure - keyword TSN (Time Sensitive Networks) - the technical substructure will be missing for the time being.

5G will complement, not replace, existing communication technologies

Under these conditions, 5G will initially be just another component in a patchwork of different communication technologies. Market analyst ABI Research nevertheless assumes that the technology will quickly create added value. Theoretically, it is possible with 5G to create a basis for enterprise applications that offers cost advantages over previous, often proprietary solutions. But before that can happen, vertical 5G applications must first exceed a critical mass, so that scaling effects can become noticeable. ABI does not expect this to be the case in the next 5 years.

This will have an impact: It is possible that the wave of digitization that has hit companies in many markets will continue without 5G for the time being. According to ABI Research, telcos should act immediately if they want to prevent this. They should, therefore, collaborate with specialists and build "vertical expertise" for many different applications. Only then could 5G be more than just another wireless connectivity technology in the medium and long term.

This article was first published in German by Elektronikpraxis.