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MWC 19: 5G Begins Rolling Out in 2019, But Look for 6G in 2030

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Operators may be lighting up 5G networks but this won’t flip a switch to sudden digital transformation. While Qualcomm suggested 5G (plus cloud and AI) will eventually be as commonplace as electricity, the benefits will be reached in stages. 2019 can be considered 5G 1.0.

“This is the ground floor of 5G,” said Pete Lau, CEO of Chinese handset brand OnePlus. “The first phase will be characterized by an evident increase in speed and new cloud functionality. 2021 to 2025 will see 5G, cloud, and AI enabling a whole new level of smart functionality in our lives. Then, from 2025 to 2030, the age of internet of things will be unleashed. That will be when we have truly burdenless digital experience.”

For Qualcomm the first phase of 5G is already happening. “It’s the transition to 5G-enabled smartphones and mobile devices,” said the chipmaker’s president Cristiano Amon.

Samsung S10 5G, LG V50 ThinQ, and Sony Xperia 1 are among flagship phones shipping soon and equipped with Qualcomm’s 5G-ready Snapdragon 855 processor.

“The second phase of the transition to 5G will be about taking the tech beyond phones to automotive, industrial, and enterprise sectors,” Amon said. “We’ll begin to get the full potential of unlimited data rates for mission-critical applications.”

Amon said he believes the transition will be faster “than everyone predicting right now.” Twenty operators in 60 markets will launch 5G services this year.

“As 5G gets fully deployed, unlimited computation, AI, and ML [machine learning] will make your mobile device a window to everything,” he stated. “The operating system will become less and less relevant and the app experience will take over.

“At that point connectivity to the cloud combined with AI will be a general technology platform for all society. People will just assume they are connected—like electricity.”

EE had a reality check. The U.K. mobile operator, owned by telco BT, aims to launch 5G this summer. “We’re working round the cloud just to get 5G launched,” said CEO Marc Allera. “We need to give customers a brilliant connection and with 4G on its own that is no longer possible.”

EE aims to build 5G into 10% of its network infrastructure but in locations where it will cover 30% of traffic. “We have to explain to consumer what 5G means and we have to price it right. I think it has to be priced at small premium for the benefits consumers get, but not so much it slows adoption down.”

Allera warned that 5G won’t be perfect: “If we wait for everything to be ready then we’ll be waiting forever. The only way is to get it out, to be first, be bold, and learn from success and failure.”

The sentiment was backed by Amon. “In the operator and chipset business every generation of network upgrade is an opportunity to separate winners from losers, and 5G will be unforgiving given the profound change it brings,” he said. “You are not going to know everything on launch but you do know the potential of the technology so you have to take risks, be fast, and be flexible.”

Operators and phone manufacturers need to get consumers to buy 5G smartphones and network subscriptions. A killer app could be the answer and multiplayer gaming is emerging as the best bet.

This is predicated on moving processing power move to the edge (in cell towers closer to players), higher network capacity, and ultra-low latency.

“The impact that that can have on multi-player gaming and mobile access to console style performance will be exciting,” said Allera.

He predicted: “Watch out for new Netflix-style gaming subscription services.”

The wireless data speeds of 5G could be so great that eventually there will be no need for new games consoles at all, Amon suggested.

The Qualcomm boss also picked out video streaming at higher data rates as another game-changer. Indeed, Samsung’s S10 5G would be capable of downloading a full season of a TV show in minutes on launch in a few months time.

“Ninety-five percent of the time 4K video will be streamed at full bitrate over 5G,” Amon predicted. “That will change how we think about how consumer VOD and live. It’s a big challenge and opportunity for broadcasters when anyone with 4K cameras can become a broadcaster. Live virtual presence is the next step in the evolution of social networking.”

After 5G, 6G?

If all goes according to plan then 5G should be a roaring success—but there are contingency plans being put in place.

There are also plans being drawn up for a 6G network. Some observers have suggested that if 5G goes according to plan there will be no need for a 6G. Other suggest that something like 6G might be needed around 2030 to shore up the parts of 5G implementation that have yet to take root. There’s another group that believes that's another stage in the evolution of network technology and that such leaps happen roughly every decade.

“A new mobile generation appears every 10 years, and so 6G will emerge around 2030 to satisfy all the expectations not met with 5G, as well as new ones to be defined at a later stage,” explained Matti Latva-aho, the Academy Professor at the University of Oulu in Finland.

He was at MWC presenting 6Genesis, an eight-year €250 million ($284 million USD) research program to conceptualize 6G under the auspices of the University of Oulu's Centre for Wireless Communications.

Latva-aho explained that 6Genesis will develop fundamental technology components needed for 6G systems by researching areas including “wireless connectivity, distributed intelligent wireless computing, device and circuit technologies and implementations, and vertical applications and services.”

The International Telecommunication Union, part of the United Nations, has a working group on the matter called Network 2030. The working assumption is that by then we’ll be dealing in terahertz radio frequencies, higher than those for 5G and conceivably capable of download speeds 1000 times faster than (mere) gigabit speeds.

So maybe President Trump’s much derided tweeted last week that he’d like to see “5G and even 6G technology” deployed in the U.S. “as soon as possible” wasn’t so far off the mark after all.

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