A few takeaways from “5G – The Advent” at the IET

On Wednesday the 30th of January 2019 at Savoy Place the IET held its 6th Annual Conference on 5G, which this year was not unreasonably titled “5G – The Advent”. In this brief article I will run through a few things I took away from the day.

This one-day event was the sixth 5G Conference held by the IET RF and Microwave TPN. I have been fortunate enough to attend the last three years and one thing I have noticed is that the audience has been getting bigger each year. This year the lecture theatre was packed so I can only imagine more and more companies are getting interested in 5G and what it is going to mean to them.

Throughout the day we heard talks from key players in the UK 5G space, with those talks varying from detailed technical overviews of 5G elements, to security, to current state of trials, standards development and government and industry support for 5G. What is noticeable over the last few conferences, is the movement from how things might work to how things are actually working. Equipment, has now been built and is being used to test how 5G can be implemented and the issues in doing so.

Bearing in mind that those presenting are all protagonists for 5G, the strong message coming out from the day is that 5G is happening right now. With over 200 Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) throughout the world engaging with 5G and a much wider variety of equipment becoming available, this bold message does seem to be backed up by what is happening on the ground. 5G-badged handsets are starting to be rolled out this year, although it is likely that the infrastructure to support these will not be in place for some time in most territories. However, early adopters, such as those in South Korea, have already started pilot rollouts.

It sounds like the migration from 4G to 5G will take some time and will incrementally deliver the benefits of 5G over the years it takes to implement. To give an example of those timescales, 3GPP’s Release 15 was initially made in June 2018 with support for initial phases of 5G and things like eMBB (enhanced Mobile BroadBand). Release 16, with further enhancements to 5G, is expected in March 2020. During this transition they will start with Non-standalone (NSA) mode which is anchored in conventional LTE, utilising 5G New Radio (NR) to boost bandwidth and reduce latency, eventually moving to a full 5G system.

One interesting aspect of the 5G technologies is just how much of them are based on software and not hardware. Apart from the radio hardware at the edges, nearly everything else can be run in software on virtual machines (VMs) with orchestration frameworks deciding where to run these VMs, either at the edge or at the core. This change heralds a move away from the more expensive bespoke hardware that used to fill the MNOs’ inventory to use less expensive, commodity servers, something which is essential to permit the ‘densification’ required for use at higher frequencies and bandwidths.

Like all new technologies, the eventual use cases for 5G’s features, such as eMBB, uRLLC (ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications) and mMTC (massive Machine Type Communications) will only appear once the technology has become firmly embedded. However, the initial thought experiments of what might be possible are slowly turning into reality, with speakers discussing the following examples of how 5G has already been used in test arrangements, or are mooted for trial soon:

  • Being able to fly a drone remotely using a 5G connection which was routed to the US and back.
  • Being able to control a badminton racquet using a WII controller via a connection through the US.
  • Remote colonoscopy
  • Remote restoration of art works
  • Synchronised reality with, for example, DJs being able to play to remote clubs at the same time or musicians able to perform together in concert even though they are remote from each other.
  • The Millennium Square in Bristol, testbed for 5G.

If 5G interests you then there are a number of places you can visit on line to find out more such as https://uk5g.org/, https://5g.co.uk/ or https://5g-ppp.eu/. Alternatively, you could pencil in late next January for the .

Mark Davison, Terzo Digital, February 2019