Forging paths to 5G at ITU Telecom World

The full version of the following abridged article can be read in the latest edition of ITU News Magazine, which highlights key insight from ITU’s recent Telecom World 2016 event in Bangkok, Thailand.

Perhaps nowhere was the ITU Telecom World 2016 motto of “Better, Sooner” more on display than in the discussions surrounding 5G.

©ITU/I.WoodThe enormous potential of the next generation of mobile networks and wireless systems to provide better, faster connectivity emerged a central theme of discussion throughout the event.

Whether on the exhibition floor, in networking breaks, or in the multiple forum and plenary sessions devoted to 5G, participants agreed that 5G systems will be critical to powering the data-intensive digital economy of the next several years.

There was the realization that the previous generations of technology such as 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE have provided key lessons – and that 5G offers a great opportunity to channel resources for maximum benefit.

Breathless tales of what technology might be able to do in the future were set aside. The 5G discussions in Bangkok were detailed. They were actionable. And they reflected a business-like approach to collaboration in these critical early phases of 5G.

New approaches to meet new user demands

Several panelists discussing 5G mentioned how the rapidly rising user demand for data is forcing new approaches for operators, vendors and regulators – as well as a range of other players across a widening information and communication technology (ICT) ecosystem.

“Data demand is increasing much faster than we expected,” said Håkon Bruaset Kjøl, Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Affairs for Telenor ASA, Norway, adding that service needs to be faster, have less latency, and provide better coverage outside the cities for a seamless user experience across the portfolio.

“We need to invest USD 4 trillion to cater for this data demand … not just in infrastructure, but radio frequency spectrum,” said Mr Kjøl, adding that many operators will have to run 2G, 3G, and 4G networks in parallel – even as they invest in 5G. “You need a basket of spectrum to deliver all those services. Spectrum is getting more expensive, so we need cooperation between the private and public sector.”

But how should public and private sectors work together on spectrum access and allocation? Several panels discussed – and sometimes debated – what success should look like.

“We are getting better at adapting the rules to the changing environment,” said Philipp Metzger, Director of the Swiss regulator OFCOM. “When it comes to spectrum allocation, there will always be a limited amount and excessive demand. From a European perspective, there are new ways of lowering the burden. Our experience with 4G was very good with an auction system.”

There was also discussion of how and whether to work with licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

“If we could work together with unlicensed and licensed spectrum that would benefit customers and that is what we should do. We need convergence between licensed and unlicensed bands for 5G,” said Zhou of Huawei.

But this has to be handled with care, agreed many panelists and participants.

Forward thinking for spectrum

“We need new regulation to allow 5G,” said Quan Yu, Chief Strategy Officer, Wireless Product Line, Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. during a panel discussion entitled Forward Thinking for Spectrum – Getting Ready for 5G.

Mr Yu was one of several panelists who presented in detail the spectrum requirements and plans they envision in the next few years. He said that 5G spectrum requirements will include spectrum in low, medium, and high-frequency bands.

Several fellow panelists concurred with that overall assessment, even if there were multiple viewpoints on how exactly it should be done from a regulatory perspective.

“Qualcomm is very involved in spectrum policy at the regional level. Our view is that a range of spectrum is going to be needed to support 5G in low, mid, and high bands,” said Julie Garcia Welch, Senior Director and Head of Government Affairs for the Asia-Pacific region for the chipmaker Qualcomm, Inc. “In addition to the tech breakthroughs, we’re looking for regulatory innovation to unlock the spectrum.”

During the panel discussion, it was mentioned that spectrum harmonization remains important for 5G development because it helps provide economies of scale for cost-effective solutions, reduces efforts in cross-border collaboration and reduces equipment design complexity.

Similar points regarding the importance of collaboration were made across various forum sessions, particularly as the ICT ecosystem becomes broader every year as more and more industry sectors such as finance, automobile and health become reliant on ICT services.

To read the full version of this article, read the latest edition of ITU News Magazine.

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