Even though we are still a couple of years from real, wide-scale 5G commercial deployments based on the global 5G standard – 5G NR – the hype around 5G is already overwhelming. It has grown immensely over the last year, peaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year, where the “5G” label was literally everywhere, solving almost every problem you could think of.
Don't get me wrong, at Qualcomm we are very excited at the possibilities that 5G can bring. We have been talking about our 5G vision of taking the largest technology platform in human history – mobile – and extending it to virtually every industry, every object and every connection for quite some time. But it is time for less talk, and more action. As an industry, the focus needs to shift toward making the 5G vision a reality and driving the first phase of commercial deployments based on the global 5G NR standard.
Thankfully, if you look past all the 5G hype, the past year has seen tremendous progress toward doing just this – making 5G NR a reality. In fact, we are accelerating the schedule. Recently, Qualcomm and fellow mobile industry leaders including AT&T, NTT DOCOMO, SK Telecom, Vodafone, Ericsson, and Nokia, led a coalition of 40+ companies that committed to accelerate the 5G NR schedule to enable large-scale trials and deployments as early as 2019 (“3GPP agrees on plan to accelerate 5G NR – the global 5G standard – for 2019 deployments”).
And what use case is driving this? Hint – you already have one.
I know it’s not the glamorous answer. I understand the burning desire is to hear industry buzzwords like autonomous cars and Internet of Things. And don’t get me wrong, 5G NR is absolutely being designed to meet an extreme variation of requirements, allowing it to serve as a connectivity fabric for an array of world-changing use cases in the next decade and beyond, including the previously mentioned buzzwords. But the first phase of 5G NR, coming in 2019, is going to address ever-increasing mobile broadband needs as consumers continue to devour more and more data (especially video) on their smartphones and beyond.
The average consumer’s smartphone is expected to go from consuming 1.6 GB of data per month today to close to 7 GB of data per month in 2021 (Source: Cisco Visual Network Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2016 - 2021). This is driven by explosive growth in video traffic as mobile increasingly becomes the source of media and entertainment, as well as the massive growth in always-connected cloud computing/experiences.
Add on top of this emerging, video-intensive use cases like augmented reality and virtual reality, the proliferation of mobile broadband in vehicles, and much more, and you get a sense for why enhanced 5G mobile broadband services are needed.
And don’t worry, we are not waiting for 2019 to start addressing this ever-increasing demand in mobile broadband. We are starting with Gigabit LTE this year and Qualcomm is leading the way. Gigabit LTE makes use of advanced LTE technologies, such as Carrier Aggregation and 4x4 MIMO antenna technology, to provide the first glimpse at 5G fiber-like performance. This is not only important for addressing today’s mobile broadband needs, but Gigabit LTE will continue to play an essential role in 5G mobile broadband when 5G NR launches, providing a coverage layer for a more seamless mobile user experience. The world’s first Gigabit LTE device and mobile network are now fully commercial in Australia by Telstra, and several operators around the world have announced plans to deploy or trial Gigabit LTE in 2017 including all four of the leading U.S. mobile operators. In addition, the first commercial smartphones featuring Gigabit-class LTE speeds are now arriving (see Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium, Samsung’s Galaxy S8), powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with the integrated Snapdragon X16 LTE modem.
But continued expansion and evolution of LTE will not be enough. The use of mobile data is continuing to rise – not only on our smartphones, but in our cars, on our tablets, on our AR/VR glasses, and more. User experience requirements continue to push the boundaries of connectivity – not only for faster data rates, but lower latency for more real-time performance and tactile control, as well as more uniformity as new user experiences, such as streaming immersive high-fidelity 360-degree video and connected cloud computing, demand consistent performance virtually anywhere. On top of this, mobile broadband service revenue growth has begun to flatten out, and mobile network operators urgently need solutions to efficiently increase capacity and deliver user experiences at a lower cost-per-bit. These ever-increasing mobile broadband needs is why the industry has rallied behind accelerating 5G NR for commercial deployments starting in 2019.
Advanced 3GPP 5G NR technologies, such as scalable OFDM-based waveforms to support wider bandwidth and Massive MIMO antenna technology, will rise up to meet these ever-increasing demands by delivering new levels in performance and efficiency. 5G NR technologies will deliver faster, more uniform data rates (100+ Mbps even in challenging environments like indoors or at the cell edge) at a significantly lower latency than today’s networks with (as low as 1 ms over the air latency – 5x faster than the flap of a hummingbird’s wing). This includes advanced 5G NR technologies that will make use of large bandwidths of mmWave spectrum above 24 GHz capable of delivering extreme data speeds and capacity. 5G NR will “mobilize” mmWave with advanced antenna techniques to achieve sustained mobile broadband communications for mobile devices (including smartphones) even for non-line-of-sight communications and device mobility.
Furthermore, 5G NR technologies, in both mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum bands, will enable mobile network operators to deliver these enhanced mobile broadband services at a significantly lower cost (up to 8x lower based on Mobile Experts LLC, a network of market and technology experts that analyze wireless markets). This increased efficiency will not only enable mobile network operators to efficiently address these growing demands, it will open potential new business models for them to explore to increase service revenues.
From a Qualcomm perspective, we have been inventing and designing the building blocks for 5G NR for many years now – long before the 3GPP standardization efforts kicked off. Our leadership, inventions and innovations from the air interface to the system architecture have played a critical role in driving the 5G technology standardization to-date and in building broad consensus within the mobile industry. We recently announced the first successful 3GPP-based 5G NR connection. The live 5G NR demonstration, based on our Qualcomm Research 5G NR prototype system, showcases several advanced 5G NR technologies based on key design decisions that have been made as part of the ongoing 5G NR 3GPP standardization, and is a clear illustration of the tremendous progress towards delivering the first 5G NR specification.
Of course, achieving 5G NR deployments in 2019 will require more than just R&D test beds and a 3GPP specification. It will require over-the-air trials and interoperability testing, compliant with the 3GPP 5G NR specification, to test and simulate 5G NR technologies in real-world scenarios across a broad set of use cases and deployment scenarios. Qualcomm is leading the way on these trials in collaboration with global network operators and infrastructure vendors (see announced trials in Figure 3). In addition, an accelerated timeline for 5G NR deployments would be incomplete without supporting devices. This is why we recently announced the expansion of our Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem family to include new multi-mode 2G/3G/4G/5G modems that will support the global 5G NR standard – both sub-6 GHz and multi-band mmWave – and Gigabit LTE on a single chip.
Amongst all the 5G hype, let’s not lose sight of the tremendous work toward accelerating the global 5G standard – 5G New Radio (NR) – to enable wide-scale deployments starting in 2019. These deployments will not only bring new levels of capability and efficiency for delivering fiber-like performance to our mobile devices, but will also establish the foundation for addressing the larger vision for 5G in 2020 and beyond. To learn more about these 5G NR technologies and the many ways in which Qualcomm is leading the way to Gigabit LTE, 5G NR and the next era of mobile broadband services, download our latest presentation and watch our recent webinar “From Hype to Reality: Accelerating 5G NR for Enhanced Mobile Broadband & Beyond” on-demand.