Everyone wants 5G to be the panacea for every potential business use case imaginable, though with limited availability of 5G mobile networks, the limitations of currently deployed millimeter wave (mmWave) networks, and the pre-publication state of oft-hyped technologies like ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC), the idea of 5G being the “network of networks” is unrealistic, at least for now.
Attempting to use mmWave networks as a stand-in for existing LTE networks is a recipe for disappointment. “Millimeter wave is a very specialized form of 5G. It certainly cannot replicate 4G use cases,” said Dimitris Mavrakis, 5G research director at ABI Research. Commercialized deployments of 5G networks in the US rely on mmWave frequencies as “this is the only spectrum available to them,” according to Mavrakis.
SEE: Mini-glossary: 5G terms you should know (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
One of the issues facing mmWave-powered 5G networks is rain fade, as even moderate rainfall absorbs the radio signal between the base station and receiver–the effect is comparable to the effects of rain on satellite television services. Likewise, mmWave is inherently line-of-sight, an issue that the industry has known for decades. “It’s a technology that has been there for 40 years, for point to point links,” Mavrakis said. “[This is] the first case where millimeter wave is included smartphones from the factory, which is a great step forward. I think that the industry accepted the fact that you need line of sight… I think these problems will be overcome by densification, there will be very dense deployments in a few years’ time.”
AT&T is anticipated to use Dynamic Spectrum Sharing to complement 5G mmWave deployments, without cannibalizing their spectrum currently allocated to LTE. “For example, you could share 700 MHz and 1.8 GHz on 3G and 2.1 GHz on 4G, for example. With this new technology, it is possible to have half of the 2.1 GHz band on 4G and the other half on 5G, and they can coexist.” Unfortunately, presently available 5G smartphones are not able to utilize sub-6 GHz and mmWave 5G networks concurrently, which is why the Verizon Galaxy Note 10 is tied to mmWave, though upcoming 5G-capable versions of that phone destined for AT&T will use a newer chipset that supports both frequencies.
Why low-latency communications are not important for industrial settings
Similarly, despite the hype surrounding low-latency communication in 5G, URLLC is not yet standardized—publication of the standard is expected for 3GPP Release 16 in June 2020, after which vendors will begin manufacturing products that leverage those standards. Commercialization of those products is expected to take a year, according to Mavrakis.
URLLC is neither interesting nor important to businesses, Mavrakis said, as industrial use cases are likely to focus more on reliable latency.
“Say you’re manufacturing a machine, working with another machine, it means that you can coordinate those two machines so that the network is not a point of failure. This capability is currently enabled by ethernet cables. The next version of 5G offers this capability wirelessly, called TSN–time-sensitive networking,” Mavrakis said, noting that delivering this capability over 5G allows devices to move across factory floors while connected to 5G.
“Manufacturers don’t care about low latency. They care about reliable networking, to be able to design their equipment within a latency blueprint. The network can tell them you’ll receive your communication within 10, 50, 100 milliseconds. The latency itself is not important, the window is important. The telecom industry has been obsessed with low latency, and this one millisecond target, which is completely unrealistic. The manufacturing industry is not interested in low latency, they’re interested in reliable latency. It’s an immediate need,” Mavrakis said.
Why telecoms must cater to business use of 5G
ABI Research’s Five Myths of 5G report notes that 5G will only become profitable for MSPs after 15 years, if only the consumer market is targeted for 5G deployment. Given the 10-year lifespan of typical mobile network standards, this could put 5G underwater from a business perspective. “If we expect today’s business models, which are mostly consumer-driven, the payback period will be a lot longer than 10 years because there’s nothing new in 5G for consumers. It’s just faster speeds, perhaps,” Mavrakis said. “Carriers must consider enterprise business models carefully. What 4G did for consumers—introduced all of these social media applications, remote working capabilities… 5G can do the same [for enterprises].”
“This is a difficult transition that the carriers have to do,” according to Mavrakis. “At the end of the day, they’re accustomed to selling minutes, instant messages, and megabytes to consumers.”
For more on 5G, check out “You can deploy Wi-Fi 6 now, but benefits of 5G could be years away for your organization” and “AT&T fastest mobile network in the US, but US only ranks 38th worldwide” on TechRepublic.