Building 5G networks without the band aid

Now that I've had a few days to let last week's conference on 5G organised by the NGMN Alliance sink in a little more, I've been struck anew by the degree to which the mobile industry is planning for a future that is currently largely imagined.

The good news is that the industry is doing something it has not always been so good at in the past: it is putting the use case before the technology and then trying to design the requirements around the expected use cases. At the same time, the requirements are complex, confusing and in some cases--such as the ambition to achieve ultra low latency to enable the "tactile" internet--present a massive challenge to the industry.

As Nokia Networks CTO Hossein Moiin told me in Frankfurt last week, the use cases for 2G, 3G and 4G were very clear. With 2G, the use case was to "accomplish a good voice experience". With 3G, the ambition was to mobilise data, and with 4G came the idea of mobilising broadband.

"You had a very clear vision as to what the end would look like," said Moiin. "It was very easy to imagine the kind of network that was needed."

With 5G, however, the use cases are extremely diverse but the industry is trying to use the same fabric--that is, the converged network--to achieve them, Moiin commented

"That makes it more confusing," he said, noting that he is now having to cater not only for familiar and new types of applications, but also for applications he knows nothing about because they have not yet been created.

This, he said, nonetheless indicates that an important lesson has been learnt from LTE and 4G: when you have a very capable network, it will be used in ways for which it was not designed, forcing you to apply a band aid to fix any problems that arise (band aid: plasters for those of you of a British English persuasion; and no, nothing to do with Bob Geldof either).

"The idea with 5G is to build a network that serves applications we don't even know exist," Moiin said. "We try to build a 5G network with no band aid."--Anne

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