Deutsche Telekom, SK Telecom CTOs detail different approaches to 5G at MWC

BARCELONA, Spain -- In the race to 5G, which is the primary topic of conversation among most players here at the Mobile World Congress trade show, some operators are focusing heavily on the technology side of the equation. And some are definitely not.

In back-to-back keynote presentations, the CTOs of Deutsche Telekom in Europe and SK Telecom in South Korea each detailed notably different strategies in their 5G plans and tactics.

In his lead-off presentation, SK Telecom's CTO Alex Jinsung Choi ventured deep into the operator's network specifications and metrics for 5G, noting that the technology will support up to 20 Gbps connections and latency of 1 millisecond. Specifically, he pointed to 360-degree virtual reality live streaming and remote-controlled robots as likely use cases of the technology. "The 5G robot is another killer use case," he said.

Choi ran through a litany of networking technologies that SK Telecom plans to employ in the years ahead to enable 5G, including massive MIMO, cloud, software-defined RAN, an "all-IT architecture," mobile edge computing, network slicing, open hardware and software approaches, and a new 5G air interface.

In contrast, Deutsche Telekom CTO Bruno Jacobfeuerborn offered almost no technology buzzwords or networking jargon in his presentation on the topic. Instead, he stressed that the operator's goal is to "manage consumers' digital lives."

Specifically, Jacobfeuerborn pointed out that consumers will grow the number of their digital connected devices from a handful today to up to 20 in the future. He said that 5G technology has to be able to connect all those devices -- and do it in a way that is on-demand and secure.

Jacobfeuerborn said operators need to grow into the "trusted companion for your digital life," and then he showed MWC attendees a Deutsche Telekom video from on 5G that largely avoided mentions of specific technologies and instead focused heavily on security and trust.

Interestingly, Jacobfeuerborn added that the wireless industry has too often focused first on technology and then on customers' use cases -- he pointed specifically to LTE and RCS as examples of this approach. With 5G, he said, operators ought to first focus on what consumers want and then quickly react to those needs.

Of course, that's not to say that Deutsche Telekom or SK Telecom are ignoring the 5G trend, which has taken this year's MWC by storm with vendor demonstrations of prototype 5G systems and operators promising to launch the technology in the coming years.

The companies later detailed plans to collaborate on the development of 5G and Internet of Things technologies, in a move the operators said would open the door to new growth opportunities in European and Asia Pacific markets.

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