ETSI CTO cautious on operators' ambitious 5G launch dates

BARCELONA, Spain -- Market conditions and commercial factors will be the key deciding factors in the launch of commercial 5G networks and services rather than regional concerns, the CTO of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) said.

Adrian Scrase told FierceWireless:Europe that European companies and research institutes are holding their own in terms of their contribution to developing unified, global, 5G technology standards.

However, despite global efforts to define 5G standards, and several vendor demonstrations of 5G-like capabilities on commercial infrastructure being conducted during the Mobile World Congress here, Scrase was cautious on the ambitious launch dates being touted by operators including Verizon Wireless in the U.S and NTT DoCoMo in Japan.

Verizon has said it could offer initial 5G services as early as 2017, while DoCoMo aims to have the technology up and running in time for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.

Scrase noted that the operators' targets are ambitious, and depend heavily on "what you mean by '5G'."

He explained that if the definition of 5G is based solely on the performance of the network -- in terms of high peak data rates and low latency -- then the operators could achieve those using the nascent LTE-Advanced Pro technology.

"Don't forget that the standards for LTE were first drafted in 2008, and that it was intended to be a 3G technology," Scrase explained, noting that LTE-A was originally intended to be the 'true' 4G technology.

"Early deployments may be branded 5G even it [is technically 4G]," Scrase reasoned, noting that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is not due to finalise 5G standards until the end of 2019.

Despite his note of caution, Scrase pointed out that developing and launching 5G services "is not a race -- there are no prizes for being the first" to market.

Security is one major area of difference in terms of the approach the telecoms industry is taking towards defining 5G. Scrase said 5G will be "secure by default" because the "secure element is being considered from the beginning." Such consideration is necessary because 5G networks will also be configured for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine communication, he noted, explaining that remote nodes "at the distant end of the network" will need to be secure even if they spend the bulk of their time lying dormant to preserve battery life.

Scrase concluded by noting that MWC remains an important event for ETSI. "It gives us a chance to meet with our members, to understand their needs and priorities, and helps ETSI to define its priorities and [research] direction for the next 12 months," he explained.

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