5G predicted to include new air interface, expected to generate new revenues

BARCELONA, Spain--Top executives from wireless carriers and network vendors generally believe that, when the technology becomes standardized in the coming years, 5G will feature a new air interface. Further, they said, 5G also will create major new revenue streams for wireless carriers.

Speaking here at the FierceWireless "Path to 5G" event, held in conjunction with the Mobile World Congress trade show, executives for Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), SK Telecom, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Intel acknowledged that 5G remains a vague concept. But as major wireless carriers in the United States and elsewhere finish their macro 4G LTE network buildouts, eyes are now turning toward what's next for wireless networks that are already becoming taxed by high-use smartphones and broad applications of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Here at the MWC show, vendors ranging from Qualcomm to Intel to Nokia (NYSE:NOK) to Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) are showing off new technologies or concepts they believe could be part of an eventual 5G standard.

But a major question among top wireless executives is whether the 5G standard will include a new air interface like previous network upgrades, such as LTE, WCDMA and GSM and CDMA.

"I suspect that it will require a new air interface," said Alex Jinsung Choi, executive vice president and head of SK Telecom's corporate R&D center in South Korea. Choi's comments are notable considering SK Telecom plans to demonstrate 5G technology in 2018, in time for the winter Olympics in Korea. Choi added that he believes 3D beamforming and massive MIMO technology will also be included in the 5G standard--not surprisingly, SK Telecom is testing both technologies here at MWC.

"I think 5G will be a new air interface," agreed Eduardo Esteves, vice president of product management for Qualcomm. Esteves also noted that 5G also may aggregate higher spectrum bands together.

But Tom Keathley, senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design with AT&T, said that it's too early to tell whether a new air interface will be required for 5G. "I don't think we know at this stage whether a new air interface will be required," he said. "I think it will be a bit of time before we can answer that with certainty."

One area that most executives agreed was whether 5G will create new revenue opportunities for wireless operators.

"If we're creating an entirely new technology, we should be creating new lines of revenue in the process," said Adam Koeppe, vice president of network technology and planning for Verizon.

"Lots of new business models will likely emerge," added AT&T's Keathley.

"We have to find other business opportunities," explained SK Telecom's Choi. "For sure we will see a huge new business opportunity in that space."

One final point that all the speakers agreed on was that 5G will not simply stand as an increase in speed like previous network evolutions have. "I think it's important that we don't focus everything on speed and latency," Keathley said. Panelists generally said that 5G will support new use cases and will involve more markets, including the Internet of Things sector.

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