DoCoMo CTO tries to debunk myths about 5G

With all the talk about 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT), things can get pretty confusing. Seeking to dispel some of the most pervasive myths about 5G, NTT DoCoMo CTO Seizo Onoe presented a keynote at the IEEE International Conference on Communications in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday.


The keynote was along the same lines as the one he gave last month at the Brooklyn 5G Summit in New York, where he reminded the audience that not everyone agreed with some early marketing around 4G. The ITU ended up issuing a statement saying that the 4G moniker may be applied to the forerunners of the technology, LTE and WiMAX, giving carriers that were already using the term a break, so to speak.

In the early 2000s, there was a concrete 4G technology but "no one called it 4G," Onoe said, according to IEEE Spectrum. "Today, there are no contents of 5G but everyone talks about 5G, 5G, 5G."

The myths about 5G include: 5G is all about millimeter wave technology; 5G is a hot spot system; 5G needs new 5G spectrum; 5G is IMT-2020 defined by ITU; 5G replaces 4G; for 5G, all things need something new; and finally, 5G requires significant investment.

As for the idea that 5G will be a "hot spot" system, Onoe says this belief is an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy. By labeling 5G as a small cell or "hot spot" system at this stage, the industry is closing itself to other innovations. That's a problem, he says, because building a "hot spot" system may not be convenient in rural areas. Without a commercially viable strategy, the small cell structure of 5G could end up widening the digital divide, the IEEE publication reports. 

Onoe says it would be better to keep an open mind to other technologies that could someday bring 5G to rural customers -- or leave room for great business models that could perhaps justify building far-reaching networks comprised of small cells.

As for the costs to implement 5G, Onoe says 5G will not require a lot of investment. To demonstrate his point, he showed a chart of DoCoMo's cap ex over the past 20 years and asked the audience to guess when the company rolled out 3G and 4G LTE service. The answers are not obvious looking at the chart.

Turns out, DoCoMo launched 3G on Oct. 1, 2001, and LTE on Dec. 24, 2010, and while there was some increase in investment before 3G, there isn't an increase in investment before the LTE launch, indicating new technology launches don't necessarily require significant investment.

He also said that 5G will not replace 4G – there's a lot of industry consensus that says LTE-Advanced still has a lot of life in it, and 5G does not necessarily require more spectrum. As an example, he said many people assumed LTE would require new spectrum, but DoCoMo launched LTE in 2010 using existing spectrum.

For more:
- see this IEEE Spectrum article

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