T-Mobile's Ray: 5G will involve new uses of spectrum, but we're not 'desperate for 5G to happen tomorrow'

BARCELONA, Spain--T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) CTO Neville Ray said that 5G networks will mainly involve new uses of spectrum to address continued expected growth in mobile data usage and different use cases, including from the Internet of Things. At the same time, Ray cautioned that there is no need to rush to 5G networks today, as LTE and LTE Advanced networks still have a great deal of capabilities that carriers can tap.

CTO Neville Ray tmobile

Ray

In an interview with FierceWirelessTech here at the Mobile World Congress conference, Ray said that even though there are no agreed-upon standards for 5G networks or even full definitions, the debate the industry has been having here this week is a healthy one. "This is what we have to do to consolidate so many different thoughts and ideas around the next phase of technology development," he said.  

Ray noted that for a while now wireless operators have been promising to deliver a mobile broadband experience that is as good as, if not better than, fixed broadband, and that over the past couple of years carriers have started delivering on it with faster and more pervasive LTE networks. That has spurred consumer adoption of mobile broadband, especially of multimedia and video, he noted.

"And the thing that excites me in 5G is that's a big part of what 5G is about," he said. "It's about, how do we deal with incredible growth that's coming at the industry?" 5G networks are expected to be commercially deployed around 2020.

While higher speeds and latencies of only milliseconds are exciting to talk about, Ray said, and there will be applications in 5G networks that will take advantage of those advancements, the "more exciting piece to me is this movement into new areas of spectrum." That includes millimeter-wave spectrum or other portions of spectrum that can help carriers build high-performance networks to satisfy growing demand. "And so this ability to grow capacity and capability on these networks to very, very new levels over the right time frames is this piece that I see as most exciting in the 5G space," he said.

Additionally, the "divergence of needs that we're looking to support on these mobile networks" will be a major factor in how 5G networks are architected, Ray said, noting that automated cars will require "very committed services and very low latencies." At the same time, 5G networks will need to support "massive sensor or IoT networks" with a variety of connected objects, including some that need to ping the network constantly and some that check in only once per month.

"Current technologies are primarily focused on great consumer and business applications," Ray said. "That opportunity is going to morph and scale and change. I think a big part of the 5G debate is how we deal with new demand."

However, Ray, who also serves as the chairman of the board of 4G Americas, said: "I don't want the industry to believe that we're desperate for 5G to happen tomorrow. There's massive capability in the LTE networks."

Ray noted that the U.S., South Korea and Japan are "on the tip of the spear" in terms of driving advancements in LTE networks and that "we have a lot of runway in LTE, a lot of runway in LTE Advanced."

In terms of T-Mobile's own network, Ray said that T-Mobile already supports carrier aggregation between its 700 MHz A Block and 1700 MHz AWS-1 spectrum, including in devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, and will add support for carrier aggregation between 1900 MHz PCS and 1700 MHz spectrum later this year, along with carrier aggregation between all three bands.

Carrier aggregation, which is the best-known and most widely used technique of the LTE Advanced standard, bonds together disparate bands of spectrum to create wider channels and produce faster speeds.

Ray also said that "probably" in 2016 T-Mobile will add support for other LTE Advanced features, including enhanced inter-cell interference coordination (eICIC), which enables small cells and big macrocells to coexist in the same spectrum and talk to each other, and coordinated multipoint (CoMP) transmission, which enables multiple towers to communicate with a single device at the same time and improves performance at the cell edge. Ray said the network is further along in being able to support those features but that handsets need to catch up before they can be deployed.

Meanwhile, earlier this week 4G Americas and the 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (5GPPP) inked a memorandum of understanding to work together on 5G development. Chris Pearson, president of 4G Americas, said the goal of the partnership is to get the ball rolling now on 5G development. "If you can have more associations and organizations talking up front when you are starting to put your visions [in place], it will make things go smoother when you get to the standards process," he said. "And if there is fragmentation all over the world in the very beginning and it doesn't get sorted out at all, then by the time you get to standards it's going to take a very long time to get through the standards process and then even after that get to commercial products."

4G Americas is also working with the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance on 5G but decided to also work with 5GPPP because the group is "considered a leader in the 5G space in Europe," Pearson said, adding that 5GPP was looking for a leader in the Americas region. "They are very interested in really just continuing the communication about technical specifications and requirements so that we can, on the front end, do a lot of cooperation," he said.

This week 5GPPP also released its vision document detailing the key drivers of the progression to 5G, the design principles of the next-generation technology, 5G's disruptive capabilities, key technological components, spectrum considerations and a timeline toward commercialization of the technology.

For more:
- see this 4G Americas release

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