2018 Preview: With an official 5G standard, rollouts will soon commence

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our 2018 Preview feature, which looks at the big topics facing the industry next year. Click here for the 2018 preview in wireless, click here for the 2018 preview in cable and video, and click here for the 2018 preview in the wireline industry.

The past year has been one in which many 5G trials were trumpeted: Verizon with fixed wireless 5G trials in 11 markets, while rival AT&T kicked off fixed wireless 5G trials in select cities (Kalamazoo, Michigan; South Bend, Indiana; and Waco, Texas, following its testbed in Austin).

T-Mobile won a boatload of airwaves in the 600 MHz incentive auction and quickly turned that into a way of providing nationwide 5G by 2020. Sprint touted its trove of 2.5 GHz spectrum and technologies like massive MIMO as a bridge to 5G.

But 2018 is shaping up to be the year of commercial rollouts of 5G fixed wireless access. Verizon plans to have three to five markets with fixed wireless access services commercially available by the second half of 2018, with the first announced market being Sacramento. AT&T also has said it could have fixed wireless 5G service deployed as early as late 2018. As for 5G mobility, both operators plan trials in 2018, but as Verizon CFO Matthew Ellis put it, in terms of timing, mobile 5G is “not a 2018 activity.”

Outside of the U.S., operators are gearing up for 5G as well, and the Olympics in particular will provide a global stage for Korean operators to strut their stuff. Plans call for 360-degree VR views of the action, a 5G autonomous bus and drones for enhanced entertainment.

With the nonstandalone (NSA) version of 5G being ratified by 3GPP in December 2017, a lot more needs to happen in the first half of 2018 before the standalone (SA) version gets completed by mid-2018. The 3GPP agreed in March 2017 to accelerate the NSA version, but it also left quite a few things to be accomplished before next summer. Study items that were put on hold include nonorthogonal multiple access, unlicensed spectrum for NR, nonterrestrial network (channel modeling), eV2X evaluation methodology, and integrated access and backhaul.

The SA version is due for completion in June 2018, defining the full user and control plane capability for 5G NR, utilizing the new 5G core network architecture (5G NGC) also being done in 3GPP. Both the NSA and SA versions share physical radio air interface aspects.

As for when 5G gets delivered via smartphones, that likely will have to wait another year or so. Qualcomm Technologies has announced that it will be delivering a 5G NR millimeter-wave prototype system based on the 5G NR Release 15 specifications, with the expectation that commercialized 5G smartphones will arrive in the first half of 2019.