The 5G buzz grows: How will the industry define the next-generation of wireless

Sue Marek

BARCELONA, Spain--As I walk the floor of Mobile World Congress 2014, I've had numerous moments of déjà vu when listening to vendors and operators talk about their vision of 5G. You see, I've been covering the wireless industry as a journalist for a couple of decades (much longer than I'd like to admit). And during that time I've witnessed first-hand the evolution from analog to digital to 3G to 4G.

With nearly 160 million LTE connections worldwide, 4G is rapidly maturing--and that's prompting many in the industry to begin the 5G debate. What is 5G? What services will be enabled with 5G? How fast will 5G data speeds be? Right now there are more questions than answers as standards bodies begin the cumbersome process of defining this next-generation of wireless technology.

Although most industry players are looking at 2020 for the first 5G deployments, one operator is already making some noise about deploying 5G in 2018. SK Telecom's Alex Jinsung Choi, executive vice president and head of the South Korean carrier's ICT research and development division, said that Korea, which is hosting the winter Olympics in 2018 in Pyeongchang, Korea, will want to show off 5G technology at the event. "That kind of motivation leads us to look at some other innovative technologies," he said.

But beyond SK Telecom, most industry leaders are predicting 2020 for the first 5G deployments and most are staying away from making any definitive 5G statements. Instead, I'm hearing 5G referred to in very broad terms that includes higher bandwidth and many different types of network connections, building on the Internet of Things momentum.

Still, I've managed to glean a few specifics. Kris Rinne, senior vice president of network technologies in AT&T Labs, hinted that 5G could use the existing LTE air interface technology but add more capabilities and lower latency.

SK Telecom's Choi noted that the company's combination of suitable coverage, devices and applications like streaming video are what he believes have made LTE Advanced a hit in his home country. I'm assuming those same elements will be critical for 5G.

While not specifically talking about 5G, Tony Melone, CTO of Verizon, also touted the possibilities of delivering video. Melone said during the Ericsson Media event here that Verizon has invested a lot in digital media and believes people will want to watch video in many different formats, including mobile.

But just as the early days of 4G were filled with visions of always-on wireless connectivity, streaming video and cheaper data, the preliminary discussions of 5G will likely serve as the foundation for what is to come. --Sue