5G race accelerates as operators jockey to be first with trials and commercial services

Sue Marek

A year ago when I hosted a panel discussion on the topic of 5G at the Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona, Spain, my panelists predicted it would likely be at least 2020 before commercial 5G service would be launched. And even in that timeframe, its availability would be limited, at best.

Fast forward to today as I prepare for my latest FierceWireless executive luncheon discussion on 5G at Mobile World Congress 2016, and suddenly that 2020 time frame could actually be accelerated to 2018.

Last week Stockholm-based TeliaSonera and Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) announced that they aim to offer some version of 5G services to TeliaSonera customers in Stockholm and Estonia's Tallinn as early as 2018.

And TeliaSonera may not be the only operator with ambitions to launch 5G by 2018. Korean mobile operator KT has said it plans to launch a live 5G service for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games being hosted in Pyeongchang, while Japan's NTT DoCoMo is gearing up to showcase 5G at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Couple those promises with Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) announcement last September that it was going to begin field trials of 5G this year at its Innovation Center in Waltham, Mass., and suddenly 2020 seems like it's too far away if you want to be a 5G leader. Verizon has not provided a timeframe for its plans to commercially launch the service, but it has strongly hinted that it wants to be the first U.S. carrier to offer 5G, similar to how it was the first with 4G.

However, all these accelerated timelines and promises of 5G deployments by 2018 seem meaningless without a valid 5G standard or even a clear definition of what 5G actually entails. Of course, the absence of a 5G standard will not likely deter mobile operators and their marketing departments from calling certain services "5G" even if those services don't meet all of the criteria that some believe is necessary for 5G.   

Nevertheless, the 5G frenzy is real and it signals the importance that vendors and operators are placing on being considered an early leader and visionary in 5G technology. Although we may still be two to four years (depending on which timeline you believe) from actual commercial service, there's a lot at stake for wireless companies because 5G represents such a dramatic change, not only in technology but also in business models.

I'll be asking the tough questions about these technology deployments and timelines at my upcoming panel discussion at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at the Fira Congress Hotel (located just a short walk from the Fira Gran Via). The event, "The Path to 5G: What Operators Need to do to Prepare for the Network of the Future" begins at 12:30 p.m. and ends at 2 p.m. My panelists include:

  • Tom Keathley, SVP, wireless network architecture and design at AT&T;
  • Ignacio Berberana, senior technology expert in 5G with Telefónica Group;
  • Adam Koeppe, VP of network technology and planning at Verizon;
  • Chris Pearson, president, 4G Americas; and
  • John Smee, senior director of engineering at Qualcomm Research

If you want to know what 5G means to you and your company, you'll want to be a part of my panel discussion. I'll allow plenty of time for you to ask the panelists all your 5G-related questions. To register, click here. See you in Barcelona. --Sue

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