CES panel: Things could go wrong in 5G rollout, but it’s going to happen regardless

From left, moderator Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic; Chris Stark of Nokia; Erik Ekudden of Ericsson; and Qualcomm’s Matt Grob discuss how 5G will transform industries. (Image: Monica Alleven, FierceWireless)

LAS VEGAS—Sure, some things could go wrong on the way to 5G. Bugs can pop up. Delays may occur. But 5G is going to come, no matter what.

That was a topic that came up during a standing room-only panel Monday afternoon at CES 2018 that examined industries likely to be transformed by 5G. Those industries are many and varied, from agriculture and healthcare to factories and entertainment. And while companies like Ericsson, Nokia and Qualcomm are working with industries, there’s still more to do.

Asked about “what could go wrong with 5G,” Matt Grob, EVP, Technology at Qualcomm, said the system is complex, and there are new spectrum bands to consider. Things could take time and there may be bugs that have to be addressed along the way. But even so, “that’s not going to stop anything,” he said.

What’s likely not to go wrong: the insatiable need for more throughput, lower latency and more, he said, and his fellow panelists seemed to wholeheartedly agree.

Erik Ekudden, CTO and head of Technology & Architecture at Ericsson, said 5G is a lot of new things but it’s also worth noting that data traffic in mobile networks is still growing phenomenally around the world, and that means the networks of today will fill up and need more spectrum and more capacity. That’s a big part of what 5G will serve. “I don’t think that there’s any question that there’s demand for 5G” in that respect, he said.

But there is an even bigger task as an industry to come together and make sure 5G provides valuable and unique opportunities for industries. Sure, there are engagements and trials going on around the world, and “that’s where we’re still exploring new opportunities,” Ekudden said. There’s a longer road and more work to do in terms of educating and making the network open for business for enterprises and other industries.

In addition, as it looks like 5G will require a massive densification for the network, there’s a challenge in terms of siting the infrastructure to make sure 5G is available at the right time, said Chris Stark, chief business development officer at Nokia.

“I think there’s an interesting challenge in terms of trying to be sure that the infrastructure to be able to have the 5G network is available at the right time,” he said. Some of the same types of challenges were seen in the rollout of 4G, and it’s one that “we need to make sure we stay on top of.”

But overall, companies are going to continue to work on efficient millimeter wave components, and the technology will continue to improve. “Even if some complexity causes some delays, the main tenets, and the main pillars of demand, are very, very clear, this is going to happen,” Grob said.

RELATED: 3GPP declares first 5G NR spec complete

Last month, members of the 3GPP ratified the Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G New Radio (NR) specification for what will form the basis of commercial 5G products. The Standalone (SA) version is due for completion in June 2018, defining the full user and control plane capability for 5G NR using the new 5G core network architecture also being done in 3GPP. Both the NSA and SA versions share physical radio air interface aspects.

AT&T has said plans to be the first carrier to launch a standards-based mobile 5G service in a dozen cities in the United States before the end of this year, and Verizon will kick off its commercial 5G fixed access offering in Sacramento later this year, followed by other markets.