5G is a ways off, but gestation is shorter this time: Page 2 of 2


Better-managed hype


5G is a ways off, but gestation is shorter this time: Page 2 of 2


But the question I find myself asking is, is all this talk about 5G too early and is it just part of the marketing hype? In my trip to MWC in Barcelona back in 2006, the hype was also heightened. And yes, while I would agree that the hype is inevitable, I would also argue that the gestation for 5G is likely shorter than it was when vendors went to town from 2G to 3G.

Why do I say this?

Firstly, I would say that the industry as a whole has learnt from experience – or rather bad experiences of putting the horse too far in front before the cart is in place. No one wants to shout so much about 5G that it takes far too long for it to arrive, such that it blows up in the faces of those shouting about it in the first place. In this sense, the industry is learning.

Secondly, I would argue that consumers today are in the driver’s seat more than they were back in 2006. Consumers today are much savvier than in the past. They demand great customer experience from their service providers, they know what kind of products and services they want to use or not use, they are empowered and they are able to educate themselves through the Internet.

And they have a medium to voice their unhappiness via social media should they be unhappy with their current service provider’s services.

Thirdly, vendors and mobile operators have lost a lot of their power to dictate what, how and when to roll out products and services simply because competition in the mobile landscape today is much higher than when 3G first arrived.

Today, if an operator launches a service such as WiFi calling, a competing operator would have to follow suite. Ditto for unlimited video or music streaming packages or faster network speeds via 4G plus and soon-to-be pre-5G.

The confluence of all these factors effectively shortens the gestation period for vendors and operators to get to pre-5G and 5G.

There are challenges

Despite this, there are challenges in getting to 5G, something that vendors and operators were quite candid in admitting.

According to Ma Hongbing, deputy general manager for network construction department, China United Network Communications Group Company Limited (China Unicom), the nature of 5G meant that there are operational challenges, and as such China Unicom is cautious about its roll out plans.

Ma told DNA on the sidelines of the MWC that 5G’s current ROI (return on investment) is also not clear, so the company has to proceed cautiously.

Ma also said on top of this, China Unicom is also experiencing massive growth in data usage, up to 100% growth every year-over-year for 4G, so it still has to manage this growth before thinking about 5G.

“Then there are technical aspects too as 5G requires new spectrum and new core networks too, and China Unicom is now looking into how to evolve this.

“One of the biggest challenges will be software platform development and network function virtualisation (NFV), as the software platform has to integrate a lot of applications and different technologies, so there is a lot of R&D that must go into it.

5G is a ways off, but gestation is shorter this time: Page 2 of 2Asked if cost and ROI are challenges, Cui Li (pic, right), vice president for wireless product operation division, ZTE Corp conceded that the first stage of 5G investment is high initially but was quick to argue the point that many operators are starting small scale trials so cost isn’t an issue yet.

“They are focusing on technology and how they can address requirements and challenges, interoperability between 4G and 5G,” she argued. Initially, the cost may be high but when the network becomes larger, the cost of 5G will reduce due to scale.

Cui said she believes that 5G reduction of cost will be quicker than 4G or 3G, and argued that this is where pre-5G technology will aid the transition into 5G.

“The major advantage of pre-5G is there isn’t a need for new air interface, and thus will not need new devices,” she explained. “Pre-5G will resolve some of these issues operators will face.”

In conclusion

It’s anybody’s guess when 5G will arrive in Southeast Asia but some operators have been more proactive about shortening the gestation period. In Singapore for example, Singtel and Ericsson unveiled their 5G testbed last year and in Malaysia, a similar effort was announced recently by Celcom Axiata Bhd.

While waiting for 5G to arrive, operators would now be focusing on enhancing their 4G capabilities, with many building on what LTE (Long Term Evolution) Advanced has to offer, such as that by Singtel, and what Digi is doing.

For many of us consumers, it’s immaterial when pre-5G or 5G comes. What we want is to receive consistent and value-based service from the operators we subscribe to, which regardless of technology should be the true order of the day.

Edwin Yapp reports from the Mobile World Congress Asia in Shanghai at the invitation of ZTE Corp . All editorials are independent.


Previous MWC installments:

ZTE sets its sights on Asean to boost growth

What does 5G herald for the region?

The Asian mobile Internet economy is growing: GSMA


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