5G mobile technology was again among the hottest topics at this year’s Mobile World Congress with much of the attention devoted to what the improved coverage and capacity the technology offers will be used for. Significant attention at the event was devoted to virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) apps and services, most likely because these show a clear need for the speed and low latency that 5G networks will provide because of their need for uninterrupted, fast-starting, ultra-high-definition mobile video.

However, 5G is still being developed and even the most ambitious commentators at MWC acknowledged that it will be at least 2020 before we see the first large-scale commercial deployments of 5G networks. The period between now and then will be devoted to further development work which is chartered and managed by 3GPP, a consortium of seven telecoms standards development organisations that previously created the LTE (4G) and UMTS (3G) mobile standards. 3GPP itself has stated that 5G refers to the next two 3GPP specifications; Release 15 to be completed next year and Release 16 in 2020. The organisation has taken this approach to avoid the mis-marketing of LTE-Advanced and other 4G-plus technologies, sometimes called 4.5G, as 5G.

In spite of the length of time 5G will take to come to market, it’s clear the technology presents exciting opportunities for enterprises and consumers alike. The good news is that the three-year development lag means there is time for enterprises and mobile operators to prepare for the step change in mobile performance that 5G will bring.

Current 4G network performance tops out – in an optimal deployment – at around one gigabit per second, which equates to a one hour download time for a short HD movie. However, users seldom experience that optimum environment and therefore rarely experience 4G’s greatest speed. In contrast, 5G will offer download speeds of up to ten gigabits per second, shortening the download time for a complete HD movie to mere seconds. In addition, the technology will reduce latency and experience-affecting interruptions such as freezing or slow start-up time.

And it’s not only set to transform the experience for streaming high and ultra-high-definition video (4K and 8K). 5G makes far more efficient use of the spectrum that is available to operators, enabling them to support many more devices per cell and also enabling radically improved coverage in hard-to-reach areas such as urban canyons and indoors.

The coverage and increased device support per cell makes the technology well-suited to many Internet of Things (IoT) applications. By 2020 there are expected to be more than 20 billion IoT devices deployed and, while there will be non-cellular alternatives to wirelessly connect them, including low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), the cellular network will play an increasing role especially as 2G mobile networks, which support many early IoT or machine-to-machine deployments, are retired. 5G as a global standard will be ideally placed to provide connectivity to automobiles and in other forms of transportation; it could also provide a seamless global mobile experience across the entire planet without interoperability issues or costly fees.

Nevertheless, 5G is not without challenges. Primary among these is that it will require massive investment for it to be rolled out worldwide. Although it is envisaged as a software upgrade to 4.5G technologies, the effort this will require should not be underestimated as the technology blurs the previously clear distinctions between telecoms and IT skills. This challenge is added to by the emergence of network functions virtualisation (NFV), which eradicates the network’s traditional reliance on function-specific hardware and switches instead to a software-defined architecture. The flexibility and cost efficiency this enables makes the business case for 5G sustainable but in the short- to mid-term it creates significant organisational, cultural and roll-out challenges for mobile operators.

While challenging to deploy, 5G and NFV will both be worth the effort for operators because they have the power to enable a new range of rich, attractive and monetisable services that will transform the way users live and work. However, to make the dream reality, all those involved in the 5G ecosystem need to work together in harmony to ensure a strong global standard is created and interoperability promises of the technology are met.

PGi’s mobile-first collaboration initiative – the mobile collaboration exchange – has begun to unite providers across multiple networks through its global audio conferencing infrastructure which enables mobile operators to bridge with other carriers and form a platform for 5G interconnection to facilitate rich collaboration and communications services. The architecture of the mobile collaboration exchange is a combination of PGi’s Virtual IMS and Network-Network Interface (NNI) integrated seamlessly with the mobile operators’ IMS, maximising their existing investment in LTE. Customers of operators that connect to PGi’s mobile collaboration exchange will experience HD conference calls, even before carriers do a direct NNI with each other.

It’s clear that with the disruptive nature of 5G we will see considerable changes but it will also result in seamlessly interconnected individuals and create a better, smarter society as a result. This society will be composed of users, connected vehicles and cities with uninterrupted coverage across the globe. It will enable countries that were previously unconnected to join the grid, while simultaneously enabling more efficient energy usage and greater cost savings for enterprises, consumers and the operators themselves.


This article forms part of the Collaboration Center by PGi. Total Telecom has partnered with PGi to provide insights into the transformation of the Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) market. The article is written by Total Telecom for PGi and does not necessarily reflect the views of Total Telecom. For more articles from the Collaboration Center CLICK HERE