Nokia’s CTO, Marcus Weldon, expects the true power of 5G to be unleashed in around 12-18 months’ time, as new technologies come out of R&D and into the field

With operators across the world rushing to deploy their fledgling 5G network offerings, consumers could be in for some underwhelming experiences as media hype overtakes network performance, according to a senior industry expert.

Speaking exclusively to Total Telecom on Tuesday, Nokia’s chief technology officer, Marcus Weldon said that the 5G market was in a state of flux and would remain so until the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.

"I’m often asked when I expect to see the big deployment of 5G occur and become really impactful. I’m thinking late 2020 early 2021, because many of the features won’t have been turned on yet, or the networks won’t yet have been deployed in the right way, or the cloud wont yet have been deployed in the right way. All of that is going to take another 12-18 months to work through and then we’ll start to see that real impact by the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021," he said.

"So, in the meantime, you are going to have this kind of situation where consumers will think they are going to have this amazing 5G experience, but they won’t. The danger is that, in the short term, its going to have been a little bit over hyped. At the moment, we are at the peak of the hype curve. Now a little bit of reality is going to set in and then we will come out the other side of that cycle by the beginning of 2021.   

Weldon stressed that many of the technologies that will ultimately deliver a next generation network experience, allowing ubiquitous gigabit connectivity, are still in their infancy.  

"5G is obviously getting a lot of attention in the media. Nearly all operators in the leading markets are in the process of deploying 5G – but its fair to say that its an early version of 5G.

"Not only is it focussed on the release 15 specifications, which is largely to do with enhanced massive broadband, but its even an incomplete version of that early release 15 iteration. Some of the features are still being tested. Beam forming being one example that is particularly new in 5G around Massive MIMO. You’ll hear lots of vendors talking about new beam forming techniques. One interesting facet of that is that not only do we need to figure out how to make it work on the network side, but we also require the devices to support a channel feedback model, of which there are many. So, until there are a set of devices out there that are capable of providing the right feedback, the network side can’t optimise itself. So that’s one aspect that is ongoing. Beam forming is not being deployed yet because we don’t yet have enough handsets in place to provide the correct feedback," he said.

Weldon said that key research and development was still ongoing in the areas of backhaul, radio access and high band spectrum, and that ultimately it would be these factors that helped to take 5G to the next level.

"We are still evolving backhaul technologies. That’s all in-flux. Classic RAN versus virtual RAN is starting to be talked about quite a lot. That’s starting to be deployed – so that’s another part of the industry that is still in flux.

"You’ve also got New Radios in mmWave with different propagation conditions that are being explored and evaluated. How reliable can those radios be under a variety of conditions and configurations?

"Of course, on top of all of that, the networks are trying to automate more, so it’s a less manual process," he explained.

As the industry looks ahead to release 16 and even release 17 of the 3GPP’s 5G standards, Weldon believes there is much work still to be done in completing the remit of release 15.   

"All of this is still in flux, yet the media would have you believe that its all a done deal and its now just a race to deploy. I don’t think that is true at all. I think that’s it getting done – it’s hard to say whether we’ve even done 50 per cent of release 15, or even less – but it is getting done.

I would say 5G is still experimental in some ways. We are still finding the best ways of deploying all the various technologies."