This year is likely to see some limited, real-world, use cases for 5G. The 3GPP Release 16, or 5G Phase 2, as it also referred to, has hit some snags and has been delayed into 2020 (which was originally proposed as the 5G launch year, anyway). So, what we will likely see in 2019 are use cases based on the earliest of 5G standards and specs, I will talk more about that a bit further on.
I believe the industry is in a bit of quandary. As we are all aware, the 3GPP was under tremendous pressure, by the industry, to deliver a standard in 2018. It was rough around the edges, and IMHO, incomplete. That is what happens when the mouth is put in gear before the brain is engaged. I am referring to all the ludicrous hype about the “5G race” and all the marketing-driven deadlines the industry came up with. Fortunately, much of that has died down of late. We will have to see how that forms up for 2019.
I think the 3GPP organization did well in the face of all of this pressure. But the fact is that the next release has been delayed (and it would not surprise me if it was delayed more than just this once) because of the massive amount of work still left undone in Release 15.
We are at somewhat of a crossroads, now. Not getting some measurable success with 5G deployment in 2019 will open up a huge can of worms that will affect credibility, our technological capability, and worst of all, a bunch of bottom lines. And, what use cases we do have out there had better show measurable success.
Whether we have success in 2019 depends on several factors. The first being not to overhype the deployment, marketing-wise. Second, make sure that the networks work reliably, and do not push to hit the top specs and limits out of the gate. Third, find value for the real user. The geeks and early adopters will go for it regardless.
Fortunately, the initial 5G specs set the bar relatively low with lots of room for improvement. The next 12 months can be a great proving ground for what can be done and to gather a cornucopia of data on how to reach the edge of the envelope in 2020 and beyond.
That being said, what are some the use cases that can be implemented in 2019 that will give us atta-boys? First, and foremost, is fixed wireless in the P2P and P2MP segment. I have said this before. With the potential of gigabits of bandwidth, some below but most at mmWave frequencies, content delivery and wireless services can be provided in so many places that wired is not practical or is too expensive. The demand is there, the cost model has yet to be developed, however.
Next are edge computing networks. While this segment is still nascent, the opportunity to start deploying 5G technology-based edge networks is ready for prime time. This is an area where there is potential RoI, especially in the enterprise where local networks are desirable for both control and security. The models are vague, still, and there are a lot of challenges in edge computing. However, I think that 2019 could be an epic time for these to gain traction, even if real deployments do not start until 2020 or 2021.
A couple of other areas are smart “X” and autonomous vehicles. Smart X cities, homes and campuses are a huge opportunity to employ early 5G technologies. Both fixed and slow-moving mobile opportunities exist here.
Autonomous vehicles can benefit from in-vehicle communications and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) 5G. The Internet-of-Everything/Everyone (IoX) is also ripe for 5G.
Some of these use cases have thresholds close to implementation – others are a bit further out. But there was a great deal of development in 2018 on the 5G frontier. Refine that in 2019 and by the end of this year, there should be some pockets of genuine 5G working.
Just for the record, 5G enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) is not going to have real legs in 2019 (in spite of what the carriers are saying). That is not a use case that will be ready for prime time until 2020, at least, maybe even later. The next two or three years will see lots of sparks (i.e. 5G hotspots popping up all over with small footprints) but no big fires (large areas of 5G enhanced mobile technology).
If the industry can implement what are logical and practical opportunities in 5G, we can walk away and say we have 5G in 2019. If we put all our eggs in the eMBB basket for 2019 we will be disappointed.