The CommunicAsia 2017 summit kicked off on Tuesday with a bold statement for operators on 5G readiness: don’t wait for standards – start now if you want to cash in on a projected half-a-trillion-dollar revenue opportunity.
That was the message from Dr Magnus Ewerbring, CTO of Ericsson Asia-Pacific, who said in his opening keynote that Ericsson is predicting 550 million subscribers globally by 2022 (out of a total of 8.9 billion mobile subscribers, most of which will still be on LTE). Ericsson also sees a tangible revenue opportunity in 5G – led by energy and utility, manufacturing, public safety, and healthcare – which could potentially generate $1.2 trillion in new revenues worldwide by 2026, of which operators could expect to get $582 billion, or an additional 34% in additional top line revenue in areas where operators aren’t playing now.
Ewerbring said that 5G means different things to different people, but the common denominator is end-to-end low latency less than 1ms. The obvious use cases are connected vehicles – not just self-driving passenger cars (which Ericsson has been testing with BMW and SK Telecom in Korea), but autonomous transport fleets.
For example, one trial with Scania involves the “platooning” of self-driving trucks, which involves a convoy of trucks just a meter apart, which reduces wind drag and thus boosts fuel efficiency. The problem is that when trucks are that close, the human brain cannot react in time if the lead truck must brake unexpectedly, Ewerbring explained. Autonomous trucks can be coordinated to react instantaneously, but that requires both vehicle to vehicle networks and wide area 5G networks with ultra-low latency. A similar trial with self-driving trucks is going to be launched with the Port Authority of Singapore later this year.
All of this basically goes to illustrate that there are many pieces to the 5G puzzle, and that operators need to start moving down the road to 5G now if they want to be enjoying those projected numbers, Ewerbring said.
“Anyone who has not moved yet [by 2022] will be far behind by then,” he said. “You have to have your business ready and start early to be ready for 2020.”
That said, he added that regulation is an important part of the puzzle, particularly with spectrum. He sees telcos needing up to 800 MHz of spectrum across low, medium and high bands to roll out 5G networks, while today’s operators are happy to get 20 MHz. Another aspect of regulation is the services themselves – would a country allow 5G remote controlled buses to roam their streets, for example?
Don’t even wait for standards: Singtel
Tay Yeow Lian, MD for Networks at Singtel, agreed that regulation in general and spectrum in particular were crucial ingredients for 5G.
“For the 5G future, companies will have to secure spectrum today,” he said in his companion keynote with Ericsson’s Ewerbring. “There needs to be harmonization on spectrum, and chipsets and the industry needs to work closely with regulators to ensure that the networks can go live come 2020.”
Tay also highlighted Singtel’s progress on its own path to 5G, saying the telco has identified eight pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that must fit together for 5G to happen: spectrum, cell densification, 5G radios, fiber deployment, VRAN/CRAN, orchestration, cloud edge and MECC (Middleware for Edge Clouds & Cloudlets), virtualization and cloudification.
For densification, all of Singtel’s hetnet cell sites are already 100% connected by fiber, and their layout is designed with a 5G rollout in mind so that there will not be a need to rip and replace when the time comes, he said.
Coming back to Ericsson’s message to get started now on 5G, Tay also commented that while standards are important for 5G in the longer term, it’s not necessary to wait for them to be finalized before getting started on your roadmap.
“5G is not about waiting for standards to come. It is all about getting your hands dirty and using the existing LTE network to stress test the network,” he said.