If 5G were only an improvement to mobile broadband and new handstand form factors were the only innovation, 5G likely would not live up to the hype. But this year’s technology is only the beginning. The real innovation lies in all of the new applications layered over 5G, especially those that incorporate 5G’s ultralow latency and mmWave. We saw glimpses of these innovations at MWC 2019, but mmWave, for the most part, is still in the early development phase and ultralow latency is still being defined (this white paper details the next 3GPP release).
New augmented and virtual reality applications likely are among the first major applications to roll out using 5G. The faster streaming rates and larger phone screens result in a more immersive consumer experience. Industrial applications for factory workers, for example, also provide new funding models to help pay for needed infrastructure upgrades. Fixed wireless access also has the potential to reshape the way consumers get Internet to their homes. Digging fiber to the home is very expensive and invasive. Fixed wireless is not a new technology, but Massive MIMO and mmWave can supply gigabit throughput to fixed wireless-access points and economically challenge existing fiber options. This is important because it means companies can begin deploying mmWave technology on a larger scale in a relatively simple use case, while more complex use cases involving mobility are still being addressed both by researchers and in the standard. A large deployment of mmWave for fixed wireless access will also start to drive down the cost of mmWave technology critical for broad adoption.
Figure 2. Typical Cellular Technology Cycle
More complex applications, such as vehicle-to-everything (V2X), were less present in MWC 2019 demos, but are a top priority for major companies and key researchers. To make V2X successful, companies need 5G’s low latencies, high reliability, and high bandwidths. While researchers are working to take 5G system components and build out the application on top, it is difficult because they need 5G-compliant hardware to perform conformance testing, and options are limited. Software defined radios (SDRs) have transformed 5G development because researchers can build real-time prototypes of complex new ideas such as Massive MIMO. And it continues to be a disruptive technology—researchers can create a full 5G NR UE or gNB using SDRs, so they can depend less on commercial hardware to develop advanced applications and accelerate their development.
The excitement around 5G is palpable. While still early in the rollout phase, its transformative potential is unrivaled. Wireless communications are clearly growing from merely telecom applications into every aspect of human life. If MWC 2019 is any indication of what the rest of the year holds, 2019 is going to be the year 5G goes from theory to reality.