5G Deployment: The Long Road Ahead

Although some are speculating that mass availability will launch as early as 2020—actual in the wild network trials will not begin until at least 2022

2020-2021: Handsets & Network Builds

By 2020, handsets and network builds will be architected and engineered for future release. This task will seem insurmountable at first, particularly if the low power millimeter wavelength technologies are included. Adding additional complexities will avoid interference with the yet deployed 4G LTE-A services that will most likely be in mass deployment by this time.

2022-2023: Network Trials

Although some are speculating that mass availability will launch as early as 2020—actual in the wild network trials will not begin until at least 2022. This step will require trials run across multiple manufacturers and markets—each process stretching for an indeterminate length of time. We could see trials lasting through 2024. Evaluations of successes and failures may send us back to the lab or simply force decisions about which portions of the 5G network are ready for mass deployment.  Interestingly, this process may end up creating carrier specific versions of 5G networks, similar to what we have seen with WiMAX and LTE.

2024 and Beyond: Mass Availability

We should see the first glimmer of mass availability rounding the corner in 2024. At this point, the new networks will be deployed, 3G services will have finally been shelved and the carriers’ race to roll out 5G will be underway, including the next round of great commercials!

It’s important to note that the development process will be costly—remember that carriers are still spending millions daily on building out the 4G network and trying to get to LTE Advanced. Hopefully, by the time we reach mass availability, M2M and IoT developments will have created a painful need for 5G speeds and latency promises. From past experience, we can assume the B2C sector will be an early adopter of the technology, paving the road for network growth and enterprise deployment. Although at this point, BYOD will most likely be standard in the enterprise, and the B2C sector will be the enterprise user pool.

However, enterprise deployment may face its own set of challenges. As organizations continue to move towards towering levels of data consumption, it’s possible that 5G may already be behind the market bandwidth requirements for enterprise use by the time we reach deployment. The current enterprise market is already starved for bandwidth. In the interim, WiFi 802.11ac Wave 2 should be addressing the wireless interface bottleneck providing actual multi-Gig throughput. This solution will drive the wired network expansion towards 5G standards and additional WiFi improvements may actually make the 5G air interface irrelevant, as it will not be enough to satiate the enterprise market in the 2020 decade.

As connected devices become more pervasive and 5G allowing consumers to connect to hundreds of devices simultaneously, the issue of BYOD will become orders of magnitude more complex for organizations to deal with. How will this affect the development of mobile device management (MDM) and enterprise mobility management (EMM) software? What does this mean for cyber security and identity and access management (IAM)? If our fitness trackers are connected to our key cards, which are linked to our smartphones, the issue of protecting corporate data becomes exponentially more complex.

One additional bump in the road to 5G deployment will be the elusive carrier “garden walls". Some network leaders have expressed interest in developing carrier closed networks, giving wireless carriers total control over personal meta-data and the OTT services. Providing all content, applications and unified communications only across this network may become a major point of contention, as many enterprise, consumer and OTT providers will likely take issue with this model. Will the carriers bearing the cost of deploying this new network allow themselves to just become an access method relegating them to a utility company?

Why it’s Worth the Wait

If you’re now asking yourself—“Is 5G really worth all the trouble?” The answer is unequivocally "yes". Consumers are allowed to get caught up in the connectivity hype, but it’s up to the telecommunications industry to face these deployment challenges head on. 4G networks are already facing over-saturation, and the desire for 5G speeds exists in every industry. But for now, it’s a waiting game as we enter the home stretch in the 4G world.


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