5G Timescales & Timeline

5G history has its foundations in 4G LTE and previous generations: its initial development started around the time of the first 4G deployments - the timeline followed on . .


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5G is the natural development of 4G LTE and the previous generations of mobile communications systems.

5G builds on the success of 4G LTE and seeks to enhance not only its performance but also the number of applications which it can be used.

The development of 5G started before 4G LTE was fully deployed as the momentum of improvements and development needed to be maintained.

Some of the earliest developments towards 5G technology commenced before 2010 and demonstrated the feasibility of techniques that could be adopted.

Note on 5G Technology:

5G mobile communication technology has been developed to provide a significant leap in capability and performance when compared to 4G LTE. It not only provides a significant increase in the data speeds available, but also in capacity, reduction in latency, general performance and the ability to accommodate low data rate IoT applications.

Read more about 5G Technology.

The 5G history affects many areas of the development of 5G, including the investigation of possibly 5G technologies, standardisation and even the spectrum reserved for mobile communications.



Frequency spectrum

One major enabler for 5G mobile communications was the availability of sufficient amounts of frequency spectrum. This was required n a global scale because having different spectrum for different countries leads to significant difficulties for phone manufacturers who need to have the same designs for as many countries as possible, and also to enable international roaming which has grown to be a key feature. Users expect to have connectivity when they travel for holidays and business.

Spectrum allocations are managed by the International telecommunications Union, ITU. As this needs to be managed on a global basis, this organisation is the recognised body that manages this.

To manage the process of spectrum allocations, large international meetings called the World Radio Conference, WRC are held every four years. There is one in 2015, another in 2019, and this is followed four years later by one in 2023..

A summary of the WRC dates and timeline is:

  • 2015 - WRC15:   In this World Radio Conference, the main focus for mobile telecommunications was for providing additional frequency spectrum for 4G services, although some preparation was made towards the spectrum required for 5G wireless technology.
  • 2019 - WRC19:   It was understood at WRC19 that significantly more spectrum was required for mobile communications.

    The report from WRC19 stated that new resolutions were approved at the conference and it was noted that the ultra-low latency and very high bit-rate applications of IMT 2020, i.e. 5G, will require larger contiguous blocks of spectrum than those available in frequency bands that had previously been identified for use by administrations wishing to implement IMT. They also pointed that harmonised worldwide bands for IMT are desirable in order to facilitate global roaming and the benefits of economies of scale. The harmonised bands will facilitate cheaper handsets and easier roaming.

    Additional capacity was was identified for possible use: 24.25-27.5 GHz, 37-43.5 GHz, 45.5-47 GHz, 47.2-48.2 and 66-71 GHz.

    Additional spectrum was particularly important because of the increasing capacity needed. Some of this could be accommodated by decreasing the size of cells, but additional spectrum was still needed.
  • 2023 - WRC23 :   Work towards WRC23 could only commence properly once WRC19 has taken place. However many will be looking towards this timeframe for further allocations for 5G and beyond.

Standardisation process timelines

Standardisation is a key element of the 5G process. The timescales and dates of this activity are key to the successful deployment of 5G. It also involves several agencies including 3GPP, ETSI, NGMN, IEEE, and the like.

Possibly one of the key authorities is 3GPP. Their standards are used for the definition of the cellular standard, but with 5G being an aggregation of technologies, it is likely to require a number of standards institutions to work together.

The submission for the IMT 2020 are to follow the following dates and deadlines:

  • Initial technology submission date:
    • Deadline: Jun. 2019
  • Detailed specification submission date
    • Deadline: Oct. 2020

One of the key elements of the 5G developments themselves is the work on the radio access network, RAN. It is anticipated that the discussions on the RAN could be started around December 2015.

It is anticipated that the bulk of the requirements will be agreed in the first 6 months of the RAN discussion to guide the work in the working groups.

First 5G technology

The hardware for 5G also saw a large number of developments and firsts. From the user perspective, the 5G phones were of major interest, but there was a lot of discussion over the network equipment as well. In many ways, this was a much bigger issue that the phones themselves.

  • 5G phones:   Motorola was reputed to be the first company to sell a 5G phone. However, what they sold was a Moto Z3 which was a handset from 2018 and this was paired with a 5G Moto Mod which provided 5G connectivity.

    Samsung was another of the early adopters of 5G for their phones. Samsung's first 5G handset was the Galaxy S10 5G. Not only did this have 5G connectivity, but it also boasted a 6.7-inch QHD+ screen, a 4,500mAh battery, a high-end chipset, 8GB of RAM, and four rear cameras, consisting of a 16MP ultra-wide lens, a 12MP variable aperture lens, a 12MP telephoto lens and a 3D depth-sensing camera.

    Mobile World Congress 2020 then saw a large number of offerings from all the major mobile phone manufacturers.
  • 5G network hardware:   In line with the development of the user mobiles, there aaas obviously the need to develop and install the new 5G network hardware.

    In 2019 a controversy broke out with the USA saying that the use of Huawei equipment would pose serious security threat. The issue had been in existence for some while because the US banned companies from using Huawei networking equipment in 2012. It was added to the US Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security Entity List in May 2019. This followed an executive order from President Trump banning Huawei from US communications networks.

    A number of countries have adopted not to use Huawei equipment, preferring other manufacturers like Ericsson.

5G network deployments

There had been a lot of talk about the first deployments of 5G mobile communications networks. Demonstrators had been seen for a number of years at conferences like Mobile World Congress, and the hardware was becoming more widely available.

The first 5G commercial services were launched in South Korea in December 2018. LG U+, KT and SK Telecom all launched services using 100 MHz bandwidth (LG U+ only had 80 MHz) in band n78 at 3.5 GHz, and 800 MHz in n257 at 28 GHz.

Whilst there had been a number of pre-deployment networks installed for testing and demonstration (Russia, Qatar, Poland to mention a few), the S Korea networks were the first commercial ones.

Other networks soon followed: One of the first was Vodafone in Italy that launched in December 2018. In the UK - EE launched in May 2019, Vodafone in July 2019, 3 in August 2019 and O2 in October 2019, although all of these networks used band n78 at 3.5 GHz, but there were no mmWave deployments. Germany saw launches with Vodafone in July 2019 and Telekom in September 2019. In the USA, Sprint launched in band n41 at 2.5GHz, and there were other mmWave deployments.

In fact, in 2019, globally more than 50 operators launched 5G services 5G, and over 200,000 new 5G Sub-6GHz base stations were deployed. Obviously new 5G services were launched with a great fanfare, but generally the coverage areas were relatively small - typically providing 5G service to the centre of major city centres where their usage would be greatest.

5G useful life timescale

It is generally estimated that the timescale for the first 5G networks will be around 2020, although there is pressure for some operators to launch much earlier.

However the useful lifetime for 5G is likely to be long. As it is aimed at providing general connectivity, and for IoT and M2M communications many of these applications will need to remain in place for many years. Utility meters, for example remain in place for many years, and the utility companies will not take kindly to having to replace their meters more frequently to follow the cellular technologies. Accordingly the useful life timescale for 5G is anticipated to remain in use until at least 2040.



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