Verizon, KT, Telefonica: On three continents, operators prepare for 5G

Europe, Asia, US close to commercially viable model

Man checks mobile while sitting on skateboard ramp. Photo by Shutterstock

In the week of Brexit and Iceland, a London event perhaps did not need any more reminders about falling behind the rest of the world – but a final, unavoidable conclusion from last week’s 5G World was that the east Asian operators, always very technically progressive, are also in a league of their own when it comes to detailed deployment plans too.

NTT Docomo, China Mobile, KT and other trailblazers are not just showing off the smartest semi-proprietary technologies – they are close to a commercially viable model for 5G too.

But not before they have sufficient 4G scale on which to build the next wave – which in China Mobile’s case is almost mind-boggling. In 2011 the operator hit the landmark of 600m mobile customers – by the end of this year it aims to have 500m users on LTE alone, which would be more than 60 per cent of its total base, and will rely on a network expanded to 1.4 million base stations.

And, to a greater extent than in previous generations, these Asian trailblazers are working closely with western allies. Their key interest is not just to roll out new networks first – thought that remains a point of pride – but to ensure these drive global standards, and also global business models which will accelerate the process of achieving economies of scale for purchasing, and worldwide revenue opportunities.

Verizon works with KT

For instance, Korean MNO KT is working with Verizon to develop 5G technologies ahead of the planned commercialization in 2020. Their partnership involves collaborative efforts in the advancement of SDN (software-defined networking) and NFV (network function virtualization), and Verizon is also keenly interested in KT’s knowhow in millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum - a technology expected to be a key component in 5G, and in which the US is taking a lead in trials.

It’s worth remembering that Verizon was the first to roll out LTE in the US in 2010 (and second in the world), and the operator will be determined to replicate this achievement with 5G. Verizon has been investing in pre-5G R&D for around five years now, in partnership with Nokia, Ericsson, Intel, Qualcomm and Samsung, among others. It recently tested its prototype equipment in the 28 GHz band, one of the high frequency bands which the FCC is proposing for 5G mobile services, using Samsung Galaxy smartphones.

The 28 GHz band is not on the ITU’s 5G spectrum study list, which suggests it will not support global implementations and roaming. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel recently said that the US will need to work in this spectrum without outside support. But Korean expertise in nearby bands will be relevant, and KT’s chairman Hwang Chang-gyu, welcoming the Verizon alliance, noted that no single country or enterprise will be able to develop a global standard for 5G.

In a speech last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the US would become the first country in the world to open up high band spectrum for new 5G networks and applications – his proposal awaits approval, with the FCC set to vote on July 14.

As for KT, it says it will be trialing 5G for the first time at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018.

Last year, ZTE added KT to its list of 5G partners, as the two formed a 5G testbed in Seoul, to research and commercialize new technologies. Now Telefonica has followed suit, announcing 5G development deals last week with rival Chinese technology giants ZTE and Huawei.

Telefonica works with both Chinese giants

The Spanish incumbent has signed a memorandum of understanding with ZTE, which aims to bring together contributions from players in key 5G platforms including IoT, cloud and network virtualization.

The separate announcement with Huawei centres on collaboration to advance technologies including Cloud-RAN, 5G radio and core architectures and MIMO (multiple input multiple output).

"Telefonica continues advancing in its role as a key player in the development of 5G technologies, where we have been actively contributing to relevant international projects, industry associations and standardization bodies. We are very pleased to have reached this agreement with ZTE to cooperate on the next generation of mobile communications technology," said CTO Enrique Blanco.

"We are very pleased to have reached this further agreement with Huawei to keep cooperating on 5G and the next generation RAN. The collaboration with Huawei in this area allows sharing the true requirements of a global operator as Telefonica, and helping to focus on providing the right solutions on this advanced network at the right time," Blanco added.

Verizon, Telefonica, and many other operators round the world, are seeking to use high capacity 5G to enhance conventional business cases – video, broadband data and quad play – before then moving on to new revenue streams like ultra-low power IoT.

And AT&T isn’t about to stand by and watch Verizon surpass it in 5G - earlier this month it claimed that field tests in partnership with Ericsson delivered speeds of 10Gbps – significantly faster than Verizon’s first published test result of 3.77Gbps.

Another cross-continental operator partnership, between Ericsson, SK Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, has resulted in plans to deploy a 5G trial network in South Korea and Germany. The three companies told MWC Shanghai that this would be the world's first transcontinental 5G trial network and would support key 5G technologies such as NFV, software-defined infrastructure (SDI), distributed cloud and network slicing.

Copyright © 2016, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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