Great, we all want 5G mobile broadband. Now just how are we gonna wire it all up?

Asking for a friend (the UN's standards bods at the ITU)

The UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has set up a new focus group to look at how today’s landline networks can be adapted to provide the backhaul for 5G. In other words, how to use today's cabling to link high-speed 5G phone masts to carrier networks and the wider internet.

Some of the language the ITU uses has to be stepped through quite carefully. When it says “focus groups”, it doesn’t mean some pensioners having tea behind one-way mirrors, but a collection of people from technology companies wrestling over open standards and the stuff covered by patents.

The ITU is important because although there are about 2,000 groups, associations and organisations that have opinions on future technology, it’s the ITU that actually decides the standards. There is a meeting in June that should lead to pretty rapid decisions and pronouncements on the matter, although some of that will hang on the meeting of the World Radio Council in November, which will try to find the international spectrum to make it work.

The ITU also wants to call the next standard IMT-2020. “IMT FOR 2020 AND BEYOND”, the name Telephones In The Street having been rejected because of the acronym. Since everyone who doesn’t work in the mobile industry calls 3G-LTE “4G”, and what the ITU calls IMT-2000 is what everyone calls 3G, the ITU recognises that IMT-2020 isn’t a name with much of a future – and has given in to calling it “5G” with “quotes”.

The ITU says that because 5G systems will enable wireless communication to match the speed and reliability achieved by fibre-optic infrastructure, and because it will be used for a much broader range of application such as “healthcare, industrial automation, virtual reality, automated driving, and robotic systems”, there is a need for the networks to have an imperceptible time lag across their systems. The ITU must be awarded some kudos for not saying “Internet of Things”.

Director of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau Chaesub Lee said: “Today’s network architectures cannot support the envisaged capabilities of IMT-2020 systems. Innovation in standardization is essential across core networks, access networks, virtualized data clusters and masses of smart networked units. Moving beyond convergence, the concepts underlying networking must evolve to support the development of integrated fixed-mobile hybrid networks.”

Head of 5G Research and Development at Huawei, Wen Tong added: “5G will power a wide range of new user experiences, but the bottleneck remains the speed of the network. Everyone in the ICT ecosystem needs to work together. This is the most important condition for us to realize 5G, and this is the reason Huawei is contributing to ITU’s efforts to consider what the road to 5G demands of all parts of the ecosystem.”

The new focus group, which is open to participation by any interested party, not just ITU members, will provide the launching point for the ITU-T’s contribution to IMT-2020 standardization. The group will follow an intensive work plan to complete its study prior to the December meeting of ITU’s standardization expert group responsible for future networks, cloud computing and network aspects of mobile communications, ITU-T Study Group 13. ®

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