BY CAROLINE GABRIEL
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Real progress on standards, rather than inflated claims for '5G', is coming closer, with the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) holding a 5G working group to finalize core specifications in San Diego, California next week.
However, though some Asian operators claim they will have commercial 5G networks up and running as early as 2018, these will almost certainly be based on pre-standard equipment. Just three years ahead of that deadline, there is still little agreement on the key objectives of 5G, let alone the specific technologies.
At the CommunicAsia 2015 conference this week, the only significant point of consensus was that ultra-low latency, machine-to-machine communications would be the top priority for 5G, and this would be more important to enabling future services and business models than increased speeds.
In other respects, there were clear disagreements between various 5G projects, and between two of the countries in the vanguard of mobile R&D, Japan and Korea.
As noted by TelecomAsia, representatives from four key groups, all of which will have input to the ITU's deliberations, agreed to disagree on the KPIs (key performance indicators) for 5G, during a panel debate at the show.
The ITU-R itself, the Korea 5G Forum, the Fifth Generation Mobile Communications Promotion Forum (5GMCPF), and the 5G World Alliance all had somewhat different approaches. Colin Langtry, leader of the 5G study group at ITU-R, was the least controversial, telling the conference that the main aim is to enable ultra-reliable communications and low latency, among other capabilities.
He also said that "co-opetition" between different 5G groups would be positive for the end result. "There is a degree of competition, but it's friendly competition and constructive competition and it will come up with a good result," he told the panel.
Meanwhile, Youngnam Han from the Korea 5G Forum called for three new KPIs to be added to the ITU-R's framework. The Forum published three white papers in March, setting out KPIs and promising candidate technologies, as well as spectrum requirements and candidate bands. The KPIs tie into the eight core requirements set out by the ITU-R, which include peak data rates up to tens of Gbps, 1ms latency and mobile hand-off at 500 kilometers per hour. However, Han wants to add others which go beyond the ITU remit, including the handling of interruption time, and pinpointing a terminal's location to "within a few centimetres".
Hiroyuki Morikawa, a Japanese member of the 5GMCPF, was more focused on timelines and called for a schedule of milestones to be laid down. The two Asian powerhouses may have different priorities, but they are keen to lead the world in 5G roll-out, and especially to stay ahead of the US. "Korea and Japan are the leading countries" in 5G, partly because of their large concentration of device makers, Han said. He graciously said that the US and Europe were "welcome" to join the debate about 5G KPIs, with Langtry hastily saying that the western regions were already involved, but not leading the discussions.
Korea aims to launch pre-standard 5G in time for its Winter Olympics in 2018, though Han was vague about exactly what that would entail, only commenting that the network could be based on "anything that meets the eight KPIs laid down by the ITU-R". Japan hopes to conduct a proof of concept, at least, by the end of 2017 and will outline the details of that late this year. "Not surprisingly, the Japanese plan is very similar to the Korean plan - it's because we're neighbours," said Morikawa.
Another group, the 5G World Alliance, was heavily focused on IPv6 to enable the IoT - unsurprisingly since its chair, Latif Ladid, is also founder and chair of the IPv6 Forum. He told the conference that users would soon need millions of IP addresses, not one, and urged the mobile industry fully to embrace IPv6 this time around, something it had failed to do in 3G and even partially in 4G.