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The 5G deadlines just keep getting nearer, regardless of the progress of real standards or spectrum policies. While Verizon says it will start testing '5G' in the field next year, Nokia is promising commercial 5G hotspot equipment the year after that, with an eye to the operators which want to deploy at least limited services as early as 2019.
Verizon talked about its plans at its 5G Technology Forum recently and has now set up dedicated teams, with chief information and technology architect, Roger Gurnani, saying the carrier feels "a tremendous sense of urgency to push forward on 5G".
The carrier's need for a network which offers more capacity and also improved performance for emerging business models in the internet of things (IoT) may indeed feel urgent. Its normal head-to-head with AT&T is only one of its challenges as the large MSOs get more aggressive about wireless with their WiFi-first networks, and as Verizon tries to combat them, and the over-the-top players, by becoming a content provider.
In this rapidly changing market landscape, it is notable that Verizon is relying on its usual suppliers for its 5G field trials. It said it is working with Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent, its 4G RAN providers, as well as Cisco, Nokia and Samsung, plus the inevitable Qualcomm on the device side. Operators talk a lot about 5G enabling them to move towards a more diverse ecosystem and to introduce new innovators to their supply chain, but there is little sign of that here.
The technologies will be tested initially in sandboxes in the Verizon innovation centers in Waltham, Massachusetts and San Francisco and the operator is the first in the US to announce such activities, though several Japanese and Korean counterparts are likely to be ahead - Softbank and SK Telecom have already conducted field trials.
Rima Qureshi, Ericsson's chief strategy officer, said the move to accelerate 5G innovation had been very much Asia-driven and that it was "exciting to see a US company accelerate the rate of innovation".
The Verizon 5G Technology Forum also includes venture capital groups that are focused on emerging technologies and which Gurnani says account for over $50bn a year in R&D, technology investments and patents.
Meanwhile, Nokia Networks says it will launch 5G-ready cell sites with 10Gbps capacity by 2017 to offer fiber speeds to users. The Finnish firm said the equipment will be targeted at service providers who initially want to use 5G to address areas of congestion, or or homes which lack fiber in the last few meters. The small cells will typically be placed on lamp posts to fill those gaps.
Nokia said the equipment will be software upgradeable to 5G, however the final standards look, because it is built around virtualized baseband software, which will also make the product easily adaptable for other use cases such as M2M.
The company has been talking a lot lately about designing highly flexible platforms throughout the network, which can be readily adapted for future, undefined standards - although those with memories of WiMAX and early WiFi may wonder if it will really be that simple.
Nokia will trial its kit next year as a way to bring fast broadband to locations close to fiber, but lacking superfast connectivity in the final link. The company sees this as a low hanging fruit in terms of a real application for 5G. EVP of mobile broadband, Marc Rouanne, said: "We have all the building blocks in place to make the first concrete 5G use case a reality as early as in 2017. This marks an important foundation for shaping the future of mobile broadband and enabling a personalized gigabit experience for the broadband subscribers in the comfort of their home."