My Generation

With the opening of the new £45M 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at Surrey University in March (backed by Telefonica and others), 5G (or the 5th generation of mobile) is fast becoming a subject of great interest for many. 

Given our major investment in 4G, some might be concerned by this new technology although it is still a few years away from real implementation. However, if we study the last four decades of our mobile industry, things seem to be following a similar long term technology cycle.

Most advanced mobile markets have started to focus on defining 5G and the subsequent launch dates. Whilst the UK has a fast 4G roll out, Europe has generally got a long way to go before 4G networks are built and used to full effect.  South Korea and Japan led the world in 3G but lost the lead of 4G to the US.  Both are eager to be considered leaders in this space with plans to demonstrate 5G at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and possibly at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.  Russia wants to demonstrate 5G in Sochi in 2018 during the FIFA World cup.  Sony, Samsung, Huawei and other major brands are involved with 5GIC. Regulators have also started to talk about 5G and future spectrum needs with an Ofcom event on the subject taking place in March.

Not all ‘generations’ of mobile peak at the same time but they broadly follow 20 year cycles. The R&D and standardisation time period of seven to eight years typically precedes the first major deployments of the network technology. The research work for 5G generally started in 2012, including our contribution to the EU METIS 2020 project.  We should see the first globally deployed networks from 2020, with broader implementation by 2025.

While there is no agreed consensus yet on what 5G will be, there is some agreement on network objectives. Some of the performance goals for 5G under discussion are:

  • User average speed – 300 Mbps and 1 Gbps peak
  • < 1 millisecond system latency (challenging if beyond radio access alone)
  • Always sufficient speed when in coverage
  • 1000 times reduction in power
  • High reliability(99.999%)
  • Deep indoor coverage
  • 10-100x connected devices, for things as well as people
  • Tighter security requirements

Lower cost objectives, network sharing and software based open architectures are all expected with new business models to power the digital economy, which means 5G investment levels are too early to predict.

However, some things are certain – with growing data traffic, Internet based innovation will play a huge part in every sector we serve. Spectrum will remain a key ingredient in capacity and speeds offered. Personalisation of services will be expected as more and more intelligence in devices and networks help define the customer experience (e.g preferred networks, better web navigation, video and content delivery optimisation, social media updates, and e-commerce).

The 5G trade media hype is expected to rise much further ahead of reality and research completion. Long after The Who classic track from 50 years ago, 5G has already been dubbed “My Generation” . Let’s see what happens, but we’ve made a good start.

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About Dr Mike Short CBE

Mike’s career includes 4 generations of mobile communications development, and spans 4 decades in Electronics and Telecommunications, covering Technology, Innovation and Public policy.

After running design and manufacturing for Philips Industries, and Toshiba, he joined BT in 1983 and was appointed in 1989 as a Director of Cellnet (now branded O2) to launch Digital 2G (or GSM) mobile networks. He later went on to run the 3G business case, launch 3G in the UK and research new business including 4G.

He’s served on various Government committees on Spectrum Policy, Internet and Broadband access, ICT Trade and on London 2012 advisory committees. He was elected Chairman – global GSM Association in 1995 and then a Board member until 2002 ; chaired the UK Mobile Data Association 1998 – 2008 ; elected IET President 2011/2012. He was also elected to the Board of ETSI for 3 years 2011/14 and Chaired the TSB backed ICT Knowledge Transfer Network 2007/14.

Mike’s Telefónica focus today is on innovation, whether research or new business development. This includes a focus on advanced mobile services and data applications including Mobile TV, Smart Metering, Connected Cars , Smart Cities, Connected Healthcare, Emergency services and ‘5G’ Research.  He’s a Visiting Professor at Surrey, Leeds, and Lancaster Universities; a Board Governor of Coventry University and Ravensbourne , Greenwich.

Mike is a Fellow of IET/BCS/RGS/ Royal Academy, and was appointed in 2014 University Research “Impact assessor.  Mike was honoured with a CBE by the Her Majesty the Queen in June 2012 for services to the Mobile industry after 25 years industrial experience.