The potential of 5G to enrich our lives
The hype around 5G is not yet matched by clarity on what 5G actually is and how we get there. In order to shed more light on the topic and get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities of 5G for Europe, Eurescom message editor-in-chief Milon Gupta interviewed 5G expert Dr. Sergey Andreev, who is Senior Research Scientist at Tampere University of Technology.
What is 5G?
Andreev: Currently, due to the ongoing debate, there is no complete technical definition of what exactly is 5th generation wireless systems. Given a historical 10-year cycle for every existing cellular generation, it is expected that 5G technologies will be deployed sometime around the year 2020. However, the anticipated communication requirements may already be understood from the end user perspective. Regardless of their current location, human users would like to be connected at all times taking advantage of the rich set of services provided by the contemporary multimedia-over-wireless networks. On the other hand, network-side intelligence is likely to evolve as well by offering service opportunistically when a user, or an unattended machine-type device, actually needs it.
Will 5G be rather an optimisation of 3G/4G, or is there a revolutionary element?
Andreev: It is widely believed that the only feasible solution to mitigate the increasing disproportion between the desired service quality and the limited wireless resources is by deploying a higher density of increasingly smaller cells in current network architecture. However, the “small-cell revolution” requires massive investment on CAPEX and OPEX from mobile network operators. Another promising approach, avoiding high associated costs and offering an entirely new perspective, enables offloading cellular traffic onto direct device-to-device connections whenever the communicating users are in proximity.
At the end of the day, I expect that a variety of diverse 5G techniques and technologies, both conventional and innovative, would integrate synergistically, rather than a new killer technology would emerge to replace the 4G.
How can 5G help improve connectivity?
Andreev: Uniform user connectivity, mindful of the service quality, is envisioned to dramatically improve our daily wireless experience in light of explosive mobile data volumes, massive numbers of wireless devices, and increasingly varying requirements of application services. Unfortunately, contemporary 3G/4G networks are still unable to deliver the desired ubiquitous connectivity experience. Bridging this gap requires decisive changes in both network infrastructure and device architecture, where the user equipment is jointly optimized with the surrounding network context. As a result, 5G communication technologies will be able to seamlessly connect people to one another and to a surrounding world of information and services, across a plethora of available radio access technologies.
What are the major challenges that need to be tackled on the way to technological maturity of 5G?
Andreev: Transforming user experience indeed creates significant challenges for 5G technology design, as users' connectivity experience should match service rate requirements and be uniform no matter where the user is, who the user connects to, and what the user service needs are. One glaring problem is that licensed spectrum continues to be scarce and expensive, whereas the traditional methods to improve its efficient use approach their theoretical limits. Therefore, we expect the majority of near-term gains to come from advanced architectures and protocols that would leverage the unlicensed spectrum, for example exploiting WLAN solutions such as Wi-Fi, and take advantage of the intricate interactions between the device and the network, as well as between the devices themselves, across the converged heterogeneous deployments.
What should be done to ensure 5G will become a true global standard?
Andreev: Global acceptability of 5G depends on the consensus between major technological players in this field as well as the pace of related standardization activities. The associated challenges are many and range from how to develop an understanding of new 5G technology with a combined pursuit of analysis, computer simulations and prototyping, to ensuring that the relevant ideas would promptly land in corresponding wireless standards and products. However, given the dominant working practices and disjoint opinions of competing companies, standardization of new 5G technology with the current procedures is slow going, which has plenty of room for improvement.
What is your vision for a new service experience based on 5G?
Andreev: The forthcoming 5G networks have the potential to enrich our very lives beyond what we can even imagine today. One inspiring example is the emerging concept of network-assisted D2D communication, which is commonly believed to alleviate congestion on current cellular networks as well as enable novel ways of interaction for human users and the entire future networked society. Network assistance can provide secure D2D connectivity between proximate users that are currently outside each other's social spheres, meaning that user devices may talk securely to “strangers”, which has not been possible with the 4G technology. Ultimately, a user’s smart device will be able to connect him or her to a smart network and other devices providing a deeply personal information experience.
Original text by Milon Gupta.