4G will not ‘evolve’ into 5G, economics firm says

IoT connections will propel 5G, and an entirely new architecture is needed for the technology

4G will not ‘evolve’ into 5G, economics firm says

A Samsung promo image from earlier 5G work.

Credit: Samsung

“If anyone tells you they know the details of what 5G will deliver, walk the other way,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is now famously reported as saying in a June presentation made to the National Press Club. He meant, of course, that 5G is up in the air. No one knows for sure what it will end up being when it appears.

Bets are on extremely high frequencies—pretty much what’s vacant in the spectrum—and the Internet of Things (IoT) will play a part in driving 5G.

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But many questions abound, not least of which is whether telcos’ existing equipment will be compatible. If you remember, mobile network operators gushingly described their last expensive fit-out as being future-proof. You’d be able to simply slot new radios into existing racks on towers to upgrade technologies, they hopefully proclaimed.

IHS Markit has been surveying service providers trying to identify what they think now. The firm is a provider of worldwide economic intelligence and market research information specializing in technology sectors.

It said about half of those it surveyed (46 percent) reckon that 5G will move away from cellular and need “a brand-new architecture.”

That ties in with what we know about some of the quirks related to super-high, or millimeter, frequencies in that conceivably you’d need a lot more radios, or access points, and antennas, for example. The higher the frequency, the more susceptible it is to obstructions, like moisture even. Outside functionality is tricky, and radios physically moving around are even harder to make work.

The other half of the service providers (54 percent) say 5G is evolutionary. In other words, it’s an evolution of Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and will be an “extension of LTE, LTE-Advanced and LTE‑Advanced Pro.”

Three-fourths “think 5G should be codependent with LTE and LTE-Advanced.”

That concept would make a lot of sense if you had told your stockholders a few years ago that LTE racks, towers, micro-sites, networks and so on were future-proof. The “should” in the statement could be the operative word there—"should" isn’t "will."

That the IoT is the top 5G use case is something the respondents seem to agree on. Seventy-nine percent thought that. Wheeler also thinks that: “5G will connect the Internet of Everything. If something can be connected, it will be connected in a 5G world,” he said in his June speech (PDF).

One reason for 5G’s synergy with IoT is that 5G might provide better latency, something IoT could benefit from, the respondents said.

Importantly, IHS said its analysis, and its opinion, is that “4G will not evolve to meet 5G requirements.”

That assumption makes sense for the aforementioned reasons related to higher-end radio propagation. Some of the frequencies I’ve written about in the past as being tested for the as-yet-unratified 5G standard, or non-standard, include Nokia at a super-high 73GHz, as an example. These frequencies require entirely new antenna arrays and software. For comparison, much existing Wi-Fi is at 2.4GHz.

“5G requires a new radio access technology, architecture, etc. All of this means 4G will continue to evolve in parallel to 5G and won’t be superseded by it,” IHS said.

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