What is slowing down 5G deployments? - Tech | 5G, SDN/NFV & Edge Compute


Friday, May 31, 2019

What is slowing down 5G deployments?

Why is 5G deployment taking a lot of time? If 5G is so good, why not just go ahead and deploy 5G infrastructure in every street corner and let the consumers enjoy the higher speeds. If 5G technology is so cool, why not deploy 5G everywhere and transform the world, immediately. Well, deploying 5G isn't a cake-walk. 5G may appear like a race horse, but unfortunately there are so many barriers that the race horse has to cross. Today, service providers are facing a number of challenges, which is slowing down the deployment of 5G.

1. Getting approvals from the city administrators - In the past, 4G radio infrastructure was deployed on cell towers. Those cell towers had dedicated space allotted to them. However, 5G radio infrastructure (aka "small cell") has to be deployed on top of the utility poles in almost every street corner. Getting approvals from the city administrators to deploy such large number of small cells in the community is quite complex. For example several cities have banned the introduction of 5G technology in their communities - as they are afraid of the impacts of the 5G radiation. Mill Valley in California is one such city that has opposed the deployment of 5G infrastructure in their community. Brussels has also put a hold on the 5G testing due to radiation concerns.

2. Delayed Spectrum Auction - 5G uses a wide range of spectrum from low bands below 1 GHz, to mid bands from 1 GHz to 6 GHz, to high bands 24 / 30 GHz to 300 GHz (also, known as millimeter-wave). Service providers need to get hold of these spectrum to deploy 5G infrastructure and rollout 5G based services. However, there is significant delays in different countries to kick start the auction of 5G spectrum.  Countries like Germany started auctioning the 5G spectrum only in the first quarter of 2019. Countries like India haven't yet started with the spectrum auction for 5G. 

3. Cost of deployment - This is one major factor which is delaying the launch of 5G services in several countries. Even the leading 5G pioneers such as AT&T and Verizon hasn't increased their capital spending for deploying 5G infrastructure. Service providers in countries like India are already fighting a price war and are debt-ridden. They cannot afford to spend more money on 5G. According to LightReading, installing a small cell device in the community would require $35,000. A recent CTIA report forecasts that US will have nearly 800,000 small cells by 2026. Service providers are not sitting on a cash pile to fund such massive 5G infrastructure in a short time. So, they would launch 5G services only in communities where it would make a difference and phase out the 5G deployment in other areas over the coming years.

4. Standardization is still in progress - Today, 3GPP has approved the standards for a non-standalone implementation of the 5G network  - which means, the 5G New Radio (NR) will rely on a 4G core network to offer 5G services. 3GPP is expected to approve the standards for a standalone 5G network, later this year. This will hinder the implementation of features such as network slicing, which is one of the differentiators of 5G when compared to the 4G network. The initial launch of 5G services, will not support such features that rely on a 5G core. 

5. Delays in virtualizing the core network -  Service providers have been talking about network virtualization for a long time now. However, they are yet to achieve a 100% virtualized network. While a number of service providers have moved their IT applications to the cloud - they are yet to achieve a significant milestone in their network virtualization journey. AT&T is the only service provider who is vocal about their network virtualization journey. AT&T has plans to virtualize 75% of their network services by 2020. But, many of the other service providers are still lagging in their virtualization journey. 5G requires the core network to be virtualized. Both the service providers and the network equipment vendors are not ready yet with virtualized services for 5G's core network functions.

6. Lack of a killer app - 2G was for making voice calls, 3G was for web browsing and 4G was for video and gaming. However, it is still not clear, what is going to be the killer app for 5G. There are a dozen use-cases for 5G - ranging from robotic surgeries to autonomous cars. But, who would let a robot to do your heart surgery over a 5G network? Who is ready to ride on an autonomous car powered by 5G? Service providers are talking about fancy use-cases that require a mature 5G technology. We are in a chicken 'n egg situation. Service providers cannot pump-in more money on 5G, without  a killer app that justifies the return on investment. Use cases such as robotic surgery, autonomous cars and hologram services require a reliable and ubiquitous 5G network.

Several service providers across the globe have already launched the initial version of 5G services. Most of them are in "experimental" stage, trying to either understand the technology or understand the market potential. Like every new technology, 5G would take its own sweet time to get into the hands of a common man (or woman!). We'll have to wait for the next three to five years to see a ubiquitous 5G network.

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