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5G Expectations Soar

During the Mobile World Congress earlier this year, many industry leaders and experts agreed that no one can clearly define what 5G will be, when it will be available or who will lead the world to the next wireless standard. As US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler put it, describing 5G "is like going to the Picasso museum here in Barcelona and looking at a picture. I’ll see something different than you see."

At the conference, leaders such as NTT DOCOMO CTO Kaoru Kato and Ericsson CTO Ulf Ewaldsson conservatively predicted that the first commercial 5G networks would arrive by 2020, and that it would take until 2030 before a major 5G deployment.

Now a new report from Juniper Research forecasts a “healthy adoption for 5G, with service revenues set to exceed $65 billion by 2025, compared to just $100 million during its first year of commercial services in 2020.”

Regardless of how Juniper Research arrived at those numbers, it is clear that the potential benefits of 5G networks are already creating big expectations and the market size will be enormous.

Fortunately, most of the major players already investing and researching the next generation of wireless technology agree on a few key requirements, such as connection speeds up to 10 Gbps -- 500 times faster than current LTE technologies -- and  latency reduced to 1ms. Moreover, it needs to be secure, offering seamless and uninterrupted connectivity.

New network optimization systems and software-defined infrastructure will serve to manage and deliver 5G services. It is expected that 5G services will require very wide contiguous carrier bandwidths -- from hundreds of megahertz up to several gigahertz -- with very high, overall system capacity.

Since 5G will provide not only the speed but also security and uninterrupted connectivity, it will be enabling a new range of services, both for consumers and enterprises, in the areas of the Internet of Things, e-health, smart homes, connected cars, and much more.

For example, 5G could allow instant telesurgery, making it possible for surgeons to operate surgery robots at long distance, something that requires almost zero latency and reliable links. It will also be critical for C2X (car to infrastructure communications), self-driving cars and remote management of self-driving trains.  Consumers can expect a boost on their entertainment options, with extremely high-definition video (4K and 8K) and 3D coming to portable devices, and online gaming will reach new levels of realistic experience and immersion, with new devices delivering a new virtual reality experience at lower cost.

Smart devices will also connect almost everything at home, as much as we want to, and let us monitor and manage our connected appliances. Emergency services will be able to get instant, reliable information about any situation that requires assistance, deploying only the required assets, saving precious time and money.

Because the 5G buzzword is already creating such expectation it is likely that some carriers will start “marketing” 5G services before the technology is ready for deployment. A few years ago, some American carriers, notably AT&T, started offering “4G” services before LTE Advanced was deployed. They did that by changing the name of HSPA+, a 3G high-speed protocol, to 4G.

It is likely that some of the new, faster, LTE-A services, will be marketed as 5G before a standard is declared.

What is clear is that wireless is the connectivity of the 21st century, and we'll need 5G and other future technologies to provide the services people demand today and tomorrow.

Juniper estimates that at least $25 billion will be invested into 5G technology research, trials, and development over the next years and that active 4G LTE connections will exceed 3 billion globally by 2020.