Can 5G keep its promise?

This year’s World Wireless Research Forum (WWRF) in Japan considered the outer reaches of the possible as it sought to chart a 10-year roadmap beyond 5G. However, its sister event the 5G Huddle tackled issues far closer to home and questioned whether the platforms associated with the 5G Era are capable of delivering on all the hype.

The WWRF has been around since the early days of 3G, but it continues to play a valuable role in encouraging international collaboration in research.

In fact WWRF42 recently took place – from 15-16 May. It happened alongside the, relatively youthful, sixth 5G Huddle event on 14 May. I was representing Real Wireless – and speaking – at both events.

While linked, the two events have a different focus: put very simply, WWRF42 was more technical, research-based and looking much further ahead than the Huddle, which tends to focus on the emerging 5G ecosystem and the building blocks that are being put in place.

The opening sessions of WWRF42 explicitly framed the question about whether a 6G roadmap would emerge from 5G evolutions. Speakers focused on platforms and innovation beyond current 5G specifications and how the existing framework might evolve. While some working sessions mined the outreaches of the possible – for example, ‘holoportation’ of human avatars and distributed Fog/Edge solutions for enhanced 360-degree video streaming – others were more grounded in the here are now, anticipating the progressive evolution of the standards to support full-fledged operations in a wide range of vertical use cases, support of low-power low-cost devices, and support for spectrum above 50 GHz.

We heard more of the joint US-EU EMPOWER project aimed at developing a 10-year roadmap for 5G evolution. This outlined possible research areas to include support of moving and flying cells and relays, machine learning-based advanced spectrum sharing, and fine integration of cellular and non-cellular technologies. Longer-term objectives include support for spectrum above 100 GHz, pervasive machine learning and artificial intelligence, integration of non-wireless communication technologies (sensing, radar, charging, imaging), and integration of massive High Altitude Platforms (HAPs) and Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) satellites.

These sessions were balanced by others that considered the technical implications of delivering 5G in developing countries and the importance of aligning terminology with the users groups these solutions are targeted at – in particular, the ICT communities.

At the Huddle, the overall theme was ‘Can 5G keep its promise?’ I expected to hear a lot about early stage trials, proof of concept, standardisation and elements of spectrum strategy – and I was not disappointed. In fact I too was talking about these topics.

On day one in the second session (called The role of trials and test-beds in shaping the 5G vision), I presented an overview of trials in the UK in my twin roles as CTO of Real Wireless and an advisory board member for UK5G. The particular focus of my presentation was 5G and the verticals – essentially how 5G ecosystem building is going. I used the example of the six projects funded by DCMS, including the recently extended AutoAir project, in which Real Wireless has a strong role.

The following day there was a track within WWRF looking at emerging business model research. For this I offered insights from the research carried out as part of the MoNArch, AutoAir project, and gave some background on a soon-to-be-announced new project.

While much of the WWRF discussion did, as I have noted, have a more technical focus, in both presentations I discussed the growing need for the wireless discussion to sense the demand in the vertical or industry sector and then create a business model narrative around those needs, rather than trying to fit a wireless system into a vertical. In other words, which business models will work with which verticals and how? One size does not fit all.

That said, WWRF does also look way into the future, so we did also have some discussion on what networks could look like by 2030 (some commentators are already using the term 6G), though we’re still working towards finding some consensus at an international level about what could happen next.

Real Wireless is not just discussing such issues. It’s also offering services that address them directly on behalf of our clients. Our technology horizon scanning service, for instance, gives clients a connection with the longer-term research community and helps them to be more future-ready in technology terms. Another Real Wireless offering – business model innovation – is also relevant to these two events, especially when it comes to the needs of verticals and applying the next generation of neutral host.

While there are overlaps then, the 5G Huddle, broadly speaking, looks at present-day issues. The WWRF meeting looks at the research and technology challenges of the immediate and long-term future. Real Wireless, meanwhile, through our expanding offering, and in our contribution to these two events, is now well placed to address all these areas: the wireless concerns of today, of tomorrow – and of the day after tomorrow.