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5G: Getting realer by the day?

Ofcom believes that global harmonisation is critical in order to aid 5G ecosystem development, and is backing the 26GHz band as the “priority band” to achieve this. The watchdog has been working closely with other European regulators to identify three initial frequency bands to enable 5G in Europe: the 700 MHz, 3.4–3.8GHz, and the 26 GHz bands. "We already have plans in place to make the 700 MHz band available for mobile services including 5G," Ofcom says.

However Ofcom also believes that the 26 GHz band offers the most potential, as it has significant advantages over other bands, including existing mobile allocation in the ITU Radio Regulations across most of the band. “This makes it feasible for other countries to start using it for 5G ahead of WRC-19 (World Radiocommunication Conference 2019)," it says.

Ofcom has already started drawing up proposals to make the band spectrum available for mobile use in the UK, with plans for a consultation before July this year.

Meanwhile, the 3GPP has unveiled the official 5G logo “to provide a basis of reference for users, network operators and other manufacturers and service providers”. It also officially announced that ‘5G’ would be the term used to describe next-generation mobile connectivity technologies that would succeed 4G technologies, such as LTE and LTE-A. The real surprise there is that it took so long.

Currently, industry marketing seems to imply that everyone offers, or will offer, 5G – the messaging seems to be: ‘4G now, 5G next’, despite the fact that 5G is still at the early concept and testing stage, with specifications only just being drawn up (i.e Ofcom).

The idea of the brand, and new logo, is that providers can use it to declare their compliance with 3GPP 5G specifications. However, there is a caveat to its worthy intentions.

“The permission to use the 3GPP 5G logo does not involve or imply any certification by the partners in 3GPP or the 3GPP community that the products or services of manufacturers or service providers actually comply with the 3GPP specifications. It is intended simply and only to provide a basis of reference for users, network operators and other manufacturers and service providers.”

The only concrete requirement is that the 5G ‘brand’ applies to 3GPP release 15 onwards. At least that means that anyone using the logo before late 2018 (when release 15 is expected) should not be, so the interesting thing will be which vendors jump on this bandwagon and start using the device inappropriately.

We’re already seeing most vendors adopt a general positioning around 5G without specifically spelling out what this means in terms of capabilities, use cases or other details. Of course, this is a rapidly evolving market and there are notable exceptions, but one of the reasons we’re looking forward to MWC this year is that we hope to see more concrete realisation rather than the current somewhat bland statements.

It’s been clear for a while that 5G will be required for a host of new use cases that have yet to be defined – but as we move towards standardisation and the identification of necessary spectrum assets, it’s imperative that more substance is required to make them credible. The work of Ofcom and others is welcome in this context, but clearly much remains to be done.