Standards for the next generation of cellular technology that will support multigigabit bandwidths are yet to be finalised and commercial deployments in Australian networks are unlikely before 2021, but Ericsson has announced upgrades to 4G networks that will enable network operators to offer some 5G features from 2017.
Telstra is the only one of Australia’s mobile operators to use Ericsson network infrastructure and, were it to deploy the technology, it could give the telco an advantage over the others as user demand for bandwidth intensive video content increases.
Ericsson is forecasting rapid growth in mobile data traffic, and particularly video. Nick Bromhead, general manager wireless solutions, Ericsson Australia, told ComputerWorld Australia: “We are looking at an annual growth rate of 45 per cent for mobile traffic and mobile video traffic growing at 55 per cent so that by 2021, 70 per cent of mobile traffic will be video.
“The big benefit [of 5G] for Australians is that they will be able to indulge their love of sport and at a price point that makes it possible for them to afford and for operators to be profitable.”
He suggested that interest in the upcoming Olympics could put strains on Australian networks as early as next month. “I think it was Channel Seven said they would put out an app so you can stream the Olympic content they have, but do the mobile networks today have the bandwidth to support that everywhere? We will soon find out.”
Bromhead said the first mobile operator to be able to meet surging demand for video at an affordable price would likely have a first mover advantage.
“You can see form things like Netflix that if people are given the chance to watch what they want when they want, wherever they want, they will take it,” Bromhead said.
“We as an industry have to work out how to deliver that and I think the company that works out how to do that and gets there first will be the beneficiary.”
He said Ericsson aimed to help its operator customers gain this advantage.
“We have taken some of the concepts and the key technologies that are extensible to 4G and allow some of our more advanced customers that are looking for first mover advantage, that might be somewhat constrained on capacity and who might be more advanced on IoT and allow them to deliver to their customers a higher performance system rather than having to wait until 2020 or 2021 for a full blown 5G system.”
He added the 5G features had been developed from Ericsson 5G trials with US carriers Verizon and AT&T in the US that had already achieved downstream speeds in excess of 20Gbps. “We have taken the innovations from the demo systems we have that are running 5G and created a set of what we call 5G plug-ins that we can plug into LTE networks today,” Bromhead said.
Ericsson is offering five ‘5G plug-ins’ that, it says, will be available for operators to trial this year and deploy commercially next year. They are: Massive MIMO (Multiple input multiple output) Plug-In; Multi-User MIMO Plug-In; RAN (radio access network) Virtualisation Plug-In: Intelligent Connectivity Plug-In: Latency Reduction Plug-In.
The key bandwidth-increasing plug-ins are Massive MIMO and Multi-User MIMO Plug-In. These enable the radio signal to use many more signal paths between base station and user device than today’s 4G technology which supports four paths form base station to device and vice versa. The plug-ins also support beam forming where the base station antenna is able to focus the signal on individual devices.
However, Bromhead said that biggest benefits from these technologies would come down the track when mobile network operators get access to higher frequencies at which beam forming works better and for which massive MIMO antennas of manageable size can be built.