5G Timescales & Timeline

“When will we have 5G” is a common question. Here’s the answer:

It is anticipated that the first 5G networks will go live around 2020, but to get there a rigid timeline must be developed and adhered to so that the technology advances swiftly and to the required dates & timescales.

Development Timescales

5G Wireless Technologies
5G Wireless Technologies

No formal dates have been set yet for the development of 5G, but a number of companies and organisations have set their own 5G timelines so they can plan ahead.

There are many elements to the overall 5G timeline – everything from the investigation and development of new technologies, to the standardisation process, and the release of spectrum needed to support 5G.

Accordingly the various elements in the 5G timeline need to be closely managed and all the elements brought together to enable the system to be launched in the required timescale.

Frequency spectrum

One major enabler for 5G will be the release of frequency spectrum and this needs to be managed on a global scale to ensure commonality and also the reduction of interference between services, especially those operating globally. This process is managed under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union, ITU.

LTE Roadmap 4G to 5G
LTE Roadmap 4G to 5G

To manage the process of spectrum allocations, large international meetings called the World Radio Conference, WRC are held every four years. There is one in 2015, another in 2019, and this is followed four years later by one in 2023..

A summary of the WRC dates and timeline is:

  • 2015 – WRC15:   In this World Radio Conference, the main focus for mobile telecommunications is for providing additional frequency spectrum for 4G services. Work is not yet sufficiently advanced for determining allocations for 5G.
  • 2019 – WRC19:   By this date, it is anticipated that work on 5G will have advanced sufficiently, and this will have allowed adequate work to be undertaken to determine the spectrum requirements for 5G. More will be required at frequencies below 5GHz, but additional spectrum is anticipated for frequencies above 5GHz as well. It is within this timeframe that 5G allocations will be discussed.Although the earliest deployments for 5G may occur around 2020, these will be comparatively limited and its use not as wide as it is anticipated to be later. Accordingly the dates for spectrum release for 5G will progressively occur as 5G deployments increase and the bandwidth requirements grow.
  • 2023 – WRC23 :   Work towards WRC23 will only commence properly once WRC19 has taken place. However many will be looking towards this timeframe for further allocations for 5G and beyond.

Technology investigation timescales

5G Mobile Networks
5G Mobile Networks

One of the key elements in the early stages of 5G is the development of the basic technology. This started shortly after the first deployments of 4G.

Although the timeline for the research phase can only be broadly bounded and work will be ongoing even after the system enters service, it is anticipated that the basic research and investigations will need to be complete by around 2016 to enable this to feed into the standardisation process.

Standardisation process timelines

Standardisation is a key element of the 5G process. The timescales and dates of this activity are key to the successful deployment of 5G. It also involves several agencies including 3GPP, ETSI, NGMN, IEEE, and the like.

Possibly one of the key authorities is 3GPP. Their standards are used for the definition of the cellular standard, but with 5G being an aggregation of technologies, it is likely to require a number of standards institutions to work together.

The submission for the IMT 2020 are to follow the following dates and deadlines:

  • Initial technology submission date:
    • Deadline: Jun. 2019
  • Detailed specification submission date
    • Deadline: Oct. 2020

One of the key elements of the 5G developments themselves is the work on the radio access network, RAN. It is anticipated that the discussions on the RAN could be started around December 2015.

It is anticipated that the bulk of the requirements will be agreed in the first 6 months of the RAN discussion to guide the work in the working groups.

5G useful life timescale

It is generally estimated that the timescale for the first 5G networks will be around 2020, although there is pressure for some operators to launch much earlier.

However the useful lifetime for 5G is likely to be long. As it is aimed at providing general connectivity, and for IoT and M2M communications many of these applications will need to remain in place for many years. Utility meters, for example remain in place for many years, and the utility companies will not take kindly to having to replace their meters more frequently to follow the cellular technologies. Accordingly the useful life timescale for 5G is anticipated to remain in use until at least 2040.

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