UN Outlines Vision for Advancing 5G Service

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By: Jeff Bertolucci|

Never mind the hype about 5G service arriving any day now. The reality is that fifth-generation wireless — the successor to 4G LTE — is still a few years away from a full-scale rollout. The dream is still in the development stage. Case in point: Verizon recently announced plans to field-test 5G technology in 11 U.S. cities by mid-2017, but only in fixed wireless deployments that bring gigabit internet to home users.

Mobile 5G is very much a work in progress, as global telecommunications giants, industry consortia and government agencies continue to define what 5G will even look like. The United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the latest governmental body to post a list of technical requirements for 5G networks. As reported by InfoWorld, the ITU recently published a draft list of 5G essentials to set the performance baseline for the next-generation wireless network.

The UN’s Vision for 5G Service Speed

In addition to allocating global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, the ITU develops standards for telecommunications interoperability. Its 5G draft list arrives just as worldwide telecom players such as Intel, Ericsson and Qualcomm are unveiling their 5G plans at this week’s Mobile World Congress 2017 trade show in Barcelona.

The ITU document requires 5G service to deliver blazingly fast performance with a peak download data rate of 20 gigabits per second and a peak upload rate of 10 Gbps. By comparison, 4G LTE Advanced only offers theoretical speeds of 1 Gbps downstream and 500 megabits per second upstream.

Of course, real-world mobile performance almost never reaches those lofty maximums. The ITU’s real-world expectations for 5G throughput are far more down-to-earth, although they’re still fast by mobile 4G standards: 100 Mbps of download speed and 50 Mbps of upload speed.

5G to Manage More Devices

Naturally, 5G enhancements will offer a lot more than faster data rates. The ITU draft also requires 5G networks to deliver a minimum level of service, even when handling 1 million connected devices per square kilometer (or 2.59 million devices per square mile), InfoWorld notes. This will help to ease network strain at heavily congested events where, for instance, thousands of smartphone users might be trying to live-tweet a halftime show.

In addition, the ITU wants minimum 5G service levels for mobile users moving at different speeds, such as those walking or riding in a vehicle. The speed categories include:

  • Stationary: 0 kilometers per hour
  • Pedestrian: 0 to 10 kph
  • Vehicular: 10 to 120 kph (about 6 to 75 mph)
  • High-Speed Vehicular: 120 to 500 kph (75 to 311 mph)

The ITU draft list continues on with increasingly technical details of the minutia of 5G, including minimum requirements for spectrum availability, traffic density and several measures of spectral efficiency, InfoWorld reports. But what’s important here is that the UN is requiring 5G to be a powerhouse to manage large pools of devices at lightning speed.

The Future of the 5G Dream

South Korea’s KT Telecom hopes to launch a “pre-commercial” version of 5G next year at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But given the current uncertainty surrounding 5G technical standards, industry watchers say it’s unlikely that mobile users will see true 5G service before the year 2020. Market research firm Ovum forecasts that 5G service will have 25 million subscribers worldwide by the end of 2021.

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About The Author

Jeff Bertolucci

News Writer

Jeff Bertolucci is a Los Angeles-based journalist specializing in technology, digital media, and education. His work has appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, InformationWeek, PCWorld, Macworld, The Saturday Evening Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications.