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AT&T and Verizon leaders talk 5G use cases, timeline

5G Symposium digs into RAN requirements and millimeter waves

AUSTIN, Texas — With four years to go until a target timeframe for commercialization, “5G” technology faces several key challenges ranging from highly flexible radio access networks to millimeter wave propagation, according to leaders from AT&T, Verizon Communications and Dish Network.

During a wide-ranging conversation, moderated by Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown, the companies discussed the state of 5G standardization, likely use cases and ongoing technology trials. Company representatives included Ojas Choksi, executive technology adviser for Dish Network; Gerry Flynn, director of corporate technology at Verizon; and Arun Ghosh, director of AT&T’s Advanced Radio Technologies Group. The session was hosted by The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions.

Verizon is testing “pre-standard” 5G technology with Nokia Networks using spectrum in the 73 GHz and 28 GHz bands. The use case is seen as “extreme broadband,” which would replace high-speed, indoor wired connections with wireless broadband.

“Clearly at Verizon our focus is on 28 GHz,” Flynn said, noting the carrier’s effort to understand the steering and propagation characteristics needed “to bring massive broadband to a fixed environment. Fixed is our priority.”

Speaking to the longevity of existing LTE deployments, Flynn said many of the use cases Verizon is considering can be supported by infrastructure that’s in place today. “LTE isn’t going anywhere soon. There’s a lot of development that is going on for [“Internet of Things”] in particular because that is expected to grow significantly. We’re not just locked onto one path forward. If you were to ask what’s our priority for 28 GHz, it’s broadband to the home.”

Choksi said from the satellite TV provider’s perspective, spectrum “will drive the 5G platform. That’s where we kind of are.”

Discussing the research, development and trials ongoing prior to standardization, Choksi hit on the variety of needs associated with a radio access network that can handle incredibly data-intense applications like streaming virtual reality video, tactile Internet and autonomous driving, while simultaneously supporting the very low data capacity needs of industrial IoT use cases like light or water monitors.

“It’s very hard to envision a single air interface that’s optimal for all those requirements,” Choksi said. “But, looking at those requirements, you have to be careful that you don’t take any shortcuts that you make it suboptimal for a certain set of requirements. That’s the care we need to take as an industry.”

Flynn said carefully crafted global standards are of paramount importance to future interoperability.

“There may be some variations that come into play as we move up from the physical layer … and talk about ways of delivering content. I think the fundamentals have been established,” Flynn noted. “You ought to have a device that you can take to any country and talk to anybody else in any other country. Operators don’t want to compromise that.”

Ghosh agreed that many major aspects of 5G have “a good deal of consensus at a high level. We do have an understanding that basically there’s going to be support for [software-defined networking], [network functions virtualization], things like that. At that high level there is an agreement, but I think really the devil is the detail and once you start getting into the numbers, there’s a lot of discussion.”

Ghosh called the continued development of millimeter wave and attendant technology “the biggest problem. More than the non-line-of-sight … the problem is really miniaturization of millimeter wave technology into a handset form factor. We have to go from using dish antennas to phased arrays even at the device. I think it is still a little bit early and we have a lot of technology breakthrough to happen before we get to that.”

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