5G: How ready are we?

In the mobile industry, the term ‘5G’ or fifth generation mobile is on everyone’s lips as industry players set out to commercially deploy the network, hopefully within the next few years.

Whilst 5G is tauted as the next level that will being about a ‘technological revolution’ as some analysts put it, in emerging markets such as Malaysia, the focus is still very much on improving 4G networks and driving up 4G’s adoption rates.

According to the GSMA’s report ‘The Mobile Economy Asia Pacific 2018’, the region is home to some of the world’s most advanced markets in terms of 4G adoption, such as South Korea, Japan and Australia.

However, it saw that emerging markets – including India, Bangladesh and Indonesia — will be the key drivers of 4G growth over the next few years.

Source: GSMA (The Mobile Economy Asia Pacific 2018).

“Across the region as a whole, 4G is expected to surpass 50 per cent of connections by 2019 and will then dominate to 2025,” the association said in its report.

On capital expenditure (capex), GSMA saw that between 2018 and 2020, mobile operators in Asia Pacific are expected to invest 14 per cent of revenues or US$188 billion in mobile capex — excluding one-time spectrum acquisition.

“In the most developed markets, while 5G remains nascent, mobile operators will mostly be focussing on upgrading 4G networks to faster speeds and lower latencies.

“In developing , operators’ priority will be to increase the coverage and capacity of their existing networks.

“Over the next few years, network investments will increasingly shift to 5G – though there is little guidance on the likely outlays necessary for 5G operators’ mobile capex.”

That said, GSMA projected that 5G will gain a foothold in the region by the end of the decade.

The association highlighted that the region will be a global leader in 5G deployments, competing with the US and some European markets to be the first to launch commercial services.

It also pointed out that countries in the region form three tiers: those aiming to be the first in the world to launch (Australia, Philippines and South Korea), early adopters hoping to ride the initial wave of global deployments (including China, Japan and India) and late adopters intending to launch but without official timelines.

“With launches expected from 2019, networks covering 37 per cent of the population by 2025, and increasing availability of 5G-enabled devices, 5G connections will scale rapidly, particularly in markets such as China, South Korea, Australia and Japan.”

In fact, it has forecast that by 2025, 5G connections will reach 675 million across Asia Pacific, accounting for more than half of the global total for 5G.

“China will be key to this growth, accounting for nearly two thirds of the region’s 5G connections by 2025.

“Other countries in which 5G should grow rapidly include South Korea, Australia and Japan, as networks are rolled out in urban areas and handset vendors integrate 5G chipsets into flagship devices.

“In these markets, 5G connections will account for around 50 to 60 per cent of total connections by 2025.”

Telenor Group’s research arm (Telenor Research) noted that though 2020 is the year that 5G’s global standard will release, 2019 will see commercial advances in 5G, which we see in the US and areas of Asia already.

According to Telenor Research, we will also see some of the first marketing campaigns based on 5G.

“From the first self-driving, 5G-steered buses to automated fisheries, from 5G-driven TV and fixed broadband to potential applications of 5G-powered remote surgery – the 5G floodgates will open in 2019, paving the way for commercial services to hit the market in 2020,” the research arm said.

5G’s progress in Malaysia

In the years to come, more spectrum will be identified for use by 5G by end of 2019 while the specifications of 5G radio interfaces is targeted to be completed by 2020.

This call was made in a November 2018 announcement calling for collaboration on 5G test beds by the Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

MCMC further noted that many countries around the world have conducted trials to understand the characteristics of 5G technology, including the use of spectrum in higher bands, coexistence with existing services, as well as use cases of 5G.

“In Malaysia, Minister of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia has made an announcement in October 2018 on 5G test bed in Putrajaya and Cyberjaya from November 2018 until October 31, 2019,” the announcement read.

“The aim is to explore the practical uses and modes of implementation of 5G as well as to learn and iron out policies, regulations and spectrum planning of 5G.

“In line with Minister’s announcement, MCMC has established 5G Test Bed Working Group to coordinate 5G trials in Putrajaya and Cyberjaya from November 2018 until October 31, 2019.”

The month also saw the MCMC establishing a national 5G Task Force to study and recommend a holistic strategy for 5G deployment in Malaysia.

“A collaborative effort with relevant stakeholders, the Task Force comprise members from the private sector, Ministries and agencies representing the demand and supply side of the ecosystem,” the commission announced on its website in December 2018.

“The Task Force is expected to complete its study and produce a final report for the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and Minister of Communications and Multimedia by September 2019.”

According to an earlier statement by MCMC, the task force has 31 permanent members which included Maxis Bhd (Maxis), Celcom, Digi.Com Bhd (Digi), U Mobile Sdn Bhd (U Mobile), edotco Group Sdn Bhd (edotco), Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) and Huawei Technologies (Malaysia) (Huawei Malaysia).

SMA’s key 5G spectrum positions

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GSMA’s key 5G spectrum positions which focus on the areas where governments, regulators and the mobile industry must cooperate to make 5G a success:

1. 5G needs a significant amount of new harmonised mobile spectrum. Regulators should aim to make available 80-100 MHz of contiguous spectrum per operator in prime 5G mid-bands (e.g. 3.5 GHz) and around 1 GHz per operator in millimetre wave bands (i.e. above 24 GHz).

2. 5G needs spectrum within three key frequency ranges to deliver widespread coverage and support all use cases. The three ranges are: Sub-1 GHz, 1-6 GHz and above 6 GHz.

– Sub-1 GHz will support widespread coverage across urban, suburban and rural areas and help support Internet of Things (IoT) services

– 1-6 GHz offers a good mixture of coverage and capacity benefits. This includes spectrum within the 3.3-3.8 GHz range which is expected to form the basis of many initial 5G services

– Above 6 GHz is needed to meet the ultra-high broadband speeds envisioned for 5G. Currently, the 26 GHz and/or 28 GHz bands have the most international support in this range. A key focus at the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 (WRC-19) will be on establishing international agreement on 5G bands above 24 GHz.

3. WRC-19 will be vital to realise the ultra-high-speed vision for 5G, and government backing for the mobile industry is needed during the whole process. The GSMA recommends supporting the 26 GHz, 40 GHz and 66-71 GHz bands for mobile.

4. Exclusively licensed spectrum should remain the core 5G spectrum management approach. Spectrum sharing and unlicensed bands can play a complementary role.

5. Setting spectrum aside for verticals in priority 5G bands could jeopardise the success of public 5G services and may waste spectrum. Sharing approaches like leasing are better options where verticals require access to spectrum.

6. Governments and regulators should avoid inflating 5G spectrum prices (e.g. through excessive reserve prices or annual fees) as they risk limiting network investment and driving up the cost of services.

7. Regulators must consult 5G stakeholders to ensure spectrum awards and licensing approaches consider technical and commercial deployment plans.

Governments and regulators need to adopt national spectrum policy measures to encourage long-term heavy investments in 5G networks (e.g. long-term licences, clear renewal process, spectrum roadmap etc).

Players on the move

In November, edotco Malaysia and Huawei Malaysia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the implementation of Digital Mobile Network Solutions to deliver next generation telecommunication solutions to mobile network operators (MNOs).

At the event, edotco Malaysia and Huawei Malaysia announced that the world’s first multi-operator, multi-technology indoor solution developed by them, has been installed in Stesen Sentral Kuala Lumpur (KL Sentral) and went live with all four MNOs in Malaysia on board in October 2018.

Celcom, Digi, U Mobile and Maxis have fully integrated into this Small Cells solution that has been deployed and have begun providing enhanced coverage and connectivity for their users passing through KL Sentral.

“The successful transition from proof of concept at KL Sentral is testament to our commitment to delivering world-class infrastructure to improve connectivity.

“This pioneering project is not only directly responding to increasing data consumption needs, especially in a high traffic location like KL Sentral but more importantly, it is a significant step towards 5G readiness in Malaysia.

“Together with our technology enabler, Huawei, we share a mutual goal of contributing to achieving Malaysia’s goals,” edotco Group chief regional officer Wan Zainal Adileen said.

Meanwhile, Maxis chief technology officer Morten Bangsgaard shared with The Borneo Post, Utusan Borneo and See Hua Daily in an interview last month that the group is working on 5G trials.

Last year, Maxis was already doing trials for the first 5G equipment in its labs and looking at gigabit speeds. Morten went on to reveal that they are hoping to start on more real 5G trials this year and put more real customers on these trials.

“There’s a few aspects of 5G that is fun and interesting. One of course is, it is a next generation technology so everything is bigger, faster and better. Hopefully what we will do, with this demand in capacity, it will be a more cost effective way for operators to build,” he said

“That’s where we probably will see 5G start around the world, it’s a little bit the same as 4G, but faster (from a next generation aspect). In that sense, you can say it’s probably the least exciting but that’s the most sure thing about 5G.”

“The other element about 5G is the amount of devices that you can connect to a 5G site. We are talking about hundreds of thousands per square kilometre, we are not there yet today, but at least the prospective of you being connected to many more devices in streetlights, in cars, and so on.

“The third aspect about 5G is called low latency, basically how quickly the network can react. 5G is the first technology where the network can actually react faster than a human being.”

Aside from remote surgeries, Morten foresees transportation and traffic management to greatly benefit from the 5G revolution.

“One potential thing is I would say cars, traffic and so on. You can see there’s a lot of investments going into this area. A lot of innovations is trying to go into traffic and safety, smart traffic management in cities and everything from traffic lights and so forth.

“That could be an area, I think, that would benefit early in the process. Over a longer term, it is hard to see, but I think every industry is looking into how we can use these new technologies.”

“Over time, we will hopefully see many interesting cases from the 5G perspective but it’s going to take some time.”

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Telecommunications provider Xiddig Cellular Communications Bhd (Xiddig) is also paving the way for 5G in the country, with its Malaysia International Internet Gateway (EM-IIG) project.

The objective of the project is to improve operational efficiencies, high speed service quality and provide affordable and reliable infrastructure for 5G technology.

According to Xiddig Sarawak chairman Datuk Justin Jinggut at a briefing for local contractors on the fibre optic cable installation in Sarawak earlier this month, the EM-IIG project will improve internet speed to make it 98 per cent faster than what is currently available here.

“This technology is from Alcatel Submarine Network. This cable will be laid from Hong Kong, directly to Malaysian waters, both East and West Malaysia,” Xiddig managing director Musa A Rahman said.

“There will be a direct cable linking into Sarawak itself. This is the first 150 terabyte (TB) fastest cable which will be implemented in Malaysia.

“Once it’s on land, most of the households will be able to subscribe for one gigabit per second (Gbps) at a very affordable price.”

Private investment reportedly amounts to about US$1.3 billion to put the EM-IIG infrastructure in place, both for the high speed bandwith, as well as the 5G technology, making it ready by 2020 or 2021.

The incoming wave of 5G-capable devices

On the other end of the spectrum, technology makers are well ahead in the race to provide

According to AmInvestment Bank Bhd (AmInvestment Bank), 5G connectivity is set to be a game-changer, reaching a theoretical speed that is 20-fold faster than 4G LTE, pushing the frontier of internet of things (IoT) innovations with the higher bandwidth and lower latency that comes with 5G connection.

“However, we believe commercial adoption may only take place in 2020 owing to bottlenecks from current network architecture which requires optimisation and higher cost of incorporating 5G modem into smartphones due to the need for multi-mode legacy network support (such as 2G, 3G, 3.5G, 4G) until we achieve widespread 5G coverage,” the research firm said.

That said, AmInvestment Bank did not discount the possibility of several smartphones being launched in the next six to 12 months and marketed as “5G capable”, as these devices will probably serve as a reference device for 5G adoption rather than a commercial deployment.

“Meanwhile, we expect smartphone manufactures to be focusing more on research and development (R&D) in 2019 to incorporate 5G connectivity and breakthrough features like foldable display into future devices, replacing the stale trend of annual marginal upgrades that consumers have been desensitised to.

“While this may not immediately translate into higher demand for smartphone semiconductor component, we believe Inari Amertron Bhd, with its expertise as an outsourced semiconductor assembly and test (OSAT) player in radio frequency (RF) chips and optoelectronics, is well positioned to gain from the transition to 5G in the longer term.”

On 5G-capable smartphones we can expect this year, Huawei Technologies Co Ltd (Huawei) has revealed that it will launch its first 5G smartphone model in the first half of 2019, and achieve a commercial scale of the cell phones in the second half of the year.

“Huawei has obtained 26 5G commercial contracts and signed cooperation agreements with more than 50 partners globally.

“The company has delivered more than 10,000 5G-oriented base stations, ranking first globally,” Huawei chairman Liang Hua said, as per a Tech News report.

He added that the company is doing well in Germany and has been involved in 5G development and testing with French and Japanese telecom operators.

At the 2018 China Mobile Global Partner Conference held last month, Xiaomi and OPPO showcased their 5G smartphones setting precedent for other competitors to follow suit.

According to Tech News, China is looking to push ahead with its rollout of a faster 5G network, with a pre-commercial phase this year and a commercial network in 2020.

“Some are looking to make an early bet on the technology. Huawei is planning a 5G phone mid-year, while Xiaomi is aiming for the third quarter. Samsung is expected to unveil a 5G phone in the first half of the year.”

Xiaomi had already showcased the 5G version of Mi MIX 3 at the China Mobile Global Partner Conference last month.

According to the Xiaomi Team, among one of the first 5G smartphones, 5G version Mi MIX 3 sports Qualcomm’s latest chipset platform, Snapdragon 855 and X50 5G modem, with a maximum download speed of up to 2Gbps.

“Xiaomi also demonstrated Web surfing and live video streaming using the 5G network, providing a vivid experience of the future benefits of 5G,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, OPPO also unveiled its Find X 5G Prototype for the first time at the 2018 China Mobile Global Partners Conference.

According to the press release on the event, OPPO, Qualcomm and Keysight Technologies Inc, a world-leading electronic measurement company, demonstrated 5G data connectivity and applications including browsing, online video replay and video call using the Find X 5G prototype.

“We are confident OPPO will be one of the first companies to launch commercial 5G smartphones in 2019,” OPPO Global vice president and president of China Business Brian Shen said at the conference.

As for Samsung, Samsung Electronics revealed in a press release that the company powered the commercialisation of home and mobile 5G networks with US carriers and all three mobile carriers in Korea, with additional trials running in Europe and Asia.

“Samsung is also committed to putting the power of 5G in consumers’ hands, with a 5G smartphone coming in the first half of 2019,” the statement said.

Apple, on the other hand, has been projected by Industry insiders to likely hold off until the fall of 2020 to have its own 5G-enabled phone, a strategy that would bypass the untested early period of the technology, according to a Tech News article.

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