7 Experts Forecast What's Coming for 5G in 2020

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Predictions on the 5G Ecosystem from the IEEE Future Networks Initiative
14 January 2020

2019 was the relative calm before the 2020 5G deployment storm. Carriers took their first steps in network deployments while engineers worked through gnarly technical challenges, and important tests of the technology were performed in real-world conditions.

It became clear in 2019 that 5G was much more than an upgrade to our mobile phones, and that its first use would not be consumer led. Rather, for the first time in any generation of wireless, enterprise applications would lead the way as first adopter.

The IEEE Future Networks International Network Generations Roadmap (INGR), First Edition predicts, “..it is anticipated that 2020 will see a transformation of the communication industry as multiple new (and powerful) players will fight for market share in which content and ease of use will be the driving factors.”

 We tapped into IEEE Future Networks Initiative subject matter experts, many of whom are involved in the INGR, to get their insights, perspectives and expert opinions on what is to come in networks in 2020. This is what they said:


Spectrum MatterstimLee
Timothy Lee, Co-chair of the IEEE Future Networks Initiative, and General Chair, IEEE IMS2020

  • Below 6 GHz, 5G deployments will gain momentum in 2020 with many installations across the globe. Meanwhile, mmWave 5G deployments will lag due to challenges of small cell deployment issues, costs, and regulatory hurdles. American carriers like Sprint with sub-6 GHz bands (i.e., 2.5 GHz) may gain an edge since they do not have to deploy small cells so soon.
  • Shared Spectrum Access will be a key technology in the US that will enable sharing of commercial licensed, unlicensed, and government bands. Once proven, this will allow sub-6 GHz spectrum for more rapid deployment, especially in rural regions.
  • Second generation mmWave transceivers will be released in 2020, paving the way to improved performance and much reduced costs for user equipment (UE).
  • What will be the first 5G killer app to gain attention in 2020? AR/VR? Autonomous cars? Enhanced Broadband? MM2M for IoT? Some other use case?

What Innovation in Spectrum Allocation can MeanJIrvine
James Irvine, Co-chair, IEEE Future Networks Initiative - Community Development Working Group, and Reader, Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Strathclyde

2020 will be the year when private 5G networks start being taken seriously. While 5G incorporates a range of innovations such as low latency and higher reliability, deployments so far have been very traditional, with mobile network operators (MNOs) adding the technology to their existing networks and focusing on delivering higher speeds. Instrumental in this is that, in general, it is the traditional operators who have access to spectrum. However, across the world, regulators are recognizing the need for innovation in spectrum allocation. For example, the UK regulator Ofcom recently introduced rules for spectrum sharing and the reallocation of existing mobile operator spectrum in areas where it isn’t currently used, with the aim of making local service provision easier. Combining these rules with the more flexible network structure of 5G will make community network providers and 5G private networks a practical possibility. This, in turn, will stimulate the deployment of new, specialized applications such as protection for electrical distribution networks, which 5G makes possible but which aren’t in the plans of traditional operators. As a result, 5G will disrupt the cellular market in a way previous generations have not.


The wild-card for 5G emergence is deployment: 2020 with some creep into 2021 and 2022DavidWitkowski
David Witkowski, Chair, IEEE Future Networks Initiative - International Network Generations Roadmap – Deployment Working Group, and Founder & CEO, Oku Solutions LLC

  • Until the mobile device ecosystem begins widely offering 5G support, initial deployments of 5G will focus on Fixed Broadband as a competitor to xDSL and DOCSIS cable.
  • We expect deployments of 5G Enhanced Mobile Broadband for portable devices will ramp up in late 2020, and initially they will focus on in-building networks (e.g. malls, convention centers, sports venues) and downtown areas with high user densities.
  • Industrial IoT (IIoT) deployments using 5G Ultra-Low Latency Communications (URLLC) and Massive Machine-Type Communications will likewise depend on availability of sensors, actuators, and, in some applications, edge computing. We expect this to begin in 2021 as IIoT device vendors release 5G-enabled products.
  • Availability of 5G URLLC will enable augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) products – initially for specialized (corporate, medical, government, and public safety) applications and later for consumers as economies of scale bring down costs. We expect some early announcements of 5G-enabled specialized AR/VR in 2020.
  • Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) will enable private 4G/5G networks and will be disruptive. Device support for the CBRS band will emerge in late 2020, ramping to wide availability in 2021. We expect that in 2022, low-cost consumer-grade CBRS access points will enable homeowners and small businesses (SOHO) to deploy CBRS sites in the same way they currently deploy Wi-Fi access points.
  • Widespread availability of CBRS support in devices will be disruptive to Wi-Fi, especially in enterprise and municipal/public deployments, then in SOHO deployments. Alternative providers now using Wi-Fi First models (Comcast Xfinity Mobile, Google Fi) will shift towards a “Wi-Fi or CBRS First” model, especially if broadband companies add support for CBRS into residential and small business gateways.
  • The wild-card for 5G emergence is deployment. Local governments have struggled with 4G small cell deployments, and the higher density of 5G sites in millimeter wave bands presents additional challenges to application and permitting at the local level. Fears about 5G health effects will require deliberate response from industry, governments, and medical academia to counter misinformation, pseudoscience, and superstition.

Calling for a Sea Change in Transmitter RF EfficiencymcCune
Earl McClune, Ph.D., Co-chair, IEEE Future Networks Initiative - International Network Generations Roadmap – Hardware Working Group, Fellow IEEE, and Chief Technology Officer, Eridan Communications

As more operators push 5G from demonstration sites into wider deployment, 2020 is going to be the year that power efficiency moves to the center of the conversation. Today’s 5G radios are typically operating at about 10% power efficiency, and 5G base stations overall consume about three times as much power as the LTE base stations they replace. Beyond the increased scrutiny that CFOs at mobile operators will be applying to manage the costs of this input power, the waste heat generated by 5G radios is presently imposing substantial design constraints.

But for 5G to reach universal adoption, matching the 20%-range of power efficiency of LTE systems is nowhere near enough. To operate profitably, the industry requires a sea change in transmitter RF efficiency – getting to the neighborhood of 40-60% DC to RF, including all linearization. From small cells that are genuinely small, to cost-effective solar-powered systems, to beam-steering MIMO arrays to cover large open spaces, power efficiency must be at these levels to open up the new deployment options the industry needs.


The 5G Energy Gap – The Bad News and the Good NewsBZ Headshot USE SMALL 7 12 16 1
Brian Zahnstecher, Chair, IEEE Future Networks Initiative - International Network Generations Roadmap – Energy Efficiency Working Group, and Principal of PowerRox

Ok, the bad news first…as these massive 5G networks are being deployed in full speed in 2020, there is the growing issue of the 5G Energy Gap, which is how microwatt-level devices at scale can have a direct impact on the ability of the utility grid to meet the load energy requirements, while maintaining grid reliability. The good news is this is also a fantastic opportunity to fast-track an emerging technology to the mainstream. Energy Harvesting (EH) solutions can supplement or even mitigate the tiny power requirements of systems where it matters most, at the edge. This is done by scavenging every form of physical, ambient energy from the surrounding environment to spare the utility grid and power plants the burden of the 105-106 Power Cost Factor multiples applied to each and every microwatt of edge device received power. Not only will EH sources be a critical factor in addressing the 5G Energy Gap, but this symbiotic relationship will also be mutually beneficial in the respect that increasing viability of the EH ecosystem will also make application to IoT and IIoT devices more pragmatic and affordable. Not only does this lead to a massive environmental impact (i.e., reduction of batteries/hazardous waste/carbon footprint) and increased reliance on sustainable power sources, but also drives critical system design philosophies in power management and energy efficiency.


If and when 5G+ Becomes RealityWaterhouse
Rod Waterhouse, Co-chair IEEE Future Networks Publications Working Group, and, CTO, Octane Wireless

2020 promises to be a very exciting and important year for 5G and future networks. We will definitely see more and more roll out and therefore penetration of the lower spectrum (less than 6 GHz) 5G network throughout the world. Associated with this we will see more debate on the health-related aspects of small cell architectures, whether the debate is founded in science or not. On the research and development side of things, we will see further, exciting activity in the realization of millimeter-wave technology for handsets and access points, and by the year’s end we should be in a better position to see if and when 5G+ (the true incorporation of mm-waves into the mobile network) becomes a reality. Areas of interest to watch over the next 12 months include the role of satellites in future networks, the ramping up of vehicle to X (V2X), the realization of virtual medical care and also efficient technology and protocols for the interface between the backbone and mobile networks. All could be crucial to the success of future networks.


Increasing Demand, Paths of Progress, and New ChallengesWaterhouse
Ashutosh Dutta, Co-chair of the IEEE Future Networks Initiative, and Senior Professional Staff, JHU Applied Physics Laboratory

  • There will be an increased demand for Wi-Fi 6 and private 5G type networks, resulting in co-existence of Wi-Fi and cellular technologies.
  • Security will be embedded in the end-to-end network resulting in more secured 5G networks.
  • There will be an increased trend in virtualizing the network end-to-end.
  • There will be an increased trend in implementation of technologies like Cloud RAN and Mobile Edge Cloud.
  • There will be an increased demand for use of 5G technologies for tactical and first responder networks.
  • There will be a big focus toward sustainability and an increase in activities to spread wireless connectivity in rural networks.
  • There will be increased activities toward implementing experimental testbeds for 5G technologies.
  • Supply chain, geo-political, and environmental issues will be barriers for rapid deployment of 5G technologies.
  • Rural communities will see widespread deployment of low-band networks.
  • Satellite technologies will play an important role in support of 5G use cases.

Learn more about advances to come for 5G and future networks through the International Network Generations Roadmap (INGR), available now on the IEEE Future Networks website.