Ericsson CTO: 5G goes beyond smartphones, fixed wireless

BARCELONA, Spain—While T-Mobile US CTO Neville Ray reiterated his disdain for what he considers the boring fixed-wireless use cases for 5G, Ericsson CTO and Strategy Head Ulf Ewaldsson said on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress 2017 that 5G is actually designed to do much more than that.

Ulf Ewaldsson (Ericsson)
Ulf Ewaldsson

“5G is when we go beyond smartphones,” Ewaldsson told FierceWirelessTech. “It’s really when we can do everything using wireless technologies to solve a number of different use cases,” from the sort of niche remote-controlled equipment for mining operations to immersive augmented reality for consumers.

To be sure, Ray is at the international MWC representing a disruptive major U.S. operator whose rival Verizon is touting progress in fixed-wireless trials across the country. Meanwhile, Ewaldsson works for the Swedish vendor Ericsson whose business dealings span the world, including work for T-Mobile.

Ray made a guest appearance at Ericsson’s press conference Monday to kick off the opening of MWC.

Ewaldsson told FWT that there will be smartphones in 5G, and the funny thing about smartphones in 5G—which might sound weird—is “they’re going to be faster than your mind,” he said. Today, smartphones are very fast, and the industry is doing well with LTE and now Gigabit LTE, “but we still have latency issues” and consumers notice even the tiniest amount of lag time.

How about the move from fixed to mobile? “Mobile 5G is going to be [there] from the beginning,” Ewaldsson said. “The world doesn’t look like first, it’s fixed 5G, and then it’s mobile. Mobile from the beginning.” In fact, as the industry moves to more virtualized network functions: “Mobile and fixed will disappear in 5G,” he said, noting a widely expected development.

The difference on the infrastructure side will not be so significant. “It will be having the same core network, a core network that can deliver an instant experience,” he said.

The industry parlance for this is network slicing; one of the slices could be the video experience that FiOS can provide, for example. Another example might be a car, or remote surgery.

“Those are all slices and what that means is an industry will have a certain parameter set up in the core network that applies to the needs of that particular application,” he said. “It’s an application-driven approach.”

These concepts are in play at operators around the world. “We have a lot of work in China, in Japan, in Korea, with Olympics on different network slices, network slices that are made for media experience in a stadium, for example, whatever it might be,” he said.

At MWC, Ericsson and Australia's Telstra announced that they will be launching an LTE-Broadcast (LTE-B) network across the country by 2018 using 3GPP standards.

In the U.S., both AT&T and Verizon have conducted LTE-Broadcast trials, and Verizon has an Indy car app that uses the technology. But it hasn’t really taken off even though it sounded like a great idea a few years back.

“I think what we have found out is that the market is smaller than we anticipated,” Ewaldsson said. “We have also seen the deployments be very specific,” such as at stadiums, where fans are all watching the same stream and there’s an automatic function in the network saying, ”they’re all watching the same stream, why don’t we broadcast it” and that makes it more efficient.

5G will do that and much more, so some operators are likely asking themselves how much they want to pour into LTE Broadcast and how much they want to move on to 5G.

Ericsson is one of the entities that signed on to support the acceleration of the 5G New Radio (NR) standardization schedule to enable large-scale trials and deployments as early as 2019. While there were a few notable names that are not part of it, a lot of basic industry players are getting behind it.  

RELATED: AT&T, Sprint join 20 other companies in bid to accelerate 5G NR schedule, but Verizon is MIA

Looking at the standard and how it’s moving through the 3GPP standards body, the deployments in Release 15 are in two versions: The first version will be non-standalone, “which means that if you have a 4G network, the sessions can be initiated from the 4G network and translated into 5G, so you can have a 5G network that is supported by 4G session management. It’s making it easier to start,” he explained. “You can use your NR radios, but you don’t need to have all the mechanisms there to set up calls and set up sessions.”

The standalone case is “when you don’t have any 4G infrastructure, you have only 5G that has to be all session management, all the handling of calls, all that has to happen in the new system,” and that is coming a bit later, he said.