Experts Disagree on Top Applications for 5G

Carriers argue that 5G will enable intelligent vehicles and the Internet of Things, but not everyone is convinced

3 min read
Composite of video images showing Henning Schulzrinne (left) and Chih-Lin I at IEEE 5G World Forum 2018.
Images: IEEE.tv

In the world of emerging technologies, you often see industry and academic experts take on the roles of “good cop” or “bad cop.” Whether someone plays a particular role depends largely on their own interests.

When it comes to the rollout of 5G networks, carriers and equipment suppliers are all in. On the other hand, in 5G’s current development cycle, at least one academic expert is taking a more skeptical position about the prospects for 5G networks.

This dynamic was on display at the IEEE 5G World Forum 2018 held this week in Santa Clara, Calif. Within a few hours on Tuesday, attendees witnessed Chih-Lin I, the chief scientist of wireless technologies for the China Mobile Research Institute, explain how the design philosophy of 5G had successfully achieved “green” and “soft” aims in Release 15 of the 5G New Radio specifications. “Green” translates roughly into efficient, and “soft” is intended to mean agile.

Based on the success of Release 15, the philosophy going forward is going to be “open” and “smart.” These design credos, she suggested, would ultimately lead to a faster and more efficient rollout of 5G and new ways to stay connected. From her talk, it appeared that 5G was going to move seamlessly from one success to another based on some simple design guidelines.

[shortcode ieee-pullquote quote=""My advice—that carriers will likely hate—is be the best bit pipe you can be and let others develop the applications"" float="left" expand=1]

In what felt almost like someone had put the brakes on the 5G train, Henning Schulzrinne, a professor at Columbia University, carefully detailed how the application that has served as the raison d’être of 5G networks—low latency for the Internet of Things (IoT)—doesn’t appear to be well suited for the job.

The weak links for devices communicating over wireless 5G networks are pretty clear to Schulzrinne. He explained that you can’t really use 5G networks for intelligent vehicles because while carriers may provide 99 percent population coverage, they’re nowhere near that level of coverage for roads.

The main application for 5G that experts have been touting for years is to enable machine-to-machine communication within factories. Still, Schulzrinne remained skeptical.

“Low latency is a great thing, but what you really want is a locally managed network by companies that have technicians on staff inside the factory,” said Schulzrinne. “You don’t want to be in a position where you have to call a carrier and have to wait for a 4-hour arrival window for one of their technicians to arrive, or not.”

This point was made clear earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in an interview with Julius Robson, the chief strategy officer of the Small Cell Forum. Robson explained that traditional carrier business model of selling SIM cards to customers will not translate for factory operators that are trying to get their particular machines to communicate with each other in a very particular way. A new mobile ecosystem will need to be developed to meet this broad range of needs, according to Robson.

From the conference, it appeared that carriers are looking to be the ones to create this ecosystem with a wide range of new apps developed on the basis of design criteria like “open” and “smart.” But Schulzrinne remained dubious about whether the carriers are the best ones to take on that responsibility.

In answering a question from the audience about what carriers should be doing going forward, Schulzrinne said: “My advice—that carriers will likely hate—is be the best bit pipe you can be and let others develop the applications.”

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Carl De Torres
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