5G, LTE Development Continues in Parallel as Mobile Data Sees Rapid Growth
Friday, February 19, 2016 | Comments

Even as 5G development continues, Long Term Evolution (LTE) will not fall by the wayside, 5G Americas President Chris Pearson said during a webinar about LTE and the road to 5G.

“5G Americas is very bullish on LTE,” Pearson said. “LTE is definitely carrying the payload today and tomorrow when it comes to mobile broadband.”

Development of LTE, which will serve as the foundation of 5G, will continue in parallel with 5G, Pearson said. He estimated that the first phase of the 5G standard, which would come in Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 15, should be completed sometime in the second half of 2018 with the second phase (3GPP Release 16) coming in December 2019. Commercial 5G deployment should begin shortly after in 2020. At the same time, standards such as LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro will continue to refine and improve LTE’s capabilities.

“The industry is not just waiting for 5G to happen,” Pearson said.

So far, 5G Americas sees enhanced mobile broadband; massive machine-type communications; and ultra-reliable, low-latency communications as the three general use cases for 5G, Pearson said. To fit those uses, operators will require more capacity, reduced latency and greater data speeds. Achieving those objectives will require new methods and standards to handle rapidly growing data traffic.

To that end, 5G Americas recommended 15 technologies that it feels should be looked at for 5G and has seen similar suggestions and recommendations from other organizations working on 5G, Pearson said.

Just as important for the standard is ensuring there is sufficient spectrum available, Pearson said. The World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15) identified 11 potential bands for 5G for study at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19).

“We feel that was an important development to get the process going,” he said. “It’s extremely important to encourage governments to put forth the spectrum needed for 5G so that it can be something we look at closely as we develop the standards.”

The continued work on LTE and 5G comes as mobile data traffic rapidly grows. Mobile data traffic grew from 2.1 exabytes per month to 3.7 exabytes per month in 2015, a 74 percent increase. Based on a forecast from Cisco, 5G Americas expects mobile data traffic to have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 53 percent between 2015 and 2020. By the end of 2021, the organization expects to see 4.1 billion LTE subscriptions.

While LTE is growing rapidly around the world, it is just beginning to find its footing in some areas. Of the 740 communications lines in Latin America, about half are supported by mobile broadband, but only 7 percent of those are LTE lines, said Jose Otero, 5G Americas director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Most of the others are high-speed packet access (HSPA) lines. Of the LTE lines in the area, 49 percent are in Uruguay.

A major factor in mobile data growth in Latin America is a lack of access to mobile broadband, something that should change by 2020. Otero estimated that by then, 94 percent of all mobile lines in the region will be supported by mobile broadband.

Otero cited a lack of adequate spectrum as one key obstacle limiting the growth of mobile broadband in the region. He pointed to Argentina as an example of the impact of available spectrum. For more than 15 years, the Argentinean government did not allocate spectrum for mobile services but held a spectrum auction at the end of 2014.

“Suddenly, you have an explosion in the growth and adoption of mobile broadband technology,” Otero said, pointing out that the country now accounts for about 10 percent of all the LTE lines in Latin America. “It is amazing growth we are seeing in Argentina.”

Despite the success of a few countries in increasing mobile data traffic, there’s still a lot of work to be done throughout the region, Otero said. For 2015, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) suggested that developing countries need about 1,300 megahertz of allocated spectrum for healthy mobile broadband growth. The average allocated spectrum in most countries in Latin America is about 320 megahertz with no country even approaching half of the 1,300 megahertz, Otero said. “We are way behind in terms of what should be an optimal amount of spectrum for mobile broadband services to take place in the region.”

One possible source of mobile broadband spectrum could come from the conversion of analog to digital TV in Latin America. However, Otero said, it could be a while before that spectrum becomes available as only Mexico has completed the analog TV shutdown and few other countries are close.

At the start of the webinar, Vicki Livingston, head of communications for 5G Americas, announced that the organization is changing its name from 4G Americas to reflect its work and progress with 5G.

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