18 operators now committed to pre-standards “5G” launches

GSA marks new approach to data release with early look at LTE-Advanced PRO and 5G evolution.

The GSA has said that 18 operators are currently committed to the implementation of services based on pre-standards 5G technology by or before 2019. The number is released in its quarterly update on network technology and spectrum deployments and trials, which for this version is titled “Evolution from LTE to 5G”.

Although the GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association) does not name all the specific pre-5G operators within the report, it does mention Etisalat, Telia Sonera, TIM and Verizon as four examples.

There are also 19 operators that have commercially launched some aspect of LTE-Advanced PRO – the 3GPP nomenclature for LTE specifications included in R13 onwards. These include 4 NB-IoT networks – Telus Canada, T-Mobile Netherlands, Telia Norway, and Vodafone Spain – and 12 LTE-M networks, although a further 40 NB-IoT networks are planned to launch.

A further 26 operators are trialling, deploying or planning LTE-Advanced Pro networks exhibiting multiple Rel-13 features such as those related to carrier aggregation, modulation scheme, MIMO, latency and MCPTT (mission-critical push-to-talk).

What constitutes LTE-Advanced PRO is relatively easy to determine, but labelling something as “5G” is trickier. The GSA’s report itself says, “Exactly what those pre-standards 5G networks will offer in terms of performance, and what spectrum bands or potential 5G features they will support, has yet to be determined. We will be tracking operators’ plans as they firm up.”

GSA President Joe Barrett said that the body has yet to decide upon its exact definition of what will constitute a “5G” network. For something like 5G New Radio the designation is pretty straightforward, but for other elements related to 5G  – core, network slicing etc – muddy the waters.

“You could argue that an operator has a ‘5G core’ but not a New Radio based RAN, and so we have not agreed yet what is the definition of 5G – it will come to light in the next six months.”

The LTE Evolution to 5G report is the first report to be produced as the GSA changes the way it reports its data to the market. Instead of producing a report of over 100 pages, the organisation has released a much shorter report running to just 15 pages. Meanwhile, it is compiling the data it has produced for years in those 100+ page reports into a searchable database, encompassing network status, frequency deployments and so on.

The database is available to members and will also be available for a subscription fee to others. The GSA’s President Barrett said that an example of the database functionality might be to help someone find out what devices are available on a certain spectrum band, or to see what spectrum bands operators have launched within. The GSA compiles its data from publicly available sources and through direct contact with operators, and there is also facility for operators to update with their own information.

Barrett said the GSA is aiming to grow its membership by attracting members from a wider cross section of the ecosystem, and making it cheaper for smaller companies to join by offering a fee structure related to employee numbers. It has also expanded its executive board to include Intel and Huawei, and re-add Nokia to existing members Qualcomm and Ericsson. Another major manufacturer will be joining the exec board soon, according to Barrett.

Barrett added that the body has also been taking a stronger position in lobbying for spectrum harmonisation globally – at the request of its members.

“Vendors wanted to have a spectrum group associated with a single entity that could lobby and reply to submissions and enquiries from different bodies,” he says. Although the GSMA already takes an active role in spectrum issues from an operator perspective, Barrett said, “Spectrum issues across all their [the GSMA’s] members can be difficult to coordinate whereas we can take a slightly different and more global view from the vendor perspective.”