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Second Look: The case for licensed and unlicensed technologies converging in 5G

spectrum - fcc

Source FCC

If 5G is going to work as a set of business models, then its proponents will have to get their heads around the idea of incorporating unlicensed technologies into the grand scheme, according to The Wireless Broadband Alliance and Maravedis-Rethink which today published the WBA’s Annual Industry Report for 2016.

The argument goes something like this: future data demands are naturally going to be substantial. And with the arrival billions of new devices and hundreds of device categories to cater for with IoT and M2M (including demanding data-hungry things like connected vehicle applications) the current model where entities compete to deploy exclusive slices of spectrum just won’t cut the mustard.  

“The hyper-dense network and 5G will not be economic or practical without the convergence and coexistence of licensed and unlicensed technologies. Ultimately, success will depend on unlicensed technologies working in conjunction with licensed networks, enabling new performance levels and flexibility for service providers of all kinds,” explains the report summary.

The unlicensed technologies in question will naturally include WiFi at its several frequencies and, at the other end of the spectrum, Low Powered Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) for IoT which are already being deployed by large telcos in both Europe and Asia. It seems liikely that these will be run side-by-side with their cellular cousin, NB-IoT.

The  WBA has conducted an industry survey and its key findings seem to support the idea that the convergence notion could be more widely supported than you might at first think.. even by those working in incumbent telcos:

  • Nearly 80% of respondents believe they will deploy Next Gen Wi-Fi by 2020, driven by the need to improve quality of experience (QoE), reduce churn, and provide seamless access between Wi-Fi networks, and between Wi-Fi and licensed networks
  • The key challenges for companies in developing and deploying wireless services are creating a sustainable business model, ensuring QoE and device availability
  • IoT, streaming video/OTT and Wi-Fi calling will be primarily driving future traffic growth
  • 63% of respondents believe that convergence will be important to crucial for network strategies, while 71% believe coexistence will be important to crucial.

The report claims that while 62 per cent of respondents believe 5G will be a combination of licensed and unlicensed technologies, 88 per cent believe that unlicensed spectrum technologies are critical for the development of 5G, due to factors such as enhanced throughput, reduced latency, better coverage and lower costs.

Well worth an extended read, the 2016 WBA Annual Industry Report is available to download.

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