Is 5G The Future?


A slew of companies including chipmakers and phone manufacturers are drooling at the huge in- vestments that governments and telecommunications companies will need to set aside to win in the coming 5G sweepstakes. The technology is promising, the prof- its are alluring, and the potential is game-changing.
But will 5G really deliver?
The hype, as always, precedes the performance. “We believe in 5G’s promise it will connect every-body, and everything!” Samsung Electronics America president and chief operating offi cer Tim Baxter told delegates at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain on Feb 26. “We have already set up regional 5G trials in the US, UK, Japan and South Korea.”
5G will help shape people’s lives. “The Fourth In-dustrial Revolution will ride on 5G. It will address both coverage and capacity. We expect 5G to come faster and broader than what most people originally thought,” he said. Intel is working with Japan’s NTT Docomo to build a 5G network for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. That will probably be the largest commercial 5G de-ployment. Intel wants to be the fi rst in the 5G race if possible. In February, the company said it is collabo-rating with Dell, HP, Lenovo and Microsoft to bring 5G connectivity to PCs with Intel’s XMM 8000 series of 5G modems.
“We expect the fi rst high-performing 5G-connect-ed PCs to surface in the market in the second half of 2019,” Intel said. “5G is not just another generation of wireless connectivity. It promises new opportunities for technology innovation across the computing and connectivity landscape  from the cloud to the network and the client.”
What can 5G do that 4G currently can’t? Intel wants us to imagine immersing in untethered VR (virtual reality) from anywhere in the world, or download a 250 MB fi le in seconds from a parking lot, or continue to play a multiplayer game as we commute in anautonomous vehicle from home to work or study or wherever.
Chipmaker Qualcomm says it has been on the 5G track since 2016. “While others talk of a smartly connected future, we’re actually building the technologies today, leading the world to 5G, just as we did with 3G and 4G,” the company said. “For years, we’ve been the hub of 5G wireless tech innovation, pushing the boundaries of LTE (Long Term Evolution, a 4G mobile communication standard), collaborating with industry leaders, and spearheading research eff orts.”
At the Mobile World Congress, Qualcomm said it is working with 18 telcos worldwide to conduct 5G trials, as well as with 20 device makers on its Snapdragon X50 5G modem to be embedded in their devices. “We conducted two simulations, one in Frankfurt and the other in San Francisco, leveraging existing telecom cell sites in both locations,” Qualcomm said.
“We achieved fi le download speeds of 100 Mbps (megabits per second) for the 10th percentile 5G user 3 meaning that 90% of 5G users saw download speeds of more than 100 Mbps. This compares to 8 Mbps for the 10th percentile for 4G user currently.” The 5G stakes are not just high, but strategic. In March 2018, US President Donald Trump issued an order to block the proposed merger between chip giants Broadcom (headquartered in Singapore) and Qualcomm (headquartered in California). There is “credible evidence” that if Broadcom took control of Qualcomm, the company “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the US”, the order stated.
On April 4, Broadcom announced it had completed moving its headquarters from Singapore to San Jose, California. “The completion of our redomiciliation to the US marks an important milestone in our company’s history as Broadcom has been an American company in every respect but our legal domicile,” said Broadcom president and CEO Hock Tan. “Broadcom will invest US$3 billion annually in research and engineering, and US$6 billion annually in manufacturing. We expect we will pay several hundred million dollars in additional taxes to the US.”
Will this move help Broadcom take over Qualcomm? Not quite. Trump’s order says the two companies should “permanently abandon the proposed takeover”, indicating that Broadcom’s move won’t make a difference, unless it’s willing to take the order to court.
What fuels the 5G uptick? Why are companies and governments so worked up about the mobile mania? It’s because of the booming market for mobile phones, especially smartphones. The number of mobile phone users surpassed fi ve billion by mid-2017, according to a study by GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association).
The GSMA is an association of telcos and related companies focused on the GSM mobile telephone system. The booming markets in India, Indonesia and China will continue to spend on mobiles phones. In 2016, there were 4.8 billion mobile phones in the world. By 2020, there will be 5.7 billion (75% of the world’s population). Asia will account for 50% of that growth, with India alone adding 310 million new subscribers in
the next four years. “Mobile is a global platform that supports 66% of the world’s population,” said Mats Granryd, GSMA’s director-general “Our latest Mobile Economy report reveals how the near-ubiquity of smartphones and high-speed connectivity is enabling innovation in areas such as artifi cial intelligence and driving the digital transformation.” That boom in wireless connectivity has prodded telcos to invest close to US$1 trillion to upgrade their technology since 2010. “The mobile ecosystem employed 28.5 million people directly or indirectly in 2016,” the report notes. “This will rise to 30.9 million by 2020. The sector will contribute US$500 billion in tax receipts by 2020, up from US$450 billion in 2016.”
That excludes revenue from spectrum auctions, which were worth US$19 billion in 2016. The advent of 5G will enable subscribers to download a full HD fi lm in less than a second. The uptick in 5G adoption will follow the trend that mirrors the takeup of 4G. In 2016, 4G market penetration was 21%; by 2020, it will double to 42%.
Will 5G make 3G and 4G obsolete? It won’t. In most countries, 3G and 4G networks will continue, while richer economies gradually upgrade to 5G. As of now, 55% of all connections are running on 3G/4G networks. By 2020, 75% of all networks will still be on 3G/4G, while a few countries will off er 5G as an option.
How soon will users in Malaysia get to experience 5G? By 2022 at the earliest, as per estimates from Ericsson.
“The spectrum for 5G will be agreed globally in 2019 and the whole industry will need to create products once it has been agreed upon,” Ericsson Malaysia president Todd Ashton said at a media briefi ng in January 2018. “The use of 5G in the country could be implemented in less than five years if the groundwork is done now.”
Ericsson is collaborating with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and Celcom Axiata to conduct ground studies to implement 5G. “We have conducted studies on the effects of tropical climate on the spectrum that could be used for 5G in Malaysia,” Ashton said. Meanwhile, Malaysia is also working with South Korean conglomerate SK Group to initiate 5G trials under the Cyberjaya Smart City plan. In February, government-owned Cyberview Sdn Bhd signed a memorandum of understanding with the SK Group to develop Blue Ocean Smart Cities in Malaysia, starting with Cyberjaya.
How big is the potential market for 5G in Malaysia?
According to statistics from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), the country has about 24.5 million Internet users, which is about 77% of the population. But the more important indicator is the mode of access to the net. The main medium is the smartphone: 22 million people access the Internet via their smartphone, or a whopping 89% of all Internet users in Malaysia.
As for Singapore, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) plans to hold a public consultation later this year on the tech and spectrum requirements for 5G. In October 2017, Singtel and Ericsson announced a Centre of Excellence (CoE) to boost 5G development and deployment in Singapore. The CoE will see an initial investment of S$2 million over the next three years. Ericsson will provide the technical expertise and conduct training for 100 Singtel engineers to design and operate a 5G network.
“We invite customers in various verticals — such as transport, port operations and next-generation manufacturing to start shaping their new digital business models with us,” said Mark Chong, Singtel Group CTO. “We will set up 5G demos to showcase future application possibilities such as immersive experience on AR (augmented reality), enablement of haptic feedback in surgical operations, and remote medical education.”
The key component is cost. Once 5G becomes mainstream, telcos will need to invest an additional US$700 billion by 2020. In Malaysia, the investment cost to set up a nationwide 5G network could also run into billions of ringgit. The most logical solution: share the network infrastructure. “The strongest rationale for sharing will be cost savings and improved network quality,” according to a McKinsey study. “This is especially true for greenfield deployments such as small cells, where three operators can save up to 50% each through sharing. Simulations from one case showed that by sharing 5G small-cell deployment and building a common, nationwide 5G IoT macro layer, operators could reduce 5G-related investments by more than 40% as well as reduce the risk of their buildout plans by sharing access to capacity.”The bottom line: The question is not whether Malaysia should jump on the 5G bandwagon, but when 5G will deliver not just faster phone and data, but also connect cars, machines, cargo, traffi c, manufacturing and other equipment. By 2025, about 1.2 billion people may have access to 5G networks, 33% of those in China alone. This mobile miracle can provide a huge impetus for Malaysia to re imagine its future.

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