Femtocell Opinion, comment and reviews

How will the indeterminate shape of 5G encompass Small Cells?

5gThere's been a lot of media hype around the term 5G in the past year. Is this groundless  and just another excuse for more conference events, or is there some substance to it? I attended Cambridge Wireless Future of Wireless event to try and find out.


Setting some constraints

Telecoms professionals have a pretty poor track record of predicting what applications and services will be most popular. For example, 3G had plenty of hype around personal videocalls and M-commerce which have still to come to fruition. 4G certainly provides faster data speeds (especially uplink), but we seem to have forgotten about voice.

Moray Rumney of Agilent (soon to be rebranded Keysight) spoke of the tradeoffs when designing any new generation. Do we want high speed, long battery life, reachability or resilience. It's tempting to say we want all of those. For sure, the focus in recent releases seems to be mostly around peak data rates and many other benefits have gone out the window. I still find many buildings or locations where I can't be connected or have poor quality voice/slow or unusable data service. The conference venue itself was a relevant example. Further confirmation can be found in a recent UK OFCOM report based on RootMetrics data which established that 30% of consumers find themselves outside coverage at least once a week.

Looking at it from a performance perspective, you might think:

Features we'd all like Consequences
(in no particular order)

Higher bit rates
Lower latency
Higher capacity density
Higher spectral efficiency
Higher connection density

Terminal and Network Cost
Terminal battery life
Energy efficiency

Where others might prefer to focus more on availability and efficiency:

Features we'd all like Consequences
(in no particular order)
High service availability
Lower terminal and network cost
Higher energy efficiency
Lower mobility
Longer Batter Life

Lower or sufficient bit rates
Higher latency
Lower spectral efficiency
Lower capacity density
Lower connection density

The tradeoffs are perhaps best illustrated using a Spider Chart:



Surely 5G won't be just a single technology

This leads to the view that 5G will become more than one technology to serve our needs – perhaps amalgamating one or two that go really fast with one or two that reach the most remote regions. Perhaps it could focus on one (sub)set of requirements and rely on existing technologies to cater for others.

Indeed, as with 3G and 4G before it, we would expect 5G to be able to interwork with previous generations rather than replace them. With Carrier Wi-Fi also emerging strongly, including the new Gigabit 802.11ad short range technology, 5G will have to deliver significant additional benefits to justify heavy further investment and shouldn't be considered a never-ending gravy train.

Finding customers across different verticals

One theme we heard many times throughout the event was the need to develop and extend telecoms services into the many vertical market sectors. Perhaps 5G could look to build on and extend the value of fully mobile wireless service differently for each sector.

The theme of M2M (Machine to Machine) comes up a lot in this context, but again it seemed to be all encompassing and widespread. We're not talking about a specific radio technology here - any and every technology available would be considered. Low power Bluetooth was mentioned more than once.

As an example of one vertical (energy retailers), what I learnt was that (here in the UK) we're implementing two somewhat contradictory approaches. Our first responders and emergency services, who today use the expensive and outdated European TETRA radio system, will find it replaced by standardised LTE – possibly using different frequencies with a few extra standardised features added in. This will save huge amounts of money and benefit from the mass market of LTE.

At the same time, the UK is installing a completely separate national radio network to communicate with smart energy meters. In the north of the country, Arquiva has a contract to do so and uses their own proprietary system. In the middle and south, Telefonica will simply reuse their existing 2G/3G/4G mobile network which seems to be a lot more practical to me. Extending coverage of the cellular network where needed to reach outlying meters would bring wider benefits of cellular connectivity to those areas overall.


The headline timeframe for 5G is really quite short. Japan (DoCoMo) have made bold assertions that they would have it available for the 2020 Summer Olympics. They've even announced their six suppliers for 5G trials. Meanwhile the South Koreans have announced trials in 2018 and commercial service in 2020, perhaps aiming to showcase it during the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Given the uncertainty of what 5G requirements are, I think it could easily take much longer. We'll need some clear agreements of what the goals are (probably from the ITU) before the industry can make real progress.

Perhaps the UK should rebrand its smart meter project as 5G, which will be delivered in a similar timescale.

The current reality

While we discussed the finer points of multi-gigabit, low latency wireless service that 5G could offer, a reality check was the poor (i.e. non-existant 3G) cellular service at the conference venue. This isn't unusual at conferences and no specific to any particular network operator. We already have plenty of in-building small cell technology to fix these issues today without needing 5G, but seem to lack the commercial and operational focus to make it happen.

There has been a gap of about 10 years between each new generation of radio technology, during which time the previous one matures and develops considerably. Even 2G GSM continues to evolve and remains present in almost every phone. We can expect to see substantial development for both 3G and LTE over the next 10 years, so I wouldn't wait for 5G to come along and solve all our problems quite yet.

Moray Rumney's 5G presentation can be found on the Cambridge Wireless event website here


Hits : 6834
  • 4




    A significant number of users continue to report poor mobile coverage in their homes. There will always be areas which are uneconomic for mobile operator to reach. They range from rural areas

  • 4




    The term Enterprise addresses any non-residential in-building including hotels, convention centres, transport hubs, offices, hospitals and retail outlets. It's not just intended for businesses to

  • 4




    Urban small cells (sometimes also named metrocells) are compact and discrete mobile phone basestations, unobstrusively located in urban areas. They can be mounted on lampposts, positioned on the

  • 4




    A rural small cell is a low power mobile phone base station designed to bring mobile phone service to small pockets of population in remote rural areas. These could be hamlets, small villages or

Backhaul Timing and Sync Chipsets Wi-Fi LTE TDD Regional

Popular Categories

Follow us on...