Unlicensed networking has been given a reputation of being something of a disruptive technology, and it’s a stigma that businesses involved in unlicensed networking have worked hard to overcome. It is easy to see why some companies might be happy to let this reputation exist: licensing airwaves is expensive business, both to pay for the license and then to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure to use the frequency. Unlicensed broadcasters do not need to pay for the airwaves. Furthermore, for those networking technologies already existing and operating in unlicensed spectrum, any new entry into the airwaves may cause interference or disruption to existing services. This is an argument we have seen with unlicensed LTE (or LTE-U) operators, whereby the frequencies to be used are being shared with 802.11 Wi-Fi, something that has upset many Wi-Fi operators and caused new technologies to be developed such as LAA. However, a new report from the Wireless Broadband Alliance, or WBA, in conjunction with Maravedis-Rethink, highlights that both licensed and unlicensed technologies will need to work together in order to realize the expected standards and improvements of 5G networks.
Currently, we do not have verified 5G networking standards, but the report goes into some detail as to how both licensed and unlicensed spectrum will be needed in order to improve both the performance and flexibility to avoid 5G simply being a faster and more efficient variant of 4G networking technology. What is interesting is that the WBA consists of a large number of today’s carriers, equipment manufacturers and other interested parties, with names such as Google, Cisco, Microsoft and Boingo Wireless seen around the table. For 2016 the report concentrates on next generation Wi-Fi, the blend of licensed and unlicensed technologies for 5G, together with the concepts and ideas of connected and smart cities. It’s these two last points that are of most interest to carriers: the report sets out that cellular network operators will still be a cornerstone of fifth-generation networks and smart cities, whereas some industry experts had doubted how much involvement the carriers might have. Tomorrow’s smart cities will use a blend of sensors and networks that are currently being considered in the “Internet of Things” category and in here we will find current cellular networks plus new generation signal.
As for the missing 5G network standards, currently there are a number of proposals for these based around different use cases. Three examples given were different technology standards for low power, wide area networking, high-performance networking for busy areas and high-frequency network technologies. These standards will use some of the work that the IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) has been doing around Wi-Fi wireless networking standards. The IEEE wishes to collaborate with the 3GPP (the standards body working to develop cellular wireless networking technologies) in order to produce a set of standards for 5G networking. Given that next-generation networking is to operate on many different frequencies, a high level of cooperation should be very beneficial for the industry.