5G: the future Internet

In our view, 5G is the future Internet. It will include radio access and a convergent core network between fixed access and radio access(es).  5G will deliver more than connectivity thanks to a new network architecture based on softwares, the future 5G network will integrate computing and storage resources.

5G: the future Internet

While research on the technical characteristics and potential uses of 5G is ongoing along with its standardisation, 5G is expected to bring a major leap forward from current telecommunications technologies. 5G will provide an order of magnitude improvement in performance in the areas of: more capacity, lower latency, more mobility, increased reliability and availability. 5G will allow the connection of many more devices simultaneously and to improve the terminal battery capacity life.

5G: why a next generation technology?

5G is driven by a number of major trends developing in a hyper-connected economy and society. As an immediate observation, data traffic, particularly mobile traffic, is increasing rapidly. According to projections, global internet protocol (IP) data traffic will grow at a compound annual rate of 23% from 2014 to 2019. By 2020, there will be 30 times as much mobile internet traffic as there was in 2010. This increase is largely due to greater volumes of data-intense video, and the growing use of cloud computing where data and applications are accessed remotely over the internet, as well as the increasing number of connected devices.

As a matter of fact, connected devices such as smartphones and tablets are increasingly becoming ubiquitous: consumers expect to have their personal devices connected at all times wherever they are. They expect their devices to respond quickly even in dense urban environments where radio spectrum is shared with many thousands of others, or in highly mobile situations, e.g. when they are moving rapidly in a 'connected car', or in a high-speed train.

In addition to these consumer trends, the number of internet-connected devices is rapidly increasing in full business and industrial modes. Forecasts say that by 2019, there will be 24 billion networked devices and connections in the world, up from 14 billion in 2014. Smart objects such as household appliances, wearables such as watches or clothing, but also industrial robots, factories and warehouses, moving vehicles and relocated assets, will be connected to networks in order to relay the information that they collect and possibly have it acted upon in a timely fashion.

In this context of ever growing demand and push for performances, it is also essential that 5G is far more efficient than the current mobile technologies, for instance on the energy side.  In practice, a disruptive design for 5G should allow to yield a zero power consumption when there is no traffic, for example thanks to enhanced sleep modes that would enable to switch off part of equipment. As a result, a low-energy consumption 5G network would drive costs down and support, for example, sensors with 15 years battery lifetime.

The “One-size-fits-all” model of today Internet is no longer adapted to emerging use cases such as cooperative overtaking for autonomous driving or factory automation. In order to overcome this issue, 5G will enable the operator to create dedicated virtual networks over a common infrastructure, customised to provide optimized solutions for different market scenarios which demands diverse requirements, e.g. in the areas of latency, reliability and isolation.

Economic impact of 5G

By boosting competitiveness and new business models, 5G is likely to stimulate economic growth, in all areas of the economy. In particular, we believe that 5G can open new opportunities in vertical markets that need to embrace the value of ‘going digital’ and of being wirelessly connected compared to their counterparts in the global race. We envisage benefits for citizens and businesses in 4 key areas:

  • Enhanced Broadband: Broadband will be boosted, delivering a real step change in capacity, connectivity, bandwidth and a higher Quality of Service;
  • Human-object interaction communication: Ultra-reliable, low-latency communications will become easier, with new innovations in augmented reality, wearables, tactile internet and smart housing.
  • Internet of Things: Devices will be remotely controllable in an ever reliable, secure and energy-efficient way, offering unprecedented opportunities in sectors such as manufacturing, energy, wearables and healthcare;
  • Due to its characteristics, 5G will play an instrumental role in digitalizing various industries: transport (including automotive), industry/manufacturing, media and entertainment, smart utilities in the public sector (including healthcare). Through connectivity, 5G will facilitate the emergence of new products and services. It will change the production models and the ways we consume products and services. The disruption offered by 5G can be unique and it cannot be compared with the chances caused by the previous technologies like 2G/3G or 4G.

To fulfill these promises, 5G will need to be flexible and versatile to support services with very different characteristics (e.g. high data rate for mobile broadband, very low energy consumption for massive number of sensors, or highly reliable communications with extremely low latency for factory robots), ideally on the same carrier.

Policy challenges

Policymakers and regulators have an important task ahead in supporting and facilitating EU leadership in 5G but there are several policy challenges.

First, for 5G to be deployed as widely as possible in Europe, it is necessary to incentivize infrastructure investment. In particular, for European operators to invest revenue forecasts must improve. In the current context return on investment is low and revenues are decreasing. The coming revision of the telecom regulatory framework is of utmost importance for the deployment of future networks: in particular, industry expectations are directed towards a significant simplification of rules (for example by reducing sector-specific ex-ante regulation) as well as more reward and incentives to invest (through a level playing field across market players in the digital value chain). 5G requires, densification of networks, therefore there is a need to adapt local regulations to facilitate the construction of networks, to remove artificial barriers to deployment including: fair and reasonable rights-of-way to passive facilities, site rental charges and emissions limits (that should be predictable and harmonized across the EU).

On the scare resource side, 5G will require more spectrum allocation, with more harmonisation and more affordability. 5G calls for a renewed regulatory environment allowing access to additional spectrum resources.

In the long time, exclusive licensing should remain the default licensing regime as it ensures QoS, encourages the research and development, offers predictability and safeguards long term investment.

In practice, as the first waves of 5G deployments are likely to occur in the low frequency ranges (below 6GHz) to cover large areas and provide good indoor penetration, mobile operators should be able to use the existing spectrum resources identified for 2G, 3G and 4G.

Yet the faster speeds which are targeted by 5G are difficult to achieve at lower frequencies: this is why securing higher frequency bands, above 6 GHz for 5G is also important: The spectrum above 6 GHz could support a variety of uses, ranging from financial trading and entertainment to gaming and holographic projections, with the potential to support very high demand users in busy areas, like city centres.

Yet, a major challenge in accelerating 5G deployment is about finding the new business models that would justify and finance such investments. In this line, there are high hopes that strong growth perspectives could come from services around Internet of Things (beyond metering / asset tracking) and specialized services (very low latency, very high reliability…). Accordingly, the implementation of innovative value added services requires that Open Internet rules are compatible with ensuring that networks are able to meet increasing demand. It should be made clear from the legal point of view that the telecommunications network operators can offer specialised services – in particular the Internet of Things (IoT) services, such as  e-Health, smart cities and connected cars – that are based on Quality-of-Service levels. The rules should offer operators predictability and limit diverging case by case decisions undertaken by respective National Regulatory Authorities. The law should be technology neutral and should not impede operators from efficient management of their networks, no matter which technology they use. Operators will need to be free to offer dedicated network functions to different verticals through innovative solutions such as: Software Defined Networking (SDN) or Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) in order to achieve the required performance, scalability and agility. Furthermore, operators should be free to mix 5G, 4G, 3G and 2G technologies to optimally serve their customers, without artificial constraints regarding the usage of 5G technologies.

5G: from standardization to deployment

Orange is committed to deploying 5G networks, with rich, interoperable, standardised equipment. Consistently with current standardisation roadmaps, first commercial 5G deployments could start in 2020, preceded by initial field trials taking place in the 2018- 2019 timeframe.

Orange already dedicates a significant amount of resources contributing to the elaboration of 5G in the relevant standardisation organisations (such as 3GPP, ETSI, NGMN) to ensure that the 5G standard ensures interoperability and facilitates economies of scale. Moreover, collaboration with adjacent industry sectors, such as automotive, healthcare and utilities, is crucial, with a view to meeting their needs and boosting the integration in the wider economy and society.

In this context, initiatives taken by the European Commission to promote and accelerate 5G as a key priority standardization domain for Europe and to facilitate the integration of vertical industries in 5G discussions are very welcome.