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NGMN's Forum has sorted out its concept of what 5G's future should be

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March 4, 2015

The Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) wireless carriers' forum has determined a form of concept of what 5G's future should soon look like, and set forth a plan of its ideal vision of a post-4G world.

In a nutshell, the 5G world is going to have to get moving on this real soon, although the roadmap, with contributions from luminaries such as AT&T, British Telecom, China Mobile, DoCoMo, SingTel, Verizon Wireless, Vodafone, Telstra and a few others, wants the first steps to be complete by the end of 2015.

With detailed requirements for this so-called '5G roadmap' called for by the end of this year, the paper lays out the remaining steps as being:

  • Initial system design by 2017
  • Trials in 2018
  • Standards ready by the end of 2017
  • Commercial offerings by 2020
  • That's a rather challenging timeline, considering that what wireless carriers see 5th generation networks like they're being put together a 'bit at the last minute'.

    For example, the NGMN Group has noticed that 5G is going to have to support mobile handsets, transceivers in cars and a who-knows-how-many IoT (Internet of Things) devices, so the network will have to be able to be sliced up in so many ways that each use-case gets the resources it needs.

    As the paper notes, IoT sensor deployments could demand “several hundred thousand simultaneous active connections per square kilometre”.

    Wireless carriers also say that they'd like to replace the office LAN, calling for industry standards that can deliver “1 Gb/s to be offered simultaneously to tens of workers in the same office floor”.

    Unsurprisingly, 4G wireless spectrum efficiency is inadequate for the future, at least for now-- “In particular, the average spectrum efficiency (measured in bit/s/Hz/cell) and the cell-edge spectrum efficiency (measured in bit/s/Hz/user) should be improved”, the paper states.

    The NGMN wants 5G to be the path by which the world will get 50 MBPS just about everywhere, with capacity and network latency able to support “extreme real time communications” like the “tactile Internet”, sufficient reliability for M2M and eHealth solutions.

    Remembering that wireless carriers are already challenged by the erosion of their revenue base needs to be delivered on a technology that also enables “ultra low-cost networks”, the group says.

    “5G is expected to be flexible enough to be deployed under ultra-low cost requirements” for low-ARPU locations such as emerging markets, or low-density areas in existing markets, it suggests.

    The NGMN says “a key requirement for 5G will be that a consistent customer experience is achieved across time and service footprint” in a “5G eco-system that is truly global, free of fragmentation and open for innovations”.

    Devices will have to be multi-band and multi-mode, which will also place a premium on battery life and device efficiency, with the NGMN paper calling for three-day life for smartphones and up to 15 years for low-cost IoT devices.

    The world's also going to have to get going soon on what could be the biggest bug the industry has to swallow in delivering 5G-- spectrum allocation reform.

    Noting that there's nowhere near enough space in today's mobile spectrum to meet its 5G exhaustive list, the NGMN calls for “study technical feasibility of the ranges between 6 GHz and around 100 GHz, in particular those where primary or co-primary allocation to mobile in the ITU Radio Regulations exists already. The lower limit for the band range (above 6 GHz) should be further assessed,” it added.

    Considering how slowly political processes move and the capacity for existing spectrum users to stymie reform, it might be very challenging to find enough radio spectrum in the next five years to do everything the wireless carriers are hoping for.

    Today at the Mobile World Congress conference, BlackBerry said it will port key client platform features like its soft keyboard, Universal Search and Hub to iPhone and Android OSs.

    The company also added it will throw those features into its enterprise software bundles as well.

    That BlackBerry makes that decision today comes as no surprise to many, and it marks a huge leap along the company’s transition to a software services company.

    However, CEO John Chen denied that BlackBerry was exiting the hardware business. The company has already made some of its crown jewels cross-platform, such as BBM and added others, such as its BBM Meetings scheduling service.

    Today it’s throwing the unified messaging client Hub, Calendar, Documents to Go, Universal Search and the distinctive software keyboard into the mix.

    BlackBerry will also offer a menu of three bundles-– Security Suite (which includes containers, authentication services and a VPN, Communication Suite (including BBM and Meetings) and a Productivity Suite.

    All require a BlackBerry server, and will only be consumer offerings if telcom firms and hosting companies begin to offer them, which isn’t entirely implausible, depending to whom you talk to.

    To be sure, BlackBerry's strategy of offering secure and mature software to enterprises in a world dominated by consumer-focused iPhone and Android platforms makes sense.

    While the consumer hardware advances every year, the software doesn’t, and lacks the maturity and security enterprises desperately need.

    BlackBerry can take advantage of its unique managed network to give it an advantage. But coherent and unique, it’s a crowded marketplace, and the execution will need to be perfect, something BlackBerry has never been known for.

    The biggest impact is likely to be on Microsoft, which sidelined its enterprise-friendly Windows Mobile platform a few years ago, and now places its focus on a consumer replacement, Windows Phone.

    Microsoft has slowly been adding those features back like VPN ever since. In 2014, BlackBerry said it had several devices in the pipeline, aimed at businesses.

    John Chen has said that if it can turn a profit from the sale of 10 million devices or more, he'll be happy.

    Telecom provider Comcast and a few others are firing what looks like warning shots over the FCC's historic decision yesterday, and things will probably get ugly real soon.

    The FCC passed new Internet regulation yesterday that prevent network owners like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon from discriminating against what kind of traffic runs over their networks.

    The news didn't surprise most in the industry since it was largely expected, and has been brewing for several years already.

    Comcast has repeatedly warned that a bitter legal fight is coming, and is ramping up its legal department for a mini war with the FCC, it would appear.

    "After today, the only certainty is that we all face inevitable litigation and years of regulatory uncertainty," said Comcast's executive vice president, David Cohen.

    And it's very similar to the warning that AT&T has made about two weeks ago. Comcast's legal threat is real, which is why despite the cheers of victory from populist groups yesterday, the net neutrality war is far from over-- it has barely started, Comcast is suggesting.

    To be sure, the FCC rules won't be official yet until maybe summertime at the earliest. That's when major telecom companies will challenge the rules in court. This will leave them ample time for a coordinated battle with the federal communications agency.

    A similar legal battle is why we're in this mess now. The last time the FCC tried to protect "Open Internet" rules, Verizon sued and the agency eventually lost in federal court.

    However, the FCC isn't letting go, and now Comcast made a veiled threat to cancel plans to invest in its own broadband network.

    "After seeing the Order, we'll have to engage in additional internal scrutiny on what our investment plans with respect to broadband will be going forward," Cohen warned.

    During Thursday's vote, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the telecom industry's bluff over investment, saying that companies will continue to expand despite the new net neutrality rules.

    Additionally, if Comcast wants to merge with Time Warner Cable, a megadeal that's under review by the FCC and Congress, it will need to keep to its promise to invest in its network.

    The whole purpose of the proposed merger "is to create the scale that will allow Comcast to make larger investments in R&D, innovation, and infrastructure to enable us to compete more effectively in this dynamic marketplace," Comcast promised late last year.

    Unless that marketplace suddenly has become uncompetitive, it still needs to invest. As does Time Warner Cable, Carter, Cablevision and the other large broadband Internet providers.

    Well American consumers have been waiting for this for a long time, and now it looks like the days of wireless carriers locking down smartphones to keep their customers on board might be a thing of the past.

    Starting today, all U.S. wireless carriers must comply with requests from postpaid and prepaid mobile customers to unlock their devices, as long as certain parameters are met.

    To be clear, the rules officially came down as early as 2013 and the industry group CTIA committed in 2014 to have all wireless carriers adhering to the new regulations by February 11 of this year.

    The debate over device unlocking has come a long way in just a few short years. Unlocking a smartphone allows its owners to put the device on whatever mobile carrier network they choose.

    For several years, wireless carriers have locked down their devices, allowing them only to connect to their own networks.

    The move was designed to keep mobile customers close by, and not see them transfer over to other carriers. Of course it made sense for the carriers but not the consumers.

    "We are pleased that the FCC acknowledged the participating wireless carriers met the deadlines to unlock their customers' devices per the Consumer Code for Wireless Service," said Scott Bergmann, the CTIA's vice president for regulatory affairs.

    "We also remind consumers than an unlocked device does not necessarily mean an interoperable one since different wireless carriers use different technologies and spectrum frequency bands."

    Still, the inability to unlock handsets had been a nuisance for customers. Many subscribers have desired taking a smartphone from one carrier's network and running it on a compatible alternative without needing to buy a new device.

    An unlocked mobile handset would allow that interchange between, say, AT&T and T-Mobile networks. Locked devices force customers to stick with their carrier networks and if they decide to switch, buy a new device on the other carrier's network. Up until today, it was a real pain for customers.

    In 2013, the issue of unlocking phones hit a tipping point when the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) banned American consumers from unlocking their devices without the consent of their carriers.

    Consumer protection groups quickly took issue with the ruling, which actually came down in 2012, but only went into effect in 2013.

    After several months of criticism, President Obama in 2013 signed into law the "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act," which effectively made unlocking legal again for carriers.

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    However, under the new regulations that went into effect yesterday, wireless carriers will have no other choice but to remove locks on devices owned by both postpaid and prepaid wireless users.

    On the postpaid side, carriers must unlock devices after a customer in good standing has fulfilled "postpaid service contract, device financing plan, or payment of applicable early termination fee."

    In other words, postpaid subscribers who get smartphones for less by paying a subsidy at the beginning and paying in full over the life of a contract, must have satisfied that payment covenant before they can be allowed to unlock their device.

    On the prepaid side, things are bit simpler in fact-- wireless carriers must, upon request, unlock a handset "no later than one year after initial activation."

    All unlocking, regardless of the type of subscriber, must be completed within two days of a request, and wireless carriers are now required to inform consumers of their policies.

    "Mobile carriers that lock devices will clearly notify customers that their devices are eligible for unlocking at the time when their devices are eligible for unlocking or automatically unlock devices remotely when devices are eligible for unlocking, without additional fees," the regulation reads.

    "Carriers reserve the right to charge non-customers/non-former-customers with a reasonable fee for unlocking requests. Notice to prepaid customers may occur at point of sale, at the time of eligibility, or through a clear and concise statement of policy on the carrier's website," the new regulation states.

    Earlier today, Corning has unveiled its Project Phire, a new Gorilla Glass-like material that's both extremely tough and scratch-resistant to boot, making it a good product for smartphone screens.

    The developmental product was announced today at a New York investor meeting by Corning executive James Clappin.

    He said the company plans to start selling the material later this year. "We have developed a new product that will provide sapphire-like scratch resistance while maintaining the legendary toughness and break resistance of Gorilla Glass," said Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies.

    Corning's Gorilla Glass division was under pressure for much of last year amid concerns that Apple would flip from using Gorilla to synthetic sapphire, an extremely hard material that is incredibly difficult to scratch.

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    Source: The Next Generation Mobile Networks Forum.

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