The vision of 5G has become a promised land where everything is connected to everything, with infinite bandwidth for streaming video, zero delay for real-time applications and low power consumption for communicating with IoT sensors. Mobile operators are challenged to move toward this future while maintaining and upgrading their LTE networks. LTE, forecast to reach 4.3 billion subscriptions by 2021, will provide the foundation for the 5G network and — perhaps most importantly — generate the CapEx operators need to invest in 5G.

To test and implement 5G concepts on existing LTE networks, Ericsson is developing a family of software plug-ins. They are intended to enable operators to evolve their networks and services to 5G, building capabilities around "use cases" (shorthand for the desired applications that an operator wants to deploy). Ericsson's initial suite comprises five plug-ins that are available for operator trials this year and can be commercially deployed next year (2017). The five are

Massive MIMO, which combines MIMO (multiple-input-multiple-output) with beam-forming on advanced antennas to improve the capacity and coverage of the network.

Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) also increases network capacity and coverage and reduces interference by simultaneously transmitting to multiple users with coordinated beam-forming.

RAN Virtualization provides virtual network functions (VNF) for both 4G and 5G on a centralized and common platform. RAN virtualization improves the efficiency and performance of the network.

Intelligent Connectivity routes data through the network, balancing the requirements of the application with available network resources. This increases the combined data throughput for 4G and 5G.

Latency Reduction decreases the time for data to transit the network from the user to the application, which is critical for use cases such as autonomous driving, augmented reality and remote surgery.

Ericsson's 5G plug-ins are based on the capabilities developed for their 5G radio test bed; 5G radio prototypes are deployed in operator field trials in Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and Sweden.

Ericsson states that 40 percent of the world’s mobile traffic is carried over the company's networks and that these networks flexibly evolve depending on user demand, new applications and local market needs. The 5G plug-ins will allow operators to trial and implement 5G technology at a pace suited to each operator.