I had the opportunity to speak at the IEEE sponsored 5G World Forum last week in Santa Clara. My talk focused on areas of research not necessarily related to the current 5G specification or 3GPP Release 15. The purpose of my presentation was not to rehash 5G, but to instead highlight areas that will help 5G reach its potential.
The motivation to address this topic was in response to recent grumblings around the perception that “5G is done.” With the 3GPP’s release of the first draft of 5G last December, many researchers have lamented that the 3GPP took a brute force approach to defining 5G and that innovation, at least at the physical layer, left much to be desired. Another prevalent sentiment murmured around conferences and industry gatherings is that there is still a lot of work left to be done. I agree with the latter.
First, the 3GPP Release 15 draft is complex because it offers an unprecedented level of flexibility to address the aggressive goals and objectives. Unlike prior wireless standardization efforts, the 5G contributors had to address many different and, in some cases, mutually orthogonal goals, such as the enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) and the Ultra-Reliable Low Latency (URLLC) use cases. Because of this complexity, the system and application specific influencers need to take the fundamental 5G building blocks and prototype the systems for the experiential use cases.
Theoretically, the 3GPP has taken a unique path to delivering on the promise of 5G and now researchers need to overlay the application spaces on top of the new network to check the efficacy and to perhaps even further enhance the specification in future revisions. Meeting the wireless system requirements at the air interface level is only part of the equation. The technology must also meet the application needs and be feasible.
That’s where the next phase of wireless research must pivot. While it’s true that the 3GPP largely focused on OFDM as the base transport layer, how new businesses can use the enhanced flexibility of the 5G physical layer combined with network slicing and machine learning provide a platform above and beyond previous wireless standards. This new application research must occur at a macro level to build ecosystems based on 5G technologies. That’s where the real value of the standard will shine. This means that researchers must broaden their scope to combine these advanced technologies in new ways and build system and even network level prototypes to put 5G through its paces using an application lens as a reference.
Traditional approaches to wireless research will fail the fundamental motivation from which 5G was born. Researchers must expand their focus to consider the growing opportunities that these new application spaces will require in terms of network connectivity, performance and cost. Viewing 5G as LTE on steroids does not create economic value, and it’s clear that 5G won’t reach its potential without some rethinking from industry and the academic research community alike.