5G still has a risk of specification fragmentation

While the progress of 5G has been closely monitored and chaperoned over recent months, the risk of fragmentation is becoming greater as we lumber towards deployment.

Jamie Davies

December 8, 2016

3 Min Read
5G still has a risk of specification fragmentation

While the progress of 5G has been closely monitored and chaperoned over recent months, the risk of fragmentation is becoming greater as we lumber towards deployment.

Speaking at Light Reading’s Vision 2020 event in Rome, Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown highlighted 2016 has been a great year for the development of 5G, though there are some trends which could be seen as worrying. Most notably the progress of Verizon and KT; are they storming off too quickly and too waywardly?

“5G is all about extreme disruption, extreme performance and extreme business models,” said Brown. “The last couple of years we’ve been through the imagination phase and now we’re looking at development, eventually moving into implementation very quickly. It’s been a very good year for 5G and there has been a lot of progress.”

Looking back at the development of 3G and 4G, there are lessons which can be learned and areas which need to be improved. This is natural for the development of new technologies and the evolution of connectivity, but one area which has seemingly been forgotten about is fragmentation.

With the introduction and wide-spread acceptance of 4G, fragmentation started to cause more of an issue. Different specifications and models increased costs and a variety of devices to meet the demands of individual markets. It complicated and slowed the progress of 4G.

This was supposedly the main lesson to be taken forward to the developments and deployment of 5G; fragmentation can’t happen and the industry will cross the finish line together; it’ll be slightly slower, but better in the long run. But according to Brown, the risk of fragmentation is starting to appear.

There are two companies worldwide who have stormed ahead of the rest of the industry in terms of 5G development; Verizon and KT. Both of these organizations have developed internal groups to set out specifications for 5G, essentially going the opposite way of what would be considered international standardization. Vendors have to meet the demands of Verizon and KT, as opposed to something which can be adhered to by the whole industry. The majority of the industry is playing catch-up with the pair, so it is setting into motion a worrying trend.

Although these two are making the most noise in the 5G space, the fragmentation has not gone unnoticed. Companies with weight who might be playing catch-up, like Ericsson, are attempting to claw back the fragmentation and emphasise the importance of internationalized standards, but the success cannot be judged thus far.

Qualcomm is another which has been pushing forward the case for international standardization with the launch of Snapdragon X50 5G Modem, but this is hardly surprising. Qualcomm is one of those organizations which has benefitted substantially from international standardization in recent years, so the fact it is pushing the case again should not be met by amazement.

Fragmentation is the lesson which was learnt from the development and deployment of 4G, though it is clearly not in practise here. As with every other commercialized part of the world, getting to market first is important, and this maybe one of the ways Verizon and KT can recapture revenues lost through the most recent digital disruption from the OTTs, but the ripples could be widespread and damaging to the industry in the long run.

How this sub-plot plays out in the wider world of 5G development remains to be seen, though if specifications can be made in the American and Korean markets, how long will it be before the Chinese start to make their own specifications. Considering the financial might of the country and the potential for 5G implementation, it is a possibility. A race to the finish line with specifications ranging dependent on the operator and region is definitely something which should be in the back of the mind.

Brown doesn’t believe this will happen; he’s remaining optimistic over the levels of co-operation in the international arena. That said, there is still a risk and it could be a substantial spanner in the 5G works.

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