UK businesses need to catch the 5G wave to stay ahead of global competition. As mentioned in last month’s article, research by BCG/GSMA shows that leaders in mobile adoption outpaced revenue growth by a factor of two and added jobs eight times more quickly than those who were slow to adapt. However, with a 2020 rollout date there’s a danger businesses think they don’t need to worry about it yet, it’s still too far off in their minds!

4G is the Road to 5G

This is a big mistake as 4G is the road to 5G and businesses must get on it now to take advantage of 5G. There are two more generations of the existing 4G roadmap, known as LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro, which are just becoming available. To a large extent the headline performance of these is comparable to 5G but they are not able to be deliver it at scale, that’s where 5G comes in. But it’s perfectly possible to prototype technology and business models on a small scale now that are ultimately aimed at mass deployment on 5G. It’s a case of figuring out where you want to be in the 5G world and then working back to decide where to start today

The 5G Transition

The next thing to understand is 5G will not be a hard switch. We won’t switch on 5G one day and turn off 4G the next, indeed both generations will coexist and work together for many years to come because of the way the Core Network is changing. Mobile Core Networks are following the roadmap pioneered by existing Data Centres, which means they employ a technique known as Software Defined Networking or SDN. Historically, Core Networks embedded routing information about who the payload was intended for with the actual data. SDN, however, works on the basis of centralised routing control so the control or routing information has to be separated from the data to allow this to happen, a process known as Control User Plane Separation or CUPS. With this type of setup handsets can receive control and/or data from one source and just data from another and this how 5G will initially operate

The first 5G installations will operate in what is known as Non Stand Alone (NSA) mode. What this means is 4G will be the anchor network for 5G. That is 4G will provide both control and data capability with 5G operating in a data only mode. In this configuration 5G can operate as a fast data pipe that is slave to 4G. As the transition to 5G develops operation will switch to Stand Alone (SA) mode. This time 5G acts as an anchor for 4G, freeing 4G to be used as the fast data pipe. In this way existing 4G networks are and will be an integral part of 5G networks both today and for many years in the future. Indeed as 5G develops we won’t be concerned whether the connection is 4G or 5G, just that we are connected. It’s the job of the Core Network to deliver the performance needed by whatever means are at its disposal.

The means for UK businesses to transition to 5G are available today so they must start working on how to exploit this new technology now or risk being left behind, possibly forever!