AT&T Mobility CEO is right: Let’s chill out about 5G

While the World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15) is underway in Geneva this month, it’s paramount that the world’s spectrum leaders agree on some common spectrum allocated for 5G. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting some of the work that’s occurring here in the U.S.

In announcing its 5G Innovation Forum in September, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) set a stake in the ground and positioned itself as a leader in 5G. Verizon led in LTE and it wants to lead in 5G. Its biggest rival, AT&T (NYSE: T), isn’t following fast, however, insisting that it doesn’t want to over-hype the technology before the standard is even written.

Of course, there’s some irony in that, given that AT&T has been a big leader in the Internet of Things (IoT), which is going to be part of 5G, and it has been more outspoken about its aggressive moves to SDN and NFV, which, again, are expected to play a role in 5G.

Surely, both companies are thinking about 5G behind the scenes. But AT&T Mobility CEO Glenn Lurie had a point when he said there’s going to be a lot of PR out of Asia regarding 5G, and the U.S. should just chill out about it because we’ll get there in due time.

The rhetoric coming out of South Korea and Japan is often unsettling because it sounds like they’re going to get to 5G before anyone else, with trials tied to the Olympics as early as 2018. Korean mobile operator KT is aiming to launch a live service for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games being hosted in Pyeongchang, while Japan’s NTT DoCoMo is gearing up to showcase 5G at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Mike Thelander, founder and CEO of Signals Research Group, told FierceWirelessTech earlier this year that he went to Korea to conduct network tests after hearing an operator and vendor talk about how great their network was. Turns out, the operators in Korea have “phenomenal networks” that are so dense, it’s highly unlikely that the U.S. would ever see anything like what Korean consumers are seeing — and the transition to 5G isn’t going to change that, according to Thelander.

That’s something to keep in mind as we hear the PR campaign ramp up. “You’ve got to realize that North America has a different set of needs than Korea or Japan,” which are small island nations that are highly dense and urban, said Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) CEO Scott Belcher in a recent conversation with FierceWirelessTech.

What works there doesn’t necessary work in Wyoming or Colorado.

“I think the concern over Japan and Korea is a little bit of hype,” Belcher said. “I think we’ll be fine, largely because we can’t afford not to be. Our market and our needs are so important and they are so much different that we can’t allow for 5G standards to be developed based on the regional needs of China or Korea or Europe, for that matter. They’re just too different, and I think necessity will ensure that we’ll take care of it. The operators just simply can’t allow for that not to happen.”

The decisions made at WRC-15 will set the framework for decisions in the next three to five years as it relates to 5G. It’s going to be extremely important to keep the various countries motivated toward harmonization. Fortunately, the U.S. is keenly aware of the importance of continuing to push for global harmonization because so many U.S. companies are multinational and they don’t want to be manufacturing products for multiple standards, Belcher noted.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently said he would like world leaders to come to an agreement on which bands to study for future identification for 5G use. Likewise, the chairman would like the other countries to identify for study the bands the U.S. is considering — among other bands that other counties would like to include in the studies. To be clear, he’s not insisting that only the U.S. bands be studied for identification, according to an FCC source.

That sounds fair. In the meantime, we should keep in mind that 5G trials and demonstrations in places like South Korea and Japan are just that — and they’re not necessarily going to be carbon copy harbingers of what’s to come in the United States. A lot of U.S. companies are involved in writing the standards for 5G, and we can rest assured that the U.S. isn’t going to sit this one out. –Monica