Telstra waves away concerns about 5G standards talks

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Telstra waves away concerns about 5G standards talks
Telstra CEO Andy Penn.

Says it's not disadvantaged by existing tech choice.

Telstra has dismissed suggestions that backers of FDD-LTE like itself could take longer reaching a consensus on 5G standards, compared to carriers that use the TDD flavour of LTE.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, the chief of Japanese carrier Softbank, Masayoshi Son, claimed operators with TDD-LTE 4G networks were already advancing faster than FDD-based rivals by bringing 5G precursor technologies into commercial use.

Son said that reason for this was simple: the ecosystem for TDD-LTE is much smaller, though he claimed it had more end users owing to adoption in populous countries such as China, India and, to a lesser extent, Japan.

“There are so many vendors and operators for FDD-LTE so in order to agree to a new standard you have to talk, talk, talk, talk with many, many players in the industry,” Son said.

“The benefit of TDD-LTE is that the number of players is very small.

“Small is beautiful because we [the handset makers, chipset makers and network operators] can agree in one day.

“If we had thousands of members like FDD-LTE we could never ever [do that].”

Son said he had demonstrated this at Mobile World Congress 2016, which he had attended after turning down invitations to the show for the five previous years.

His reason for attending was to sit with the TDD ecosystem to agree to adopt two technologies: high power user equipment (HPUE), which increases the range of cell sites, and massive MIMO, a 5G precursor that uses a large number of antennas to boost capacity in dense areas without using extra spectrum.

Son said Softbank already used massive MIMO in major Japanese cities such as Tokyo and Osaka.

“That’s why one of the key technologies of 5G is already happening now,” he said.

However, Telstra – whose 4G network is based on FDD-LTE technology – dismissed suggestions that it could be at a disadvantage in negotiating future 5G standards due to its existing technology choice.

“It’s all LTE, and the 3GPP standards group [working towards 5G standards] is everybody,” Telstra’s group managing director of networks Mike Wright said.

“FDD-LTE has been much more suitable in the world we’ve come from. When we get to 5G some of the types of things it’s going to do will lend itself to TDD-LTE, but the same engineers who designed TDD and FDD are working in the same rooms.

“It’ll all be aligned and it will interwork”.

Telstra CEO Andy Penn noted Telstra’s history of working “at the cutting edge” of mobile technology and indicated it would continue as the industry prepared for 5G.

He said Telstra had used Mobile World Congress to take in “some real live examples” of how 5G could be used.

“We get to see what other operators are doing and what the IT industry and ecosystem are doing,” Penn said.

“It is all converging around what 5G looks like, what are the standards going to be, what are the innovations going to be, and then what are the applications and uses that it’s going to support.”

3GPP is under some pressure to fast-track non-standalone 5G standards, enabling existing 4G operators to potentially launch 5G services in 2019 rather than the more widely-accepted 2020 start date. The proposal was heavily debated at the Congress.

Telstra is already upgrading its wireless core and optical network in preparation for 5G and said prior to the Congress that it would conduct field trials of new radio technology in the second half of this year.

Last year, it demonstrated precursor 5G technology at its labs in Melbourne. It has scheduled production trials for 2018, and hopes to launch commercial services in 2020.

Vodafone Australia has likewise kicked off lab tests and is looking at production trials in either 2018 or 2019.

Optus, meanwhile, conducted small-scale, closed tests in Sydney late last year and plans to do more prototyping this year.

Ry Crozier travelled to Mobile World Congress as a guest of SAP.

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