What can we expect as the 5G revolution begins in Ireland?

23 Nov 2018

From left: Vodafone Ireland interim CTO Max Gasparroni in Germany connecting via a 5G holographic call with Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O’Leary in Dublin. Image: Naoise Culhane

Vodafone says 5G mobile networks promise faster speeds, lower latency, more reliability and the potential for a massive IoT footprint.

If I was to tell you that the revolution in fifth-generation (5G) mobile technology began in Ireland on a day so rainy at Silicon Docks that even the ducks and swans took cover, you would not believe me.

As a matter of fact, the revolution really began in Ireland in February this year at Trinity College Dublin, when speeds of 15Gbps were proven by pre-standardised 5G mobile technology by Vodafone and Ericsson.

But, on this cold and rainy Wednesday morning (21 November), at the far end of a building site where even more glittering towers for digital giants are being built on Silicon Docks, Vodafone revealed that its first standardised 5G site was now live.

The significance of this is that it marks the next stage of a journey that will see 5G mobile services eventually launch next year after a variety of use cases have been tested. At the launch, Ericsson showed off one of just 10 actual 5G devices available in the world today, a router that can achieve speeds of 2Gbps and that can act as a fixed Ethernet point for any number of 4G devices.

While it may seem that 5G is some way off, things are going to take off at breakneck speed as the first 5G handsets are slated to appear in Q2 of 2019. The undercurrent from the briefing that saw telecoms executives and journalists huddle in the back of a lorry to witness a live holographic call over 5G to Vodafone’s R&D centre in Germany was that 5G portends to be an enabler for a vast array of internet of things (IoT) devices simultaneously. There is also potential use as a mechanism for fixed wireless access, and therefore a potential solution to rural Ireland’s broadband woes.

Vodafone plans to be first to market with 5G

“We are super-excited about 5G and it is where the majority of our investment is going now,” said Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O’Leary.

“Whatever industry you are in – whether it is healthcare with robotic surgery, whether it is autonomous vehicles talking to each other, whether it’s immersive gaming or smart cities – we see the connection of millions of devices and the ultra-fast speed, the low latency and the secure connectivity that it will bring for consumers and businesses.”

As well as announcing the first 5G test site in Dublin’s docklands, O’Leary revealed a partnership with NovaUCD to enable start-ups and existing businesses to find ways to take advantage of the next chapter in mobile. This partnership between Ericsson, Nova UCD and Vodafone will be about test cases, mentoring, and supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs in really looking for the best cases for 5G, and giving people access to the 5G spectrum and sites that will roll out across Ireland.

“Vodafone is committed to be first to market with this technology,” O’Leary said.

In the holographic call over 5G, Vodafone Ireland’s interim CTO, Max Gasparroni, said that the new base station is using the commercial spectrum at 3.6GHz, which Vodafone acquired during last year’s ComReg spectrum auction.

“This means that 5G is now live in Ireland because the system that is switched on in the docklands is a proper standardised 5G connection. It is not commercially available though because there are no commercial devices available yet.

“This is extremely significant and it is a major landmark on our journey to 5G. When we demonstrated 5G back in February, we said we are on a journey and the journey was to first test and use it in a controlled environment, then a live network, trial the technology, refine it and find use cases, develop these use cases, and be ready for commercial launch that may happen some time later next year.

“Now, we are in the middle of the journey with this network activation, with a proper standardised 5G system that our partner Ericsson has deployed.”

Gasparroni said there are many ways that 5G is a major step change compared to 4G. “This step change is enabled by four main factors that 5G introduces. The first one is very high data rates, the second one is massive internet of things capability, and the last two are ultra-low latency and high reliability of infrastructure.

“And what these four competencies enable us to do is unlock use cases and applications that were not possible over 4G. For example, holographic calls, or mobile VR or AR on the move, 4K streams. On the internet of things, switched-on narrowband IoT, and now I’m pleased to say that our IoT infrastructure over 4G is available commercially nationwide.

“What does 5G do? Well, it takes it to a completely new dimension. With 4G, you can support thousands of sensors and devices per square kilometre. With 5G, it will be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of sensors per square kilometre. You can unlock use cases like asset tracking, smart cities, smart agriculture, smart health – it will revolutionise the way we live.

“The last category, when I said low latency and high reliability – this will unlock use cases that were not possible over 4G because [it was] not built for it. 5G is a much more efficient architecture than 4G. For example, doctors can use robotics in remote surgery applications, and diagnose or operate on a patient,” Gasparroni said.

Ericsson’s Hans Hammer added that the international fervour for 5G is heating up. “Globally, if you look at the operators that are rolling out 5G early, they may be use cases like fixed wireless access and mobile broadband. Initially, it will be about enhancing mobile broadband, adding more capacity and delivering more capacity in a cost-effective manner.”

Hammer added that the next generation of routers for 5G will start appearing in the market in Q1 next year, with the first handsets likely to appear in Q2.

He confirmed that access to 5G over mobile devices will require smartphones with specific built-in 5G antennas.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years