5G is all about super-fast connection speeds and near zero latency. It’s the feeling of having a mobile fiber-optic connection in your pocket, wherever you go. But as consumers and businesses start using 5G around the world, industry players, researchers and users are exploring other ways in which the fifth generation of mobile network technology will transform our lives. At the recent Rakuten Optimism event in Yokohama, Japan, experts gathered to share their visions of what 5G will bring.

Why the new “G” is different

5G’s effects can be understood in part by looking at how they’re delivered. Taking part in a panel discussion of industry experts, Tareq Amin, CTO of Rakuten Mobile, shared with attendees how putting innovation first in building a mobile network can bring enormous benefits to users.

Tareq Amin, CTO of Rakuten Mobile.
Tareq Amin, CTO of Rakuten Mobile.

“For the past 20 years, I would argue that nothing really innovative has happened in telecom,” said Amin. “We just changed the Gs — 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G… The way we as a consumer receive services is still too slow. We thought we could change that for the better.”

Amin is overseeing the creation of the 5G-ready Rakuten Mobile network, now on the cusp of launch in Japan as the world’s first end-to-end cloud-native mobile network. Rakuten Mobile will exist on a private cloud based in central data centers, in addition to numerous edge data centers incorporating Rakuten’s xEdge architecture.

Being based in the cloud will allow the network to quickly adapt to changes and traffic needs while also keeping costs down. Expectations for more competitive pricing in the sector are running high, according to statistics from the Japanese government, which has been pushing telecoms to lower fees. It currently costs about 7,000 yen ($66) a month to use 20 gigabytes of data in Tokyo. That’s higher than London, New York and Seoul. With users benefiting from near-ubiquitous connectivity, 5G is also expected to boost productivity.

Bhaskar Gorti, president of Nokia Software.
Bhaskar Gorti, president of Nokia Software.

“In 2007, the iPhone completely disrupted handheld devices. It was like the car, and now what Rakuten is trying to do is change the infrastructure this car runs on,” said Bhaskar Gorti, president of Nokia Software. “1, 2, 3, 4G was about communication and maybe some entertainment and productivity. 5G is going to be not only about that, but personal and business and enterprise productivity. That requires a completely different way of doing it.”

Seamless roaming

It takes teamwork to build a revolutionary telecommunications architecture like open virtualized radio access network (RAN). Representatives of some of the companies partnering with Rakuten Mobile, including NEC, Nokia and Cisco Systems, joined Amin in the panel discussion moderated by Rakuten Mobile President Yoshihisa Yamada.

Yoshihisa Yamada, president of Rakuten Mobile.
Yoshihisa Yamada, president of Rakuten Mobile.

“In the global market, many operators are becoming interested in Rakuten’s open virtualized RAN,” said Nozomu Watanabe, senior vice president at NEC, which recently announced it will develop 3.7 GHz massive MIMO 5G radio unit antennas with Rakuten Mobile. “So the contribution and success of Rakuten’s 5G network will lead us to have more opportunity in the global market as well.”

Nozomu Watanabe, senior vice president and member of the board at NEC.
Nozomu Watanabe, senior vice president and member of the board at NEC.

One 5G-related feature which could change how we connect to the internet is what Dave Ward, senior vice president for engineering and chief architect at Cisco, described as “spectrum agnostic.”

“There’s a seamless ability to move across Wi-Fi, cellular and other forms of access technology without requiring new passwords or a change in identity,” said Ward. “The goal of the industry is to remove the necessity for anyone to understand which spectrum they’re using, whether it’s Wi-Fi or cellular, long into the future. Because they’re all useful.”

Dave Ward, senior vice president for engineering and chief architect at Cisco.
Dave Ward, senior vice president for engineering and chief architect at Cisco.

5G networks will have an impact in many other ways. Manufacturing plants will harness 5G Internet of Things (IoT) for increased productivity. TV viewers will be able to personalize how they watch professional sports and other content. Gamers will benefit from minuscule latency while enjoying cloud-based games. Drivers will get alerts when roadside infrastructure notifies their vehicles of pedestrians in the road or when a car suddenly brakes when it’s around a bend and just out of sight.

“Truly, 5G is not just another technology evolution, it is a revolution,” said Amin. “Today, you might not realize it, but it will change everything that we do. We are at the early stages of discovering the possibilities of 5G, but the approach that we have to take is like when you build a house or skyscraper — your job as an architect is to focus on the foundation. Our foundation is what we have spent a lot of energy on, and the possibilities we will discover together.”

Connecting people to everything

In a separate session, Durga Malladi, senior vice president and general manager, 4G/5G, of Qualcomm Technologies, also a Rakuten Mobile partner, told attendees that the overall economic impact of 5G will be enormous. It will help create at least 22 million jobs and up to $12.3 trillion worth of goods and services by 2035, according to a 2017 Qualcomm study that concludes: “5G advances mobile from a set of technologies connecting people to people and information to a unified fabric connecting people to everything.”

Durga Malladi, senior vice president and general manager, 4G/5G, Qualcomm Technologies.
Durga Malladi, senior vice president and general manager, 4G/5G, Qualcomm Technologies.

Malladi explained the results of a Qualcomm experiment in which an office setting was equipped with 5G millimeter wave (mmWave), a radio technology that was traditionally used for point-to-point communication. The median data rate was a super-quick 5 Gbps.

“We are really looking forward to Rakuten’s network — it’s a very different approach and we truly believe in all the technical merits behind it,” commented Durga Malladi.

“With guaranteed data speeds of 1 Gbps or more, the quality of the video stream on your laptop improves significantly. You’ll be able to do collaborative work applications, and have 4K video most of the time,” Malladi said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference. He noted that Qualcomm is able to squeeze 128 5G mmWave antenna elements into a unit the size of a book, meaning they can be easily mounted on traffic lights, streetlights and other infrastructure. Meanwhile, the chipmaker is working to develop 5G mmWave smartphones and laptops.

“We at Qualcomm truly believe in the full potential of 5G, and are working toward that in a stepwise manner,” Malladi added. “It will take time but we know how to get there… We are really looking forward to Rakuten’s network — it’s a very different approach and we truly believe in all the technical merits behind it. We are also looking forward to all the applications that we expect 5G will be used for, starting with events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”


Learn more about the Rakuten Optimism event held in Japan from July 31-August 3 here

For more information about the upcoming Rakuten Optimism event in San Francisco on October 23, please visit this site.