Wireless Week recently chatted with Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, a trade association representing LTE and its evolution beyond to 5G, about the journey to 5G and the continued importance of advancements in LTE.

First up is advancements in LTE, as Pearson noted we’ve already seen deployments of new technology on LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro. These deployments bring higher speeds and lower latencies.

“That will make the experience of moving from 4G to 5G and back and forth much more seamless for the operators,” Pearson noted.

Also key is network function virtualization, he said. “It’s a key component with 4G as we’re moving forward, and it will be with 5G as well,” Pearson commented. “So in general, you’re seeing a lot of this transformation of networks already occurring even before we get to the deployments of 5G and new technologies.”

AT&T has been working on new technologies such as network slicing, and Pearson expects the effects of these new technologies will be able to be realized during the same timeframe as 5G. He noted that network slicing is one of the key components of 5G and that it has been a priority for 3GPP during their development of the standard. So be on the lookout as early as 2019 for early deployment adopters and then to 2020 and 2021 for more broad 5G deployments from operators around the world, according to Pearson.

Another critical aspect is spectrum. 5G Americas has written whitepapers on the topic and pointed out that 5G is really not specific to one spectrum or one family of spectrum bands. Based on announcements from U.S. operators, they plan to use their entire spectrum portfolio for 5G to their advantage; a move Pearson said makes sense and could benefit customers. 5G Americas expects to see operators utilize what the organization calls low-band, mid-band, and high-band spectrum, as well as a mix of licensed, shared, and unlicensed spectrum.

“We feel that spectrum is critical to the 5G story and that it’s a key important element to make sure that we meet the customers’ expectations for 5G, but it’s going to be all different types of spectrum and all different bands of spectrum,” Pearson noted.

As for the current debate around the 3.5 GHz band, 5G Americas recently filed comments with the FCC encouraging the agency to ensure the rules are set up for good, solid investment in the band, which is becoming increasingly important for countries around the world as a key band for their 5G deployments.

“We want to make certain that that band gets utilized well for society and so we feel that they [the FCC] need to make sure the rules are set up to encourage investment in that band,” Pearson said.

Specifically, 5G Americas advocates for longer license terms and different geographic parameters. Operators such as T-Mobile have also advocated for rules establishing longer license terms, extending them to 10 years, as well as changing the CBRS licensing scheme to use Partial Economic Areas rather than Census blocks to measure licenses.

Meanwhile, groups like New America’s Open Technology Institute, Next Century Cities, and the Center for Rural Strategies, have pointed out the use of large license areas would be inefficient for indoor use cases, as well as small-cell, high-capacity use cases. Large licenses would also likely leave spectrum unused in low-density environments outside traffic centers, whereas the current model would allow open access for both operators and end users, the coalition said. 

With all of the talk around 5G, one thing Pearson pointed out is that while 5G is very important to the industry going forward, that LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro are also vital to the future of connecting customers around the globe.

“5G is happening, there’s a great amount of progress in the research, in the development, the standardization, and all of that,” Pearson noted. “But at the same time, LTE still has a very robust roadmap of innovation that is being worked on by operators and vendors, and at the same time going out and being deployed commercially in the marketplace.”

For example, Pearson said in 2020, when more 5G deployments are expected, at that time there will be 4.4 billion LTE connections worldwide.

“That just gives you an idea of how much momentum is in the marketplace for LTE even as the industry focuses a great deal on the 5G development,” he said.  

Still, Pearson acknowledges that 5G will be critical to the success as it allows the industry to move into new areas, including enhanced mobile broadband, low latency, and ultra-reliability, so both LTE and 5G are important.

“Sometimes LTE gets overlooked, but it’s really carrying the luggage right now,” Pearson commented. “And I think it will at the same time, continue to be important even as 5G is deployed.”