In recent months, there has been much talk of 5G: when would networks be deployed, which operators were testing what, and which region would lead the 5G race? As the costs and complexities of rolling out the next generation standard have crystallized, however, the industry’s attitude has sobered. As such, 2019 will be a year for LTE, and in my estimation, this is how it will pan out.

4.5G for today and tomorrow

The industrial IoT requires always-on, ultra-low latency, ultra-reliable and ultra-secure cellular connectivity. It must be robust and reliable: failures, poor coverage and outages could risk revenues and safety. In 2019, we’ll therefore see demand from the sector for 4.5G, which can co-exist with 5G and will continue to be used for years to come. Networks will be inherently scalable and able to support a range of different radio frequencies.

Venue owners step up with LTE

The demand for high-capacity in-building coverage will continue to grow; most of us now expect to be able to use our phones wherever we go. The demand for in-building coverage will continue to rise, and venue owners will view adequate mobile coverage as a means of unlocking value-added in-venue services, such as dedicated apps. Building owners have long asked mobile operators for dedicated indoor cellular coverage, but little progress has been made.

As such, we’ll see a growing number of owners taking LTE coverage into their own hands. These parties will require value-added resellers and systems integrators to develop cost-effective, multi-operator networks — the neutral host model.

Infrastructure-sharing gains acceptance

For years, operators have been reluctant to share hardware and network infrastructure and have instead worked independently. However, the costs involved with building, deploying and maintaining network infrastructure mean that in many cases, this approach is no longer tenable.

2019 will see growing acceptance in the industry of operators sharing infrastructure, in order to minimize costs and ensure that coverage demands from consumers and businesses can be met as quickly as possible. In the United Kingdom, we’ll see the results of Ofcom’s move — announced earlier this year — to introduce unrestricted access to Openreach’s underground ducts and telegraph poles, in order to expedite the deployment of fiber networks. 

Networks, shared by multiple operators and created by large venues, will establish a blueprint for cost-effective in-building connectivity for the future.

Early benefits of LTE for emergency services

In 2019, we’ll see the results of investments in LTE public safety networks and the delivery of data services for emergency services. In the United States this October, AT&T announced the first LTE-enabled body cameras, yet these devices won’t be cheap. As such, we’ll need to see more hardware available at a lower price point, to enable the kind of image- and video-sharing the network has promised.

In the U.K., just how much progress is made in 2019 will depend on budget management. Current public safety infrastructure and solutions will need to be upgraded and certified, and connectivity must be guaranteed throughout the period of transition from TETRA to the new ESN.

C-RAN and MEC come together

Mission critical IoT – and IIoT – applications will require processing power to move closer to the end-user, due to the demand for ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency connectivity. Think of a case like remote robotic surgery, where there has to be almost no lag time, and data has to be sent, received and processed in real time. Processing this data in a remotely-located data center will not be enough; instead, processing power must move closer to the end-user. This is Mobile Edge Computing (MEC), and has been gaining momentum in recent years. It is, however, pretty expensive to deploy.

The C-RAN approach, whereby baseband processing is focused and managed in one central location away from a venue, has already been identified as the critical network architecture for supporting the connectivity needs of the IoT. In 2019, we’ll see the convergence of the two technologies, with operators able to make cost savings by deploying C-RAN and MEC infrastructure together, rather than having to make separate, costly investments.

Ingo Flomer is vice president for business development and technology at Cobham Wireless.