The GSMA has outlined in its latest report that there are currently two main views on what 5G is.
The Understanding 5G: Perspectives on Future Technological Advancements in Mobile report (PDF) states that the first definition of 5G today is around the "hyper-connect vision". This is where 5G is seen as a blend of existing technologies such as 2G, 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi, and that it can deliver greater coverage and availability, higher network density in terms of cells and devices, and the ability to provide the connectivity that enables machine-to-machine services and the Internet of Things.
The other view of 5G that exists is that it is perceived as the next-generation radio access technology, which is a more traditional generational view. This means specific targets for data rates and latency are set, such as faster than 1Gbps downlink and less than 1ms delay.
The report highlighted that these two views identify that there are eight core technical requirements for 5G that set targets for: Data rate; latency; network densification in terms of the number of connections and cells; coverage; availability; operational expenditure reduction; and the field life of devices.
"Already being widely discussed, the arrival of 5G will help deliver a fresh wave of mobile innovation that will further transform the lives of individuals, businesses, and societies around the world," said Anne Bouverot, GSMA director general.
"Of course, 5G is still to be standardised by the industry, and it has not been fully agreed what 5G will look like or what it will enable."
The report also explored potential use cases for 5G, such as using it for creating virtual reality or tactile internet; connected cars to enable autonomous driving; the wireless cloud-based office; and M2M connectivity.
"Applications that require at least one of the two key 5G technical requirements (greater than 1Gbps downlink and sub-1ms latency) can be considered a true 5G use case. Because 5G is at an early stage, there may be many use cases that will emerge over the coming years that we cannot anticipate today," the GSMA said.
As for what implications 5G will have on mobile operators, the report said that mobile operators will need to overcome a "series of challenges" in order to realise the benefits of the technology. For instance, one challenge would be trying to achieve widespread coverage of higher-frequency bands using a traditional network topology model.
At the same time, the report highlighted that many of the 5G technical requirements already form part of the network innovations being undertaken by operators today. For example, technologies such as network functions virtualisation (NFV), software-defined networks (SDN), and heterogeneous networks (HetNets).
Due to these existing technologies, the GSMA said there remains considerable growth opportunities for 4G, which still only accounts for 5 percent of the world's mobile connections.
"We expect 4G network infrastructure to account for much of the $1.7 trillion the world's mobile operators will invest between now and 2020," the GSMA said.
"Operators will continue to focus on generating a return on investment from their 4G (and 3G) networks by developing new services and tariffing models that make most efficient use of them."
As the association representing the global mobile industry, the GSMA concluded that it will play a significant role in shaping the strategic, commercial, and regulatory development of the 5G ecosystem. This will include areas such as the definition of roaming and interconnect in 5G, and the identification and alignment of suitable spectrum bands.
"Our new report aims to reset the discussion on 5G, drawing the distinction between a true generational shift versus the ongoing evolution of existing technologies that are already delivering a next-generation mobile experience," Bouverot said.
"The GSMA will support the industry to continue to innovate and grow, working in close collaboration with our members, the wider mobile ecosystem, governments, and other industry organisations to deliver a digital future for all."