Telecoms operators need compelling reasons to pursue the development of 5G if they are to find value in the next-generation mobile technology, according to experts.
Professor Simon Saunders, director of technology at Trinity College Dublin, said that 5G needs to offer more than just a faster network.
"The buzz and the hype around 5G is coming at a much earlier stage in the generational shift than we saw with 4G or 3G," he said.
"The areas where 5G is clearly different might not be the areas that bring the greatest value, so we have to think hard about that added value. We need to think about why 5G could serve society and industrial needs beyond just the smartphone or tablet having faster and more efficient [access to services].
"I would advocate being careful about over-hyping 5G and to concentrate on squeezing the value out of 4G over the next 10 years."
Several telecoms experts at the event described 5G as a way to develop more innovative services in industries beyond telecoms, such as enabling autonomous services in driverless cars and improving the capabilities of Internet of Things networks.
Saunders added that it will be another 10 years before the telecoms industry sees the peak of 4G adoption.
David Lister, principal researcher of 5G technologies at Vodafone, said that telecoms providers need to find use cases for 5G that will justify the cost of development and rollout, slated by Ofcom for 2020.
"Before we get too carried away with any [5G] technology, we have to say: 'This can only be supported if it can be commercially justified'," he said, speaking at a Westminster eForum on the future of mobile networks.
"From an operator's perspective we've got to look at ways we can really drive down costs, improve the time in which we can deploy networks, and reduce the costs incurred by us when we visit [antenna] sites."
Lister explained that to unlock the potential of 5G, smartphones will require more antennas, networks will need higher frequency spectrum bands, and small cell networks will have to be deployed in greater numbers to ensure that the network covers large areas.
Phil Sheppard, director of network strategy at Three UK, echoed Lister's views, adding, "Planning for 4G and, of course, 5G is all about how you can do it cost-efficiently."
He went on to explain how Three is exploring the use of dark fibre, small cell networks and additional spectrum as a way to improve its mobile network without necessarily focusing on 5G.
However, Mansoor Hanif, director of networks at EE, said that there is plenty of untapped potential in 4G networks, which have seen rapid adoption by consumers.
"The reality is that we can do most of this innovation on top of 4G. What 5G will do is provide the flexibility to handle those [innovations]," he said, noting how 5G is likely to be more of an evolution of 4G than an overhaul of the mobile networks.
5G is arguably one of the most attention-grabbing areas of the telecoms industry, despite being at least five years away from wide deployment.
The Conservative Party enshrined 5G development as part of its technology agenda before the election, while the University of Surrey recently managed to achieve 5G speeds of 1Tbps.
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