Telenor and PCCW question the need for speed

There are telcos who are rushing to launch 5G services, there are some who simply aren’t ready and there are a few who don’t seem that bothered right now.

During a panel session at 5G World, an interesting point was put forward by both PCCW and Telenor; if you don’t need 5G, why bother rushing to the finish line?

PCCW Group CTO Paul Berriman pointed to the current state-of-play. Data consumption is increasing, though the network is not being strained as it is elsewhere. Hong Kong as an incredibly high penetration in terms of FTTH, so the fixed wireless access usecase falls through. PCCW is also waiting on the release of 3.5 GHz spectrum, which will add impetus to the 5G mission. Right now, Berriman doesn’t feel that compelled to act as the business case is yet to present itself.

Telenor is taking a similar stance, in the sense it is not being rushed. Ingeborg Øfsthus, CTO of Telenor Norway, pointed to the tsunami of unknowns. The maturity of the technology is a worry, as is the development of the business cases. Øfsthus said the team does not have the pull from the verticals to rush a launch, and while there are some interested parties, there would have to be demonstratable scale before they are interested.

Another interesting factor to consider is the disruption to the management of a telco as a business.

“The real challenge for us is to go from 3,000 base stations in Hong Kong to 30,000 base station,” said Berriman. “Going from 4 million smartphones to 40 million connected objects. Going from $20 ARPU to $2. We need to understand the business model behind it.”

The drive towards 5G has been breathless for some, but there are telcos who are waiting for the right conditions before entering the fray; the ‘built it and they will come’ attitude is not being shared by everyone.

“It is early in the cycle, but it is evolving rapidly,” said Channa Seneviratne, Executive Director at Telstra.

Seneviratne suggested Telstra was one of the first companies worldwide to launch 5G, but this was entirely based on circumstance. With 60-70% year-on-year growth on data consumption, Seneviratne couldn’t afford to sit back and wait for the technology to mature or the business case to be fully understood; the demand for capacity-offloading was today.

Another interesting case of rapid deployment is with Elisa. Here, VP Of Telco Efficiency Kirsi Valtari said 5G is absolutely perfect for their business model. Elisa operates slightly differently, selling unlimited tariffs which are tiered on download speeds. The faster download experience you want, the more you pay, but you never run out of data. 5G just allows them to create more products and expand horizons.

While desire for 5G keeps everyone busy assessing who has launched the fastest, it is always worth remembering that sometimes it just isn’t necessary.

Enterprise market will depend on communications skills – 5G World

The soft skills are often over looked, especially in an industry which is so dominated by engineering smarts, but the success of enterprise 5G could be as simple as talking the right language.

“If we carry on talking about remote surgery 5G is going to fail,” said Gilad Garon, CEO of software vendor ASOCS. “Need to start talking to people in a language which they understand.”

Remote surgery certainly has taken a bit of a bashing at the show this week, though Garon is just using it as a bit of an example. Not only are we talking about usecases which seem ridiculous to most, we’re not talking in a language potential customers will understand.

“If you are going to be successful in enterprise, you have to think about DevOps, IT and simplistic language,” said Garon. “Enterprise don’t understand what a slice is, but they know about value.”

This has been one of the more obvious themes of the conference, but it does seem to be a message which is finally hitting home with the telcos. Enhanced mobile broadband is what 5G delivers now, but this will not deliver the financial promise many are expecting.

“As an industry, it is a new field to build mobile solutions for industry,” said Antje Williams, SVP of 5G Campus Networks at Deutsche Telekom. “What have we done so far, we have put up infrastructure, we have sold SIM cards to the employees of the companies we are working with, but this [5G] is much more.

“There was a notion about 5G was going to be for the verticals for years, but we have no idea what we were talking about.”

Unfortunately, Williams is pointing to a wide-spread problem in the industry but there is no easy solution. Over the last five years, few telcos have been spending time with the potential enterprise customers to understand the nuances of the specific verticals. There are efforts to correct this now, but these initiatives should have been started years ago.

Because the telcos have not been spending enough time with vertical customers or partnering with organizations which can help them create new products, they are largely shooting in the dark. They don’t know the demands of the customers or the nuanced differences in delivering connectivity solutions between the different verticals.

The solution is to talk to potential customers and develop the specific solutions, but this will be a slow and painstaking task. Work is being done, but the timetables will frustrate the bean-counters. If 5G is to be a commercial success for the telcos, enterprise customers are critical; eMBB will not deliver on the potential.

We’ve hit the go button on 5G, now what?

If the years of sleepless nights and hype are actually going to mean anything, 5G has to deliver more than 4G possibly could, and right now it isn’t.

This might sound like an incredibly negative comment, but it is a realistic assessment of where the industry actually is today. Hitting the on button was simply the first phase, it delivers an enhanced 4G connectivity environment. The big question is what comes next.

“Is 5G a premium product?” Ovum’s Dario Talmesio asked at 5G World today. “Of course, it is a premium product. This is a step change to what we can experience on today’s products in 4G.

“At the moment, the monetization of 5G is similar to that of 4G. This is the most simplistic monetization model. But we won’t be able to do anything new until ‘real 5G’ emerges.”

This is where the big challenge for the industry is about to emerge. The first usecases are simplistic ones, building on the ‘bigger, badder, faster’ mentality of the telecommunications industry. It makes the ‘pipe’ bigger, allowing more data to flow through it, and faster, enabling faster download speeds.

An example of this enhanced connectivity model is over at Verizon. Speaking at the same event, Ronan Dunne, President of Verizon Wireless, pointed towards the increasingly worrying strain being placed on the network. 5G allows Verizon to meet these demands, reduce the strain on the network and increase profitability through technology efficiencies.

Another gain is on the convergence side of telecoms. In areas where Verizon does not have a fixed network, Dunne pointed towards the FWA alternative which 5G enables. Three UK is another company which is exploiting this product and there are numerous other telcos who are eyeing up FWA as a proposition to build bigger product portfolios.

Customers might be willing to pay for this incremental upgrade, but it doesn’t fix the bigger issue in the telco space; adding extra value, and therefore seeking new revenues.

This is not a new idea. One of the basic ambitions of 5G is to evolve the telco from a communications service provider to a digital service provider. But how are the telcos getting on in searching for pastures new?

As you can see from the slide below, it hasn’t been the most ambitious start.

INSERT PIC OF DARIO PRESENTATION

Although you can see there are ambitions to take advantage of newly emerging segments, these are areas which the telcos already operate in. Entertainment, media and smart cities will certainly add some weight to the telco cause, but they will have to venture further afield.

SK Telecom is one company which is pushing the boundaries of the acceptable norm, though this should not really come as a surprise considering the leadership position South Korea has crafted.

During his own presentation, Takki Yu confirmed SK Telecom is challenging itself to seek out new ideas and business cases.

“5G era has begun, let’s do anything which we can imagine,” said Yu. “That is the key message from SK Telecom.”

An interesting point made by Yu was about the mentality of SK Telecom. The team is aiming to bring anything which would be considered offline today into the mobile mix. It does sound very ‘blue-sky thinking’, but it is important to think about new ideas. Many telcos will claim they are doing this, though there is little evidence to support the PR plugs.

Looking at the POCs which SK Telecom is exploring, there is quite a bit of breadth. In partnership with the Sinclair Group, SKT is working towards 5G-based broadcasting services, it is investigating the potential of a 5G-hospital with Yonsei Severance, with WeWork it is working towards a 5G-smart office, with the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center the team is exploring the next generation of smart factories and it has set-up a smart city in the Incheon Free Economic Zone.

As Ovum’s Dario Talmesio pointed out, the issue many telcos are facing is a lack of industry-specific knowledge. Creating these solutions for the verticals, and integrating them appropriately, cannot be done if the telcos remain as a silo. This is what the Asian telcos have been doing very well over the last few years; partnering with industry verticals. Unfortunately for the European telcos, they are playing catch-up here.

Right now, the world might be wowed by the incredible speeds which are being delivered through 5G networks, but the truth of the matter is that this will not last forever. The wow-factor will fade, and soon enough customers will realise it isn’t actually that innovative. Soon enough, the 3GPP will unveil Release 16 and ‘real’ 5G will emerge. This is where the telcos will have to be very attentive or risk being relegated to the role of connectivity partner.

BT targets 2022 for 3G power down

We’re not too sure whether we missed an announcement over the last couple of months, but BT has now stated it intends to turn off 3G by 2022.

Speaking at the 5G World event in London, BT’s CTIO Howard Watson has essentially made the 2022 target public. The target isn’t a hard deadline, more of a lofty ambition, fitting into the wider network transformation strategy as the business attempts to enter the digital world.

“We see 2G and 4G co-existing, but the demand of 3G lessening considerably,” said Watson.

As you can see from the slide below, there are a number of objectives over the next four years, one of which is the 3G switch off. Although we are not surprised these conversations are happening inside the BT business, we’re somewhat taken back there hasn’t been more communication with the industry about the ambitions.

Of course, BT is not alone. Three has stopped selling 3G devices and is in the process of re-farming the spectrum to boost performance in 4G. Orange hasn’t put any timelines for the switch-off date, but progress is being made. Soon enough 3G will become redundant, partly thanks to the cost-effectiveness of 4G devices, but also because spectrum is a finite (and expensive) resource. Re-farming the spectrum into 4G and 5G is an important process.

That said, perhaps this is genuine evidence progress is being made. The fact there are concrete conversations about turning off 3G suggests there is notable progress being made in 5G. Some might assume operators are more talk than walk, but maybe we aren’t giving them enough credit.

Beware the AI snake oil salesman

Artificial intelligence has taken over as buzzword of the year so few should be surprised it is being thrown around like a ragdoll, but does selling AI actually mean anything?

This is a question which was posed at 5G World. Can you actually sell artificial intelligence and the glorious benefits promised in the digital era? Is there any substance to the ‘intelligence’ features which are being promised by the plethora of technology companies littering the digital economy?

Following his presentation focusing on automation and building intelligence into network architecture, Huawei’s Peter Zhou was asked whether it is actually possible to sell artificial intelligence as a product. It seems to be entwined with every product Huawei is bringing to the market, but what does it actually mean?

This is the problem which many telcos or enterprise customers are facing now. Every company is now selling AI, such is the excitement around the technology, but as it was pointed out in the session AI means nothing without data. The data is the power, and the data comes from the customers own business.

Artificial General Intelligence is a term which is starting to become more popular, and is perhaps more accurate when looking at the ‘intelligent’ solutions which are being paraded around the industry. When looking assessing an AI ‘product’ to enhance operations, customers should always remember such a thing does not really exist. The value of AI comes in time, when it is suitably trained to the specific use case and environment. As every company is different, with a different approach to business and different needs, AI will be very different in every application. It has the potential to be a very powerful tool, but the benefit comes from graft, not buying a product.

Perhaps this is an obvious statement when read, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded every now and then of the obvious. Especially when such glorious promises are being made by enthusiastic and convincing salesman.

Samsung gets down to some myth busting at 5G World

For the most part, presentations at industry trade events are relatively predictable; vendors say look how amazing we are, operators say they doing as badly as you think, but Samsung actually tried something which turned out to be interesting.

Swaggering onto the stage like a man who knew he was going to nail it, Wonil Roh, Samsung’s Head of the Technology Group, busted some mmWave myths.

mmWave does promise an upgrade on speeds, but delivered on narrower wavelengths. This means the strength of the signal can be vulnerable against gas, rain and humidity absorption, while also being subject to blockages. Trees are the enemy of superfast cat videos, or so the naysayers would have you believe…

Roh’s presentation was certainly an interesting one, addressing many of the larger concerns surrounding the use of mmWave, not only with theoretical technological advances, but hard evidence from trials around the world to beat back the negative misers.

First and foremost, coverage. Many would have you believe the distance mmWave signal can propagate is less than 50 metres, effectively writing off many of the proposed use cases. Roh’s trials in London and Korea demonstrate effective performance up to 800 metres, and even 1.2km when there is a direct line of sight. MYTH BUSTED.

Staying with the line of sight argument, foliage is considered to be a major hindrance to the development of mmWave. The naysayers would have you believe mushroom shaped topiary and other garden decorations could prevent your Netflix binge session, but Roh, once again, begs to differ.

“We have found there are still multiple paths to deflect around obstructions to get reasonable quality signal at the receiver,” said Roh. Even with obstructions, Samsung have performed tests with the signal being transmitted 2 metres above ground level, with reasonable performance 800 metres away. MYTH BUSTED

This kindly leads onto the third point, as the naysayers believe the reduced signal strength and coverage of mmWave would lead to operators having to worry about an increased number of sites. There might be some cases where this is true, however, another set of Samsung trials in Seoul demonstrated 19 base stations transmitting mmWave delivered 99% of the outdoor coverage of LTE, and 94% of the indoor coverage. There might be a slight drop in performance, but Roh noted speeds on devices increased from an average of 19 Mbps to over 1 Gbps when using mmWave. This criticism of mmWave might be slightly true, but the trade-off is certainly positive. MYTH COMPENSATED

Myth

Another worry for the naysayers is the mobility of mmWave; can it support handover between base stations and high speed mobility. Some vendors might have had an employee run around the block a few times to test this theory out, but not Samsung. Along with KDDI, Samsung headed down to the Everland Speedway in Korea, fitted a car with a 5G device and sped between base stations at speeds exceeding 190km/h. Not only is it a good excuse for a day out, Roh pointed towards the successful demonstration and incredibly efficient adaptive beam forming to complete the handover. MYTH BUSTED

Alas, this is where Roh’s good news ran out as addressing outdoor to indoor penetration is a minor win for the naysayers. “This could be an issue I have to admit,” Roh coyly stated.

Acceptable levels of performance can be achieved with an indoor CPE, however there are certain building materials which offer problems. There are of course materials which can be used to improve the performance, but Roh admitted sometimes the easiest solution is the best one; just use an outdoor CPE. MYTH CIRCUMNAVIGATED

The 5G race to deployment…. but is it optimized deployment?

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Chintan Fafadia, Director of Product Management, RF Solutions, PCTel, details some of the considerations that you should factor into your 5G deployment.

The promise of 5G is that it will usher in a new age of intelligent networking, encompassing both human communications and the Internet of Things. It’s a game changing technology but implementing it will push the wireless industry to higher levels of complexity in network deployment and management. The 3GPP (the standards body for 5G) defines three major applications for 5G, all of which have major implications for how 5G networks will be built and optimized:

  • Enhanced mobile broadband
  • Massive machine-type communications
  • Ultra-low latency

Achieving the intents of these applications will require upgrading the entire fronthaul and backhaul network. On the fronthaul part, the most challenging aspect of 5G from RF perspective is employing millimeter Wave (mmWave) frequencies to achieve higher capacity. The challenge with mmWave is that they have short range (200 m to 600 m), are affected by weather conditions, have very narrow beam widths and are directional. Industry trials and planned deployments currently focus on rolling out 5G both in existing sub 6 GHz bands (called FR1 bands in 5G nomenclature) and mmWave bands (called FR2 bands in 5G nomenclature) initially planned in the range of 24 GHz to 40 GHz.

Before we dive deeper into 5G and its proposed RF spectrum, it will be worthwhile to understand how the industry has evolved in terms of RF deployments and spectrum usage. First generation cellular networks were initially deployed globally on 850/900 MHz bands. As technologies progressed, newer bands at higher frequencies were identified for 2G and 3G rollouts, including 1700 – 2100 MHz bands. However, in the mid-2000s, this new higher-end spectrum was considered less desirable. The primary reason for this was that carriers were focused on coverage.

More recently, the focus has shifted to capacity. With the advent of LTE and the hockey stick curves in data requirements and utilization, the industry has struggled for more spectrum irrespective of its frequency range and propagation characteristics. In fact, spectrum ownership in the higher frequency ranges (>2000 MHz) is now considered an advantage for capacity requirements. Higher-frequency spectrum enables cell site densification because the radio waves do not travel as far, leading to reduced RF interference from nearby cell sites and these bands have wider bandwidths. Now, even higher-frequency spectrum in the mmWave frequency range is being pursued to meet the even greater data capacity demands of 5G applications.

Before deploying 5G in the 24-40 GHz mmWave band ranges, operators need to characterize the propagation profiles for these frequencies in the field. Such high frequencies can be highly susceptible to non-line-of-sight losses, body losses, losses encountered from moving objects like cars and buses, and foliage losses. Their characteristics will vary not only by the topology and the urban or rural environment but also by the construction material used in buildings in different areas of the world. Most operators are planning to deploy these technologies in highly dense urban environments or in-building environments as a capacity improvement tool or for use in fixed wireless deployments as the high-speed link for the last mile (or kilometer).

Accurately planning for these deployments will require wireless network design tools with propagation models that have been highly calibrated to numerous different conditions and are able to map the spectrum behavior for each one of them. These calibrations can be done using simulations. However, a higher level of accuracy requires highly accurate field measurements. These measurements are collected using highly calibrated tools like scanning receivers, which can collect data for multiple bands and technologies simultaneously. Accuracy in capturing these propagation profiles for use in 5G designs enables maximum usage of spectrum capacity, the most expensive asset of any mobile operator’s portfolio. Network quality is considered a leading cause of customer churn with a clear majority of cellular network issues coming from the fronthaul.  Consequently, improving network quality is a high priority which can result significant cost savings for operators in 5G deployments.

Another pre-deployment aspect to be considered for 5G is spectrum clearing. Whether the intended rollout is in the currently used sub-6 GHz bands (between 600MHz to 2.4GHz), in the newly proposed 3.5GHz to 4.9 GHz mid bands, or in the mmWave bands, operators will have to ensure clean spectrum on 5G frequencies before deployment. Test tools such as scanning receivers are extremely useful in such scenarios to cover multiple applications at the same time by collecting data for spectrum clearing along with model tuning needs.

While these are the challenges the operators will face before deploying a 5G network, the challenges they will need to overcome for optimizing their deployments will be even greater. 4G networks aren’t disappearing and will be around for at least another decade. 5G networks will be deployed either alongside existing 4G networks or on top of existing 4G networks, using multiple 5G Non-Stand Alone and Stand-Alone modes. These deployment scenarios, along with the plethora of options available for subcarrier spacing and channel bandwidths within the 5G bands, will all add to the complexity of 5G post deployment testing. In addition, there are many other aspects of 5G, including massive MIMO, fixed wireless access vs mobility, and numerous 5G applications, which we will cover in future posts. Stay tuned.

 

Meet PCTel and learn more about their solutions at 5G World 2018, taking place in London, 12 -14 June.