KPN launches 5G trials alongside 3.5 GHz moan

KPN has announced the launch of four new 5G trials in the Netherlands, while also giving the government a bit of a nudge to grant access to the 3.5 GHz frequency band.

Although the 3.5 GHz frequency has been marked as a priority for 5G by the European Commission, Dutch regulators have not included the band in any spectrum auctions to date, or the auction scheduled for 2019. This has been a point of frustration for the telcos, who seem to be taking it in turn to urge regulators to rethink plans. While this is seemingly KPN’s turn, VodafoneZiggo made a similar plea towards the end of 2017 which fell on deaf ears.

“Where 4G connects people, 5G will connect the whole society. It is therefore very important that we, together with customers and technology partners, investigate how 5G can optimize business processes and improve the customer experience,” said Jacob Groote, Director of Product Management Business Market at KPN.

Right now the band being used for defence and intelligence at a satellite monitoring station in the north of the Netherlands, and closed broadband networks elsewhere. Regulators have said the issue will be cleared up in time for the 2019 auction, but there has seemingly been little progress to date, much to the frustration of the telcos.

Despite the confusion, KPN has also confirmed it will begin four new 5G trials focusing on Massive MIMO in urban areas with Nokia (Amsterdam), connection of drones for precision agriculture (a farm in Drenthe), virtual reality in industry (Rotterdam Harbour) and self-driving vehicles (motorways near Helmond).

In terms of the applications in agriculture, the team will work with Wageningen University and ZTE, to test out various precision agriculture practises based on drones. The trio will also be using millimetre wave with the aim of generating speeds greater than 1 Gbps. Over in Rotterdam Harbour, network slicing is the focus of the trial. Working with Huawei, the aim is to effectively demonstrate network slicing techniques for business critical applications using virtual reality.

We’ve been doing it for two years so of course we’re the best – AT&T on 5G

AT&T has offered a bit of insight into 5G trials which have taken place over the last two years, suggesting it will be the best because of them. Of course, no one else has been doing trials so we can fully understand the logic.

“It’s no coincidence that AT&T is aiming to be the first US carrier to launch standards-based, mobile 5G services to customers this year,” boasts Melissa Arnoldi, President of AT&T Technology & Operations. “We’ve been ‘practicing’ for this moment for almost two years.”

The brag comes off the back of three trials which took place in Waco, Texas, Kalamazoo, Michigan and South Bend, Indiana. After these trials, the team is now confident it has all the answers necessary to deploy a 5G network that ‘works for people all over the country’. We’re sceptical, but here are the findings.

In Waco the trial focused on small and medium sized businesses, providing 5G mmWave service to a retail location more than 150 meters away from the cell site. Speeds hit 1.2 Gbps in a 400 MHz channel, with latency rates at 9-12 milliseconds, supporting ‘hundreds’ of simultaneous connected users.

In Kalamazoo the team observed no impact on 5G mmWave signal performance due to rain, snow or other weather events, while the signal can pass through foliage, glass and even walls better than initially anticipated. The team also observed 1 Gbps speeds under line of sight conditions up to 900 feet.

Finally, in South Bend the team created a full end-to-end 5G network architecture, including the 5G radio system and core, demonstrating extremely low latency. Gigabit wireless speeds on mmWave spectrum in both line of sight and some non-line of sight conditions were also demonstrated.

While it does seem like a bit of an ego-boosting back-slapping exercise from the team, each of the trials did demonstrate takeaways when it comes to deploying a network. These are of course very limited exercises, the real world will pose a significantly greater challenge, though it is a good starting point. Now it is down to doing not just preaching; the telcos need to prove that they are capable of creating the network and experience which they have been promising for so many years.

MegaFon and NEC claim network automation victory

MegaFon and NEC have announced the completion of a live field-test to incorporate AI technology into the Russian network to improve the efficiency of planning and maintenance of transport network resources.

The tests took place in MegaFon Ural’s network from October to November, with the NEC AI algorithms analysing 150 radio links which were considered the most critical to the network. The test itself was considered a successful with the telco seeing benefits for both the demand forecast and predictive maintenance objectives.

“Our partnership with NEC aligns with our goals of efficiently improving the planning and maintenance of networks, which is becoming increasingly complex,” said Anton Sherbakov, Technical Director for MegaFon Ural. “Through analytics of big volumes of data with NEC’s AI technologies, ‘NEC the WISE’, we have verified that significant improvements can be achieved for the planning and operation of transport networks, resulting in more effective use of resources and providing the highest quality services to millions of subscribers.”

“We are very pleased to see our services streamline and optimize MegaFon’s network without the need to expend additional resources,” said Hiroshi Kawada, MD of NEC Neva

Communications Systems. “We aim to enhance our partnership with MegaFon and to continue delivering the latest innovations to the entire operator network.”

Looking at the demand forecast side of the test, the pair claim the AI component was 97% accurate when it came to traffic prediction against actual traffic. Predictive maintenance is a bit more difficult to justify on the spreadsheets, if the algorithm is accurate the negative instance never actually happens, but both seem happy with the results.

‘NEC the WISE’ is a product line up which was announced back in 2016 but now with the current euphoria surrounding AI, it seems to be making some useful headlines for NEC. While those who are stoking the 5G fire seem to be focusing on generating new revenue channels for the telcos, this product line has been billed for efficiency. This portfolio has been in the works for the last couple of years, but is now being pitched to clients, but NEC has also stated it plans to deliver a fully automated network operation solution by 2020.

Whether a fully autonomous network is achievable by 2020 remains to be seen, but the normalization of more optimized networks might be more accurate.

O2 plugs 5G but will it be more false promises?

O2 might be lagging behind when it comes to 4G performance, but its hoping to get ahead of the pack with the launch of a 5G test bed at The O2 in North Greenwich later this year.

Earlier this week RootMetrics condemned O2’s performance over the UK, ranking it as the worst of the four major players in the UK, but with 5G revolution just around the corner there is an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and wow customers. The launch of the 5G test bed will aim to put the technology in ‘the hands of the British public’ using the popular music and sports venue as a showroom to boast about 5G capabilities.

“The arrival of 5G technology, and the range of unprecedented benefits it will bring, will play a key role in keeping our society and the British economy moving for years to come,” said Mark Evans, CEO of O2.

“That’s why we are delighted to announce our plans to launch a 5G test bed at The O2 later this year. At O2, we are obsessive about always delivering for our customers, and this test bed is a further example of our pioneering attitude to putting our customers first and backing the importance of mobile for Britain’s future.”

Should the team be able to nail the 5G experience at the O2, it could prove to be a very good move. The O2 is one of the country’s most popular entertainment venues hosting a variety of events including the ATP World Tour Finals in tennis, Def Leppard and Professor Noel Fitzpatrick, ‘The Supervet’. Considering the number of visitors the venue brings in each year, it could work as a very effective shop window for the brand.

The test bed will be delivered using Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) technology, a term which is set to become very prominent over the next 12 months, configured for virtualisation of core 5G network technologies. The venue will partly be used to stress test new technologies, but also usecases ahead of a wider scale launch over the coming years.

O2 might be looking to give a better showing in the 5G world than it is currently doing in the 4G one, but that doesn’t seem to be having a massive negative impact on the business overall in the UK. Over the last 12 months, the business collected total revenues of £5.728 billion, a year-on-year increase of 2.2%, with mobile service revenues up 1% and net customer additional standing at 174,000. The number of net additions increases to 266,000 when you add in M2M.

Perhaps a reason for the poor network performance is the traffic. Aside from having 25 million customers, 12.9 million of which are using 4G, O2 also has MVNO deals with Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and Lycamobile. In total, 32.2 million people are using the network, with the team claiming it is the biggest UK mobile network carrier. But in all fairness to O2, it is spending money on the network to improve the performance.

Over the final quarter, £198 million was spent on improving performance and coverage, while the total across the year was £724 million. Over the final quarter of the year, EE spent £122 million by comparison. That said, Orange spent €7.209 billion. Admittedly, Orange is in a broader number of markets (fixed, wireless etc.) and regions, but as a percentage, CAPEX takes 12.6% of total revenues at O2 in the UK while it stands at 17.5% across the Orange group. Orange is looking like one of the strongest telcos in Europe because it is doing more to future-proof its network, the CAPEX numbers demonstrate this very effectively.

These quarterly results suggest O2 is in a decent position to tackle the 5G euphoria, but let’s not get too carried away. Telcos are generally still acting too conservatively when it comes to network investment. The 5G riches will be reserved for the bold and as D-Day approaches some telcos are starting to look like startled deer.

Vodafone and Huawei nuance ‘world first’ claim once again

The term ‘world first’ has been stretched pretty thin over the last couple of days and patience is bound to be pushed when we arrive at Mobile World Congress, but Vodafone and Huawei have teamed up to have a crack.

In the test, a dual connectivity, starting on 4G and finishing on 5G, live data call was completed using a test device, which the pair claim is the first demonstration of all end-to-end 5G elements. A 5G NR end-to-end test network was built to undertake the trial and used 3.7GHz spectrum. When you combine all these factors, the sweet spot of never been done before is found. And there you have it, nuance discovered and ‘world first’ claim justified.

“This is a significant milestone for Vodafone towards the introduction of 5G,” said Santiago Tenorio, Vodafone’s Group Head of Networks Strategy and Architecture. “The credit for this must go to the engineers in Huawei and Vodafone who have worked tirelessly since December. This successful test will enable us to move forward with further trials of 5G across Europe during 2018.”

“Huawei is fully committed to the further development of this end-to-end 5G network technology,” said Yang Chaobin, President of Huawei’s 5G product line. “This test result shows the maturity of 5G based on the 3GPP standard. We are ready to continue our collaboration with Vodafone and enter commercial trials.”

The call will be demonstrated throughout Mobile World Congress on the Vodafone stand with engineers wearing different coloured t-shirts each time so a new world first can be claimed every call.

DT stretches the ‘world first’ claim pretty thin

Deutsche Telekom has claimed it has achieved a heavily qualified world first alongside partners Intel and Huawei, demonstrating interoperability in an operator lab.

With the jostling and chest pumping only getting louder and stronger ahead of next weeks’ MWC bonanza, it can only be expected operators and vendors will be looking for every column inch available. Interoperability is not necessarily a world first, but add on the ‘operator lab’ qualifier and all of a sudden DT are pioneers, venturing into the unknown digital worlds. Over the next couple of days perhaps you should expect to see the following world first announcements:

  • NR interoperability while everyone was wearing a watch
  • NR interoperability on Thursday afternoon
  • NR interoperability with a dog in the room

The test itself was based on Huawei’s 5G commercial base station and Intel’s third generation 5G NR Mobile Trial Platform (MTP), taking place in DT’s Bonn lab and then verified in Huawei’s Shanghai labs. The test validated various fundamentals of the 5G 3GPP NR standard including synchronization, coding, frame structure, and numerology components underlying the interconnection of the NR-compliant terminal and network.

The test configuration used by the trio is based on the largest C-band cell bandwidth defined by the 5G NR standard. It also incorporated Massive MIMO multi-antenna and beamforming technology enabled by the standard framework.

“After delivering leading contributions to the 3GPP’s work on 5G standards, Deutsche Telekom, Huawei and Intel moved swiftly to jointly achieve implementation progress through standards-based interoperability testing,” said Arash Ashouriha, SVP of Technology Innovation at Deutsche Telekom. “The successful testing in our 5G:haus operator environment is  another significant step on the path to 5G ecosystem maturity and early 5G commercialization.”

“The success of this testing in Bonn shows that Deutsche Telekom, Intel and Huawei continue to work closely to drive the commercial readiness of 5G NR,” said Yang Chaobin, President of Huawei’s 5G product line. “As the standard continues to be updated, Huawei will continue to work with all parties to step up additional interoperability tests and promote the 5G industry maturity process, and to welcome the arrival of the entire industry digitization.”

Vodafone and Huawei point to IP microwave backhaul for 5G

Vodafone and Huawei have jointly completed a series of lab tests which claim traditional IP microwave links will be considered a viable technology for 5G backhaul.

With the 5G era quickly approaching on the horizon, the reality of how backhaul can keep paces as load on networks rises is starting to peak its head around the corner as well. These tests from Vodafone and Huawei claim it is possible to deliver up to 2.7 Gbps capacity from a single IP microwave link, aggregating 2×112 MHz channels in a single vertical or horizontal polarisation. The pair believe this is the first time a single radio frequency (RF) outdoor unit has been capable of reaching over 2 Gbps in a single polarisation. The test was also able to demonstrate latency of 50 microseconds.

“We plan to next test whether it is possible to achieve 4 Gbps total capacity in one box with the support of dual polarisation,” said Vodafone’s Eva Rossi in a blog post announcing the test.

“A single RF outdoor unit with dual polarisation can respond to both horizontal and vertical radio waves simultaneously, increasing the traffic handling capacity of the system, dramatically reducing the power consumption and halving the amount of space needed to house units providing that capacity.”

While all options should be explored when trying to make the 5G promise a reality, announcements like this should be taken with a pinch of salt. Trying to find justification to avoid the expensive job of using fibre in the network will certainly be fuelling a few projects around the telco world. Such an announcement is seemingly evidence that a combination of IP microwave and E-band technologies could provide 5G backhaul. This is a convenient truth to find considering high capacity microwave links are already commercially deployed.

Test like this are certainly interesting points to consider when delivering the 5G dream, but let’s hope this is not a sign Vodafone is going to scrimp and save to the detriment of its fifth generation network. Vodafone’s 4G coverage is already pretty woeful in some places around the UK, if it is going to cheap-out when delivering 5G there is little evidence this terrible experience will be corrected.

Verizon, Qualcomm and Nokia team up for first 3GPP compliant call

Verizon is claiming it is the first operator to have completed an over-the-air call on a 3GPP-compliant 5G New Radio (NR) system using licensed spectrum, alongside Qualcomm and Nokia.

The test itself made use of Verizon’s millimetre wave spectrum, Nokia’s 5G network technology on a 5G NR prototype device provided by Qualcomm. The news follows another announcement that Verizon had connected its CEO Lowell McAdam to KT CEO Chang-Gyu Hwang over video using 5G end-to-end (E2E) solutions, as the incremental steps towards a 5G reality start to add up.

“With this first 3GPP NR standards-based connection, Verizon continues to lead the development of 5G technology,” said Ed Chan, senior vice president and chief technology architect, Corporate Network & Technology, Verizon. “By partnering with Nokia and Qualcomm to combine 5G technology with our deep millimeter wave spectrum, we’re well on the way to being the first to usher in the next era of wireless communications for customers.”

The industry is continuously edging closer to 5G with a barrage of minor announcements, but just because they are small breakthroughs doesn’t mean the dream is not becoming a reality. The industry might be getting a bit bored of the 5G white noise, but instances like this make us believe telcos such as Verizon might be able to meet the blue-sky promises of 5G services by the end of the year.

As part of the test, Nokia provided various solutions including AirScale baseband and radio, AirFrame server, and AirScale Cloud RAN, while Qualcomm brought its 5G NR millimetre wave prototype device to the party. The test was built on progress made in an interoperability test between the two vendors last week. Adding Verizon into the equation was simply the next step in the journey.

Verizon has big ideas in the 5G world and has proven time and time again it is one of the leading lights worldwide. The first launch of 5G looks to be in Sacramento in the second half of year alongside Samsung, but Verizon has promised wireless residential broadband services in three to five US markets across 2018. Verizon estimates the market opportunity for initial 5G residential broadband services to be approximately 30 million households nationwide.

It might just be another small step, but the finish line is starting to get a lot closer.

Viavi bags Slicing Packet Network win with China Mobile

Viavi has announced it has started working with China Mobile to introduce 5G service in China by the end of 2019.

The partnership will focus more specifically around the development of Slicing Packet Network (SPN) with FlexE interface. This technology has been deemed as a priority by China mobile to support next-generation architecture, bandwidth, traffic model, network slicing, latency and time synchronization.

“Viavi has been honoured to collaborate with China Mobile on analysing 5G network scenarios and proposing technology strategy,” said Viavi CEO Oleg Khaykin. “In order to realize China Mobile’s vision of introducing 5G service by the end of 2019, principal technologies including SPN for transport must be standardized by the ITU-T. We have advanced our test technology to meet this objective, and our solutions are ready to support the China Mobile ecosystem of partners to deliver interoperable network infrastructure.”

FlexE will be used with SPN to create smaller Ethernet channels from a larger one, or vice versa, to guarantee quality of service and isolation between slices at the transport layer. SPN is an area which has seemingly been getting China Mobile all hot and bothered recently, as the telco has requested the ITU look more specifically at the standardization of the technology.

And if that hasn’t got your blood pumping enough below is an SPN diagram, assuming of course you haven’t already had your SPN fix.