Paving the road to 5G

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Li-Ke Huang, VP of Wireless Technology, Wireless Business Unit at Viave Solutions, argues mobile operators must develop a robust 5G roadmap that leverages their existing network assets.

There is no universal approach to 5G development, as different markets face different circumstances which require different approaches. In the US, for example, operators such as Verizon are focussing on delivering 5G connectivity using point-to-point fixed wireless technology. Meanwhile, operators in other countries, including China and Japan, are focussing on developing 5G in line with the 3GPP new radio (NR) specification for the enhanced Mobile BroadBand (eMBB).

However, regardless of the technology they use to deploy 5G, operators must set a clear roadmap that has the requirements of the end-user/industry in mind, but also aligns with the timescales and expectations of the regions they’re operating in.

Operators will be looking for large portions of new spectrum to deliver 5G. Ideally, 100MHz of bandwidth should be assigned to each operator in order to support the high data rates needed for 4K streaming and other high-bandwidth services. Yet, in the UK spectrum auctions which took place earlier this year, service providers were only able to gain 50MHz of new spectrum, limiting their capabilities and potentially leaving the UK languishing behind other countries.

In order to be granted the necessary amount of spectrum from regulators and the government in the next auctions scheduled for 2019, operators need to demonstrate, together with vendors, that they can solve existing problems in today’s LTE and 3G mobile networks by developing new 5G networks.

This is crucial, because for five years or so, the majority of mobile coverage will continue to be provided by LTE. Consequently, operators are now enhancing the life-span of their LTE networks, introducing new air interface functions and capabilities within the 3GPP LTE technology framework, to support low-latency IoT applications and high-bandwidth data services.

And so, as operators move towards a 5G future, they must first improve their LTE networks and make them 5G-ready in good time for the commercial roll-out of the next-gen standard.

LTE and 5G interoperability

5G will coexist with 4G technology (old versions of LTE and new versions such as LTE-A), as well as 3G and even 2G in some regions. 5G new radio (NR) equipment can be attached to existing mobile radio access network (RAN) infrastructure, without the need to completely upgrade existing wireless networks. Once 5G technology is proven to work alongside today’s networks, wide-scale deployments will commence.

According to the 3GPP release 15 standard for 5G, the first wave of 5G networks will be non-standalone (NSA), meaning that 5G will be supported by existing 4G infrastructure. Splitting RAN functions means 5G devices will connect to 5G radios for data throughput but will still use 4G for non-data duties.

This integration allows operators to maximise their existing 4G investments and cost-effectively move towards 5G as well as ensuring there is only one system to maintain in the future. Business justifications such as this should help in the argument for greater allocation of spectrum from Ofcom and the government.

Transitioning to 5G

Operators are considering a number of architectural changes to their networks in preparation for 5G. One major focus for operators is virtualising 4G base stations – otherwise known as vRAN. The vRAN approach replaces base band units with commercial off-the-shelf technology and virtualised software, hosted in a flexible, data centre environment. With less proprietary hardware and lower energy consumption, this approach offers a cost- and energy-efficient RAN architecture, which can support current 3G and 4G standards, whilst being easily upgradable to support 5G.

Operators are also beginning to experiment with split RAN. There is a need to split the functionality of the network into different layers of the 5G protocol and into different logical, physical or virtual entities. The split architecture results in the necessary scaling dimensions to support 5G use cases and traffic structures in a cost-efficient way. It also guarantees that RAN architecture is future-proof. As an evolution of 4G RAN, the split can be gradually introduced in line with business needs.

By combining networking slicing and split RAN designs, the programmable 5G network architecture will give mobile operators the most control and flexibility over their network infrastructures. This will ensure the service quality, maximising the resource utilisation thus increasing the return on investment on their network equipment, transport networks and licence fee of the spectrums.

Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) – where network processing functions are moved closer to the end-user – is also gaining recognition as one of the key enabling technologies for 5G. It will be particularly important for critical low-latency applications such as connected cars and virtual healthcare, as well as for speeding up data-hungry services such as video streaming and packet brokering. Just as the push for all IP networking was a 4G milestone, locating intelligence at the network edge will be a 5G milestone. Enabling services and content to be activated closer to the subscriber is key to next generation mobile networks.

Testing LTE and 5G specifications

As operators develop their LTE and 5G networks, comprehensive testing of their RAN, core and mobile edge infrastructures is required. Operators must be able to simulate a huge range of end-user and IoT devices, modelling real world conditions.

Operators must validate the full range of new 5G features, including Massive Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MIMO) beamforming technology, and ultra-reliability, low latency use cases, which require a virtualised lab environment to be tested effectively. They also need to test network performance in new frequency bands in both the mmWave and sub-6GHz spectrum. It is vital that operators continue testing the performance and security of their networks before they are used in a commercial setting.

For the UK to continue to thrive as a technology powerhouse and take a market lead in commercial 5G, operators need enough spectrum to facilitate all possible exciting 5G use cases. However, justifying the same amount of spectrum as has bee allocated in other countries means meeting the challenges of the UK market and solving existing network issues through an integrated approach. We are well on the road to a 5G future, but that road is paved with 4G architecture and stringently tested networks.

 

Dr Li-Ke Huang (002)Dr Li-Ke Huang is the VP of Wireless Technology at Viavi Solutions (Wireless Business Unit) leading the Technology Group and the Algorithms Group and is responsible for product concept and core technology innovations contributing to the company’s technological and business visions, directions and strategies. Li-Ke specialises in leading multiple early technology research programs for the Test Mobile product family, which has been the de facto global standard for 2G, 3G, LTE, 4G and 5G wireless network technology prototyping and testing and acquired extensive knowledge wireless technology R&D and business development cycles.

Timing & Synchronization Standards for Wireless Networks

Synchronization networks have been critical components of wireless networks for many years. Introduction of advanced LTE services and 5G services poses new requirements for synchronization networks. This white paper describes synchronization requirements, technologies, as well as, synchronization standards and test and measurement applications. The paper closes with a description of ITU G.826x/G.827x standards for synchronization in wireless networks and highlights some of the main metrics and network limits relevant for deployment in field applications.

Please fill in the short form below to receive a copy of this whitepaper.

Ericsson and the Middle East are leading the 5G race

Network testing and measurement vendor Viavi has published a report on the state of global 5G trials to paint a picture of who and where is leading the charge.

72 operators are currently having a look at 5G, which is three times more than a year ago, and 28 of those have got as far as field trials. Of those only two have launched pre-commercial 5G services and they’re both from the Middle East: Etisalat and Ooredoo. Among the vendors Ericsson has a clear lead in terms of the proportion of those 5G trials it is involved in.

“Network service providers have been grappling with the evolution to 5G for some time, including how to address technology challenges such as fixed mobile convergence, hybrid cloud, network slicing and increasing virtualization,” said Sameh Yamany, Viavi CTO. “Virtual test, automation, self-optimization and analytics will be essential to dealing with the growing complexity and scale of 5G networks, while managing demand for high data rates, very low latency applications and large-scale IoT services.”

“Expectations for 5G are sky-high, offering mobile operators new opportunities for revenue,” said Stéphane Téral of IHS Markit, in the press release announcing the report. “Yet the path to full 5G adoption is complicated and still evolving. Operators and infrastructure vendors across the globe are moving at varying speeds when it comes to testing and deployment – they need to act now to address technology challenges.”

Of course some allowance has to be made for the vested interest companies like Viavi have in as many companies as possible testing 5G, as soon as possible. For all the talk of ‘sky-high expectations’, many operators are likely to take a cautious approach to 5G and are likely to hold off on significant capex until a pretty compelling business case is shown. Here are some charts illustrating the key datapoints from the report.

Viavi 5G data speeds

Viavi 5G spectrum

Viavi 5G vendors

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.

SPN

Viavi acquires Cobham’s testing unit for $455 million

Viavi Solutions has announced plans to acquire Cobham’s test and measurement assets for $455 million, to augment its network services offering.

Cobham has not had an easy ride in recent months, promising to divest assets as a means to reduce debt, and it would appear Viavi is more than willing to help. Bringing Cobham’s test and measurement business would expand Viavi’s footprint into military, public safety and avionics test markets while also strengthening its position in the 5G wireless deployment market.

It could prove to be a useful acquisition for Viavi as Cobham is recognised as a leader when it comes to testing CSP networks from the radio access network through to the network core. The unit generated more than $200 million across 2017. The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2018.

“This combination is another step in our NSE strategy of driving operational scale and monetizing our NOL assets,” said Oleg Khaykin, CEO of Viavi.

“Cobham AvComm and Wireless T&M are recognized leaders with a world-class team that has a long track record of successfully bringing innovative solutions to market. Together, we expect new opportunities to grow through channel expansion and technology sharing as we address rapidly emerging opportunities in 5G, software-defined and virtualized test.”

The acquisition itself could offer some good news for investors who have had to swallow a year-on-year decline of 2.3% in Viavi’s latest earnings call. Revenues for the quarter stood at $201.8 million with net loss of $3.7 million, though the team did beat guidance forecasts. Over the next three months, the team expect revenues in the range of $190 million to $210 million.

Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey 2017

The 2017 edition of the Telecoms.com Intelligence Annual Industry Survey once more raises the bar for insight into the incredibly diverse telecoms business.

This year’s survey once more gathered the thoughts and perspectives of more than 1,500 telecoms professionals with a cumulative experience of 24,000 years. As usual we begin with our comprehensive sweep of the telecoms landscape, before taking a deep dive into six specific areas affecting telecoms today. From ultra-broadband to test and measurement via IoT, NFV, SDN, video and security, we examine the principal areas affecting telecoms operators today.

More than half of the respondents to the 2017 survey originated from mobile or fixed operators, so the findings you’ll come across in this report provide a uniquely significant insight into the most common challenges and mindsets of people working on the ground in the telecoms industry today.

Some of our key findings this year are:

  • 77% feel positive about the telecoms industry’s prospects for 2018
  • 62% say emerging technologies are critical to the industry’s long-term success
  • 56% say IoT is a priority investment area for their company in 2018
  • 54% of operators say their company will increase spending on SDN in 2018

Please complete the short form below to download your FREE copy!