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Friday, 2 September 2016

Some more thoughts on 5G

5G is often seen as a panacea for everything that is imperfect in mobile technology. Any issues with coverage, capacity, connectivity and speed are all expected to be solved with the arrival of 5G. While I don’t think we will be able to solve all the issues on the table, 5G will hopefully resolve quite a few of them.

Back in June I did an interview with the organizers of 5G World Series where I expressed my views for the questions that were posed to me. You can see this interview below.


Now that I have had time to think about the questions, here are a bit more detailed thoughts. As always, feedback, comments & suggestions welcome


Q: What will network architecture look like in the 5G era?

I have long argued that 5G will not be a single technology but a combination of multiple old and new technologies. You will often find various terms like Multi-stream Aggregation (MSA), Opportunistic Aggregation and Multi-connectivity being used to explain this. Not only will 2G, 3G and 4G have a role to play, Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies would be a part of 5G too.

I have had many discussions on this topic with respected analysts and many of them agree.
One of the approaches being proposed for the initial version of 5G is the non-standalone version of 5G which will use LTE as the control plane anchor and new 5G radio for user plane. Not only will this be easier to deploy along with the existing LTE network, it would be faster and hopefully less costly.

Q: To what extent is 5G dependent on virtualization?

Networks and Network Functions are progressively being virtualized, independently of 5G. Having said that, virtualization will play a big role in achieving the 5G architecture. Mobile operators can’t be expected to keep paying for proprietary hardware; virtualization would help with cost reduction and quick deployments.

Network slicing for instance will help partition the network for different requirements, on the fly depending on what is going on at any particular time.

Related post: 5G, NFV and Network Slicing


Q: What is your view on the interplay between standards and open-source developments?

Standards enable cost reduction by achieving economy of scale whereas open-source development enable innovation and quick deployment. They are both needed and they will willingly or unwillingly co-exist.


Q: What do you see as the 3 greatest technical uncertainties or challenges on route to 5G?

While there are many known and unknown challenges with 5G, some obvious ones that we can see are:

  • Spectrum identification and harmonization.
  • Getting to the right architecture which is backward compatible and future proof, without making it too complex
  • SON – Once you have everything in place you have to make many different parts of the network work together with different kinds of loads and traffic. SON will play a crucial role here.


Q: What would 5G actually mean for consumers, business and IoT? / What will 5G allow me to do that I can’t right now with 4G?

There are a lot of interesting use cases being discussed like remote operations and remote controlled cars but most of them do not represent the general consumers and some of them are just gimmicks.

NGMN - 5G Use case families and related examples

I really like the NGMN whitepaper that laid out some simple use cases.

If done properly, 5G will allow:

  • Simplification of the network resulting in low latency – this means that your content will load faster and the delay between requests and responses are small. 
  • Reasonable speed broadband everywhere - This will also depend on the operators’ rollouts plan but different technologies in 5G network would (should) enable a good speed reliable broadband not just in the middle of the cell but also on the edges. In fact, the concept of edges should be looked at in 5G and a solution to avoid data rates falling off should be found.
  • Connectivity on the move – Whether we are talking about connectivity in trains/buses or from public safety point of view, it is important to define group connectivity, direct communications, etc.


Q: What will set companies apart in the development of 5G?

The days of vendor lock-ins are over. What will set companies apart is their willingness to be open to working with other companies by having open API’s and interfaces. Operator networks will include solutions from many different vendors. For them to be quick to bring innovative solutions to the market, they need vendors to work together rather than against each other.


Q: There is a lot of talk about the vision for 2020. What do you think the world will look like in terms of connectivity in 2030?

It would be fair to say that by 2030, connectivity would have reached a completely new dimension. One of the big areas of development that is being ignored by mainstream mobile community is the development of satellite communications. There are many low earth orbit (LEO) constellations and high-throughput satellites (HTS) being developed. These LEO and HTS combination can provide high speed connectivity with 4G like latency and high throughputs for planes/ships which cannot be served by ground based mobile technology. Broadband access everywhere will only become a reality with satellite technology complementing mobile technology.

Related Post: The role of satellites in 5G world

Disclaimer: This blog is maintained in my personal capacity and this post expresses my own personal views, not the views of my employer or anyone else. 

3 comments:

Mattias Eklund said...

Sorry for the beginner questions here... Since the 5G network will be hetrogenous I suppose that it will include parts of other wireless technologies.

My first question: Will the 5G _antenna_ be able to broadcast all thease different technologies? So in theory you (as a user) only need to be close to 1 antenna/basestation and benefit from anything like LTE, 5G and WiFi?

My second question then is What will be included? Is it 2g->5G + WiFi or is it 3G->5G + WiFi?

Thank you for your amazing blog! I am a newbie in these topics, but your blog is helping me a lot!
Mattias in Sweden

Zahid Ghadialy said...

Mattias, thanks for your feedback on the blog.

Well, its a bit complex. You already have antenna sites with multiple antennas for different technologies. You will have more complex antennas for 5G. There is no one antenna fits all solution.

The existing technologies will work. Some of the spectrum from existing technologies will be refarmed. You will have multiple PDN connections so you will be able to use multiple technologies. The operators and depending on the solutions they deploy will control your connectivity. 2G->5G + WiFi is a good bet as I think 3G can be refarmed before 2G in most places. 2G is useful because of roaming (only 2 bands for GSM worldwide compared to many for 3G/4G/5G) and M2M.

Mattias Eklund said...

Excellent informaton. Thank you!