Things you should know about the future 5G networks

The GSA published some updates on October 17th 2013 announcing 222 commercial LTE networks have been deployed in the world on 83 different countries (here), demonstrating the wide acceptance of the 4G, but also showing the highly heterogeneous spectrum combinations for its deployment (here). The TD-LTE and the LTE Advanced technologies are also being deployed as methods for ensuring higher connection speeds and improved spectrum usage. The most advanced operators, vendors, and standardization organizations are working in parallel on the future networks, looking to set the rules for the technologies that represents the next step in the communications evolution, and looking to ensure the business opportunities for these. That evolution of the networks is the so-called 5G.

5G

The following summarizes some information you might want to know about the 5G today:

  • Some of the main vendors like Ericsson and Huawei are pushing for making 5G a reality

A report from Fierce Wireless (here) suggests, “5G is not yet real in any sense of the word because it’s not a standard yet. It is, however a marketing term being tossed around by various vendors and operators”. Ericsson, Huawei, and other main vendors are pushing for the standardization of the 5G via the Mobile and wireless communications Enablers for the Twenty-twenty (METSIS), organism that has been granted with a big investment from the European Commission as part of the huge bet Europe is doing for catching up in the next generation communication technologies (here).

  •  The 5G definition has already been started by at least 6 different organizations, so far

According to a presentation shown this month from Mike Wright, Executive Director Networks & Access Technologies at Telstra (here), a 5G standardization or definition effort has been started by the following different organizations: European Mobile and wireless communications Enablers for the Twenty-twenty Information Society (METIS), Intel led American initiative, China led IMT2020, Spectrum initiatives in ITU, UK Ofcom regulator, aiming for 2018, and Japanese 2020 vision and ad-hoc initiative.

This shows the potential opportunity seen in the next generation, but also the typical big hype created on a competition for leading the way towards the next evolution of the networks.

  • The 5G arrival could be around 2020

A report from ABI research, via the Laptop Magazine (here), suggests the standardization organizations (e.g. 3GPP, among others) are still to define the technologies required for certifying the phones for 5G in the future. As these processes take considerable time, the estimated date for seeing the 5G deployments is expected to be around the year 2020.

  • The 5G formula could be: Spectrum + Spectral efficiency + Spatial Efficiency = Increased capacity

Marcus Weldon, CTO for the Wireline Networks Product Division at Alcatel-Lucent, presented last week his vision of the “ultra-broadband” networks during the Broadband World Forum 2013 held in Amsterdam (here). According to his view, the formula for getting the highly demanding capacity required by the next generation networks is a combination of three factors.

ALU

The classical investment in macro technologies and spectrum allocation, which could double the capacity. The physical spectrum efficiency increase by improving the signal to noise ratio, interference reduction, superposing signals, etc. which could also double the capacity. And the spatial efficiency with small cells deployments, with interference reduction between cells, which could increase the capacity in a factor of ten, or more.

  • The future networks are a combination of macro and small cells technologies

As commented in my previous post “The top 10 fast facts you should know about LTE today“. A whitepaper published by Ericsson and supported by the GSA commented, “…the 5G system will not be a single technology but rather a combination of integrated RATs, including evolved versions of LTE and HSPA, as well as specialized RATs for specific use cases, which will jointly fulfil the requirements of the future…”

  • The toolkit for the next generation networks include several innovations

Mike Wright, Executive Director Networks & Access Technologies at Telstra, commented on the possible techniques and innovations that might come with the 5G for solving challenges foreseen like the 10 billion connected devices to attend, 1000x traffic growth, the limited spectrum resources, and the diversity of services required. This toolkit might include spectral efficiency with massive MIMO, spectral aggregation, or interference cancellation. Optimization of radio with small cells, self-optimising networks, mesh networking, dynamic spectrum and flexible duplexing, or cognitive radio. Traffic optimisation with QoS and policy tools, end-to-end optimisation, or improved codecs. Architecture optimisation with Network Functions Virtualisation and elasticity, Software Defined Networks, smart caching, or embedded network intelligence. And others like extended battery, identity enablers, location enhancements, etc.

  • Flexibility is key for the 5G networks

Vish Nandlall, Ericsson’s CTO and Senior Vice President of Strategy, recently spoke at the GigaOm Mobilize conference, via PCWorld (here). “5G should be flexible enough that carriers can reprogram and reconfigure their networks to accommodate different applications. Those will actually get different slices of the network with different technologies, including modulation schemes and levels of capacity”. Increasing the network efficiencies should also keep reducing the cost of the service, he commented.

  • The next generation will represent a balance between efficient investment and highly performing networks

During the Futurecom 2013 convention held last week in Rio de Janeiro, Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes commented, via European Communications (here). “Throughout the world operators and service providers are pro-actively seeking technologies to help them balance the need for capacity and delivering high quality services with protecting their own balance sheets”. He also highlighted the investment ALU will be doing for IP networks and ultra-broadband technologies in the future. “This is a strategic decision to become a technology vendor for the marketplace of tomorrow, a market populated by customers who themselves are moving to more efficient and more profitable business models, adopting new technologies like cloud, SDN and NFV in the process”.

  • 5G is also about the best QoE on a transparent manner

According to Tod Sizer, Head of Wireless Research at Bell Labs, during the Mobile World Congress, via Pipeline (here). “Of course there will be substantial speed increases. However, weaving different access technologies together in a fluid fashion and creating smart gateways that choose the -best- connectivity for a given situation, not to mention in a transparent manner, will be the DNA that gives life to 5G”.

A. Rodriguez

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The European race for Wireless Spectrum

As the mobile telecommunications market gets more crowded every year, and the technologies for delivering mobile cellular services evolves, the wireless spectrum has become one of the most precious goods for the telecom carriers. The government agencies are making efforts for ensuring a fair competition and split of the wireless spectrum within each country and continents, via the public spectrum auctions and regulation mechanisms.

Europe1

When an operator plans a new technology deployment, like the most recent case with the 4G/LTE, the process must start by having the spectrum secured for operating. That is why it is so important to invest in the spectrum auctions on time. In Europe, we have seen cases where an operator takes huge competitive advantages by having wireless spectrum granted earlier than the competition, like the case of EE in the UK (here). UK regulator Ofcom approved the use of part of the 1800MHz band for LTE in August 2012, ahead of the proper auction carried later on February 2013, allowing them to claim being the first 4G operator in the UK and winning an important number of churner subscribers. We have also seen cases where a European operator is left behind in the LTE offer for not being able to use the available spectrum granted, like the case of Telefonica Movistar in Spain (here). Telefonica saw themselves forced to collaborate on a network infrastructure sharing with Yoigo on July 2013 for allowing a late 4G rollout in the near future, while their granted 800MHz band is liberated from the Terrestrial Digital Television (TDT) and they build their own LTE infrastructure.

The issue of the 800MHz wireless spectrum usage is quite important in Europe these days. As we know the available bands for LTE are in the ranges of 800, 1800, and 2600 MHz, but the lower the frequency of the spectrum the easier and cheaper to cover states and reach geographical areas, making the 800MHz band strategically important. In example most of the operators plan or have roll-out the 4G/LTE coverage for big population cities with the higher 1800 and 2600MHz bands, and use the 800MHz bands to ensure the rest of the geographical extensions are fully covered in the countries. That is mainly why the European Commission decided that every country in the European Union should have the 800MHz band liberated by January 2013, as stated by the Commission “Opening up the 800 MHz band is an essential for expanding use of popular wireless broadband services”. However, recent statements from the European Commission has indicated 17 out of the 28 European Union’ states have not been able to meet the January 2013 deadline (here), with some of them asking for postponements or derogations due to exceptional reasons like having the spectrum occupied with previously agreed usages for TV, etc. So far, the only EU countries with the 800MHz band liberated from different uses, and able to offer LTE services on it are Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, UK, Luxemburg, Croatia, and Ireland. A full table of the operators in Europe and the band used for 4G/LTE is shown below.

(List of LTE deployments per operator and country)

Apart from that, the European Commission also highlighted the poor LTE coverage in Europe compared with USA: “Three out of every four people living in the EU can’t access 4G/LTE mobile connections in their hometowns, and virtually no rural area has 4G. In the United States over 90% of people have 4G access” (here). This is said in response to the early victory claims from some operators with advanced 4G roll-outs, which according to the Commission are still far from really cover all of the geographical extensions as expected. It is simply a truth during the last years USA has advanced gigantic steps towards the mobile communications evolution, while Europe is struggling trying to catch up.

Looking ahead of the 4G/LTE spectrum issues, the small cells are ways to benefit from the spectrum shortage in the macro networks. A recent study (here) also from the European Commission reveals, “71% of all EU wireless data traffic in 2012 was delivered to smartphones and tablets using Wi-Fi, possibly rising to 78% by 2016”. The results far from shocking are totally expected, considering the low cost the small cells technologies and particularly the Wi-Fi represents to both the end user and to the operators for delivering this. The recommendations made by the Commission are at least encouraging “The study recommends:

  • to make spectrum from 5150 MHz to 5925 MHz available globally for Wi Fi;
  • to continue making the 2.6 GHz and the 3.5 GHz bands fully available for mobile use and to consult on future licensing options for 3.5 GHz and other potential new licensed mobile frequency bands; and
  • to reduce the administrative burden on the deployment of off-load services and networks in public locations.”

As it is a fact, the future of the telecoms is most likely a combination of macro networks and small cells. Transitioning those with seamless offload functionalities available now, and being evolved every day by the incumbent vendors.