The Challenge

One of the great challenges that the telecom operators have defined is where to invest to meet the new services with businesses´ demands. The IoT represents a major change in this concept because it leads to thinking of the current standard use in the telecom industry called average revenue per user or ARPU to a new measure:  average income per bit. This means that one way to add capacity and increase profitability is through simplification, harmonization and greater focus on customers.

To achieve this, operators need a plan to change the business base to capture new revenue streams and increase levels of operational efficiency, i.e. “software defined network “ or Virtualized Network and make more efficient the use of spectrum, combining  the mobile bands with other bands, 6GHz Band , E band and free spectrum more commonly called WiFi band.

This transformation is about to reduce capex (capital expense) in the long-term and achieve a basis for more efficient and cost-effective operations. The evolution of mobile broadband technologies, from initial 3G networks through the IMT-Advanced (LTE Advanced), to the IMT-2020, have been transforming the telecommunications industry and society as a whole, allowing an unprecedented level of innovation and service development. With 5G networks, a generational change is expected in terms of network technologies, business models and operation of services, where we expect an even greater level of transformation and innovation.

There are different implications when dealing with technology like 5G. For example, higher levels of connectivity or trying to evolve the development of a new network of radio access (RAN) to deliver higher levels of performance to services offering to the user both levels of connectivity and transformation in radio access.

This could mean that the final design of 5G networks could introduce a range of options with different radio interfaces, different topologies, network capabilities, and different business models. While the shift to 5G looks hugely impressive, the industry will have to overcome a number of challenges if they want to achieve the benefits 5G promises, particularly those benefits related to the use of spectrum and improvements in network´s topologies.

5G spectrum: the implications of coverage

While there are currently an identified number of frequency bands, more could potentially be used to cover some of the requirements of 5G. To date, there is still a substantial focus on the use of bands of higher frequency than currently deployed for mobile systems, particularly those that are above 6 GHz. Operators, suppliers, universities and research centres are combining efforts to develop technical solutions for 5G exceeding the 6 GHz band.

The point is: in higher band frequencies the actual alternatives the radio access systems provide shorter coverage than the traditional mobile band, which means that to cover large areas and densely populated zones, the use of the current topology used in networks it is in itself a challenge and by implication, a big one.

It is widely accepted in the industry in the current network topology that the beam providing the radio interface should allow greater spectral efficiency with increased usable distance (this is indeed the philosophy behind adaptive modulation). In bands with a higher spectrum at 6 GHz, they ensure that the beam can be directed towards the arrangement of the mobile user, and also be followed by the various spot beams of different cells. This is challenging the fact that to ensure efficiency network coverage must have short ranges.

One of the innovative proposals offered by 5G technology is the large-scale deployment of radio systems bases. With very little coverage, cells that will be able to support several hundreds of individual beams at any time and be contactable with each mobile user connected through these beams at any space and time. The issue here is to use cognitive radio combined with smart and improved antenna systems.

📡 This is challenging the fact that to ensure efficiency network coverage must have short ranges 📡

One method to address this difficulty is the development of antenna systems-based MIMO, (Multiple Inputs Multiple Output) that allow increased bandwidth. But in this new network structure, where coverage is narrow, the MIMO generates interference problems, so it is necessary to develop technologies that can help mitigate this problem. Traditionally this problem tends to focus on the need for radio interfaces to adjust their transmit beam and the orientation of the antenna at a given time. In short-covering this sets new challenges because using more than 6 GHz bands will probably require operators to invest in a new RAN (Radio Access Network) because the network requirements are different.

Given the level of the infrastructure needed to achieve the “desired” network topology, operators may be forced to rethink their current business models. This is one of the considerations before 5G can be imposed for standardization and deployment. Surely the nature of these systems must mediate between the requirements of intensive power radio systems and the demands for reduction in total energy consumption of the network.

Today providers of technology and radio equipment are investigating the best ways to include beam forming and MIMO technology Fon mobile devices. For this process to have a successful outcome, the industry as a whole should go for long-term standardization, identify technologies and internationally align common frequency bands for the deployment of 5G networks. This indeed was one of the most important topics that was discussed during the Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2016.

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Another aspect to be solved: Is it possible to achieve latencies of 1 milliseconds

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Achieving latency rate of 1ms has been identified as a basic technical requirement for 5G networks, it is rethinking how the new networks should be structured in terms of technological development and investment in infrastructure.

Despite the many advances in processor speeds, network latency will remain at its current rate and will certainly continue until 2020. The rates at which signals can travel through the air interface through the beam light sent into an optical fiber are governed by physical laws. Services that require a shorter delay than 1 millisecond exposures should be expressed closest to the user coverage (i.e. narrow coverage).

Telecom industry estimates suggest that this distance should be well below 0,5 kilometer of coverage, which means that any service with this latency requirement will have to be addressed, displaying content and localized applications very close to the customer and quite possibly very close to the radio base stations, taking into consideration the deployment of multiple small cells to meet density requirements to ensure comprehensive coverage cells. Most likely it will require a large increase in investment in additional infrastructure for content distribution and management equipment such as content servers or CDS (Content Delivery System). It will open new business opportunities in software and applications industries.

Any service that requires 1 millisecond delay also has a need to move this requirement latency interconnection between operators. This level of interconnectivity should also occur in ranges below 1 kilometer coverage. Today, the points of interconnection between operators are relatively few, but to support the deployment of networks and 5G services latency of 1 millisecond, most likely the interconnection has to be made at the level of base radio stations, which will also impact infrastructure network topology and network CORE. In fact, this single aspect will pose challenges for the customers’ attention when traveling or roaming within the network.

In the most extreme case, the current debate is whether it would make more sense to implement a single network infrastructure usable by all operators with 5G technologies, instead of deploying network infrastructure operators, to mitigate Opex (Operational Expenditure) and Capex components. This would mean that all customers could be served by a single source of content, with all interaction and interconnection required for its operation located in a single network context. This also implies that only a radio network would be displayed, and shared by all operators who have invested in it.

This also puts operators in another context and gives it more effective technologies such as NFV (Network Function Virtualization) and SDN (Software Defined Networking). In fact WiFi networks and virtual mobile operators have been demonstrating that this is possible. In practice and for user purposes the fact that technology and access have become commodities only reflects that this is the future.

A shared network model significantly reduces capital investment (for example, rather than build four parallel networks of four operators, it would only be necessary to build one network). It will definitely change the way of allocating spectrum, since only a radio network infrastructure would be constructed.

This approach requires the development of a level of cooperation between operators and to develop the inner idea that competition between operators will be supported in marketing, innovation, and customer experience, and will have applications and content as pillars of this competition. That is, the nature of competition between operators will change from a model based on offering services with data rate and coverage to a model focused on the customer. An operator would tend to develop a model more oriented to the cloud and offer OTT (Over The Top) Services.

What is and is not 5G?

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To further improve the user experience for mobile broadband customers, operators continue to develop networks by deploying 4G based on LTE-Advanced technology systems. Many operators such as AT&T are implementing a softwarization of its network and deploying its infrastructure technologies using NFV for the Core, SDN in backhaul and heterogeneous networks (HetNets) and low power and low yield (LPLT) in the access. This path allows the design of roadmaps for upgrading networks and its future expansion and improved coverage, integrating wireless technologies and pursuing reductions in the total cost of ownership of the network.

Although the term 5G sometimes has been used to encapsulate these technologies, all these technological systems we have mentioned have been developed independently of 5G networks. While these are areas that will have a significant impact on the mobile industry in the coming years, its development and deployment are not related to what the industry or the GSMA, defines as 5G networks.

The greatest aspiration for development lies in the fact that 5G facilitates innovation through the collaboration of industry and application ecosystems that have been born around it and which is vital for the IoT. The numerous initiatives and debates about 5G being carried out worldwide, both by governments, suppliers of technology and equipment, operators and academic centres, only show that the spirit of collaboration, innovation, and an immense will to address these challenges will be necessary for the success of 5G in 2020.