The ability to offer super-fast and reliable connectivity for use cases such as remote control of robots, and support for billions of sensors and things, will mark the next generation of mobile networks. As a result, 5G networks are challenged with the need to provide significantly higher data rates than 4G (tens of Gbps), with very low latency that’s down to just a few milliseconds at the most. But, 5G will also need to provide consistent and high quality connectivity across a range of both revolutionary and existing mobile radio generations, as well as Wi-Fi.
All of that means that a new mobile network architecture is required to manage these complex multi-layer and multi-technology networks, and to build in flexibility even for applications that are yet to be envisioned.
At the same time, these challenging requirements come at a time of decreasing average revenue per user for telecom operators, which clearly raises the need for solutions that can drive down the operators’ total cost of ownership to a profitable level.
Three separate initiatives have kicked off this summer to address these requirements, bringing the industry together to foster 5G standards and best practices. By all accounts, industry research will be ongoing, and commercial 5G deployments are not expected until closer to 2020, but the standards work is an important first step in the journey, and focused on a few initial key areas.
XHAUL: Connecting 5G Traffic
For instance, the European H2020 5G Public Private Partnership (5GPPP) infrastructure project, XHAUL, kicked off July 1, with members that include NEC, Ericsson (News - Alert), Nokia Networks, ATOS and Interdigital Europe, Telecom Italia, Orange and Telefonica.
Its work will stretch over a projected 30-month period, with a goal of developing a blueprint for a 5G integrated backhaul and front-haul transport network to interconnect the 5G radio access and core network functions.
XHAUL targets a 30 percent reduction in network total cost of ownership, while improving network efficiency and helping in achieving the very low latency that will characterize the 5G networks of the future.
Most importantly, XHAUL will eliminate C-RAN (Centralized Radio Access Network), where the base station functionality is statically split between radio heads and baseband processing units connected together via a front-haul network, in favor of a common packet based transport network under a software defined networking (SDN)-based and network functions virtualization (NFV)-enabled common control.
The 5G Berlin Testbed, consisting of Open5Gaccess, Open5Gphotonics and Open5Gcore, will serve as a platform for early evaluation of 4G and 5G technologies with the focus on XHAUL concepts and their investigation in a realistic end-to-end network environment. In addition, field trials will be conducted for a use case of providing on-train high-capacity hotspots on one of Taiwan’s high-speed rail tracks.
A New Mobile Network Architecture
Then there’s the 5G NORMA project, also part of the 5GPPP initiative, which will define the overall 5G mobile network architecture, including radio and core networks, to meet 5G multiservice requirements. The architecture will define programmable and software-driven network approaches. And, emphasis will also be placed on commercialization, including partnerships and start-up creation.
Industry players included in the consortium are its leader, Nokia Networks, along with Alcatel-Lucent, NEC (News - Alert), Deutsche Telekom, Orange Telefonica and others.
5G NORMA (which stands for 5G novel radio multiservice adaptive network architecture) will also be working over a period of 30 months. Its technical approach is based on the concept of adaptive decomposition and allocation of network functions, which flexibly decomposes the network functions and places the resulting functions in the most appropriate location. By doing so, access and core functions may no longer reside in different locations, which is exploited to jointly optimize their operation whenever possible. The adaptability of the architecture is further strengthened by the innovative software-defined mobile network control and mobile multi-tenancy concepts and underpinned by corroborating demonstrations.
“5G is not only about new radio access technology, network architecture will play an important role as well. 5G networks will have to be programmable, software driven and managed holistically to enable a diverse range of services in a profitable way,” said Werner Mohr, chairman of the 5GPPP Association. “With 5G NORMA, the consortium aims to ensure economic sustainability of the network operation and open opportunities for new players, while leveraging a future-proof architecture in a cost- and energy-effective way.”
Air Interfaces: FANTASTIC-5G
And finally, a group of 16 players in the field of telecommunications are joining forces to advance the development of a new air interface below 6 GHz for 5G networks. The “FANTASTIC-5G” (Flexible Air iNTerfAce for Scalable service delivery wiThin wIreless Communication networks of the 5th Generation) project will focus on boosting capacity, increasing flexibility and improving the energy efficiency of the next generation of mobile networks.
“Future mobile networks need to become even more flexible and efficient than 4G, 3G and 2G networks to cope with the ever-growing demands being placed on them,” the group said. “As consumer smartphone and tablet devices become more diverse, and as the Internet of Things brings with it a huge increase in the amount of sensor-related traffic, a new air interface – which connects a user´s device to the mobile network and defines the way information is transmitted to and from the device – for 5G is required.”
FANTASTIC-5G has received eight million Euros of funding from the European Commission under the EU´s “Horizon 2020” initiative aiming to advance digital Europe.
The members of FANTASTIC-5G include service providers Orange, Telecom Italia, Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, Samsung, Sequans Communications (News - Alert) and Wings ICT, plus universities and research institutes.
“FANTASTIC-5G is of key importance, as the multi-service air interface concepts being developed in the project will be evaluated and validated by the partners. This helps to build up consensus and to facilitate the standardization process of 5G,” said Frank Schaich from Alcatel-Lucent´s Bell Labs, who is leading the FANTASTIC-5G project.
Vendors are working on their own 5G plans as well. For instance, Ericsson has developed advanced antenna technologies with wider bandwidths, higher frequencies and shorter transmission time intervals, as well as radio base stations built with baseband units and radio units developed specifically for 5G trials. These have already succeeded in achieving bitrates of over 5Gbps in live, over-the-air demonstrations—meaning that these pre-5G systems are still 20-30 times faster than today’s networks. In Barcelona in February, it showed off an M2M application for roadwork using the technology.
Ericsson’s CTO for the APAC region, Magnus Ewerbring (News - Alert), told Mobile World Live in Shanghai this week that further development of 5G and LTE technologies must be linked—i.e., by extending LTE-Advanced technology on the radio access side, and then making “more radical changes” to engender very high bitrates in high bandwidth environments.
“The two parts are aligned on higher protocol layers,” he said. “5G will therefore naturally drive the further evolution of LTE.”
In terms of operator action, Ericsson has been particularly active in Asia on the 5G front: It has signed 5G memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), NTT Docomo, Korea Telecom, Singtel and Telstra. And in Tokyo, it’s planning joint field trials with SoftBank, with an aim of developing a common understanding of 5G use cases and deployment scenarios. The trial will demonstrate ultra-high bit rates and ultra-low latency with the Ericsson 5G trial system by using a number of frequency bands. “The latency shall be significantly lower than in today’s systems, perhaps down to 1 millisecond end-to-end,” Ewerbring said.
"As SoftBank focuses on continuous improvement of the network to the benefit of our customers, we are interested in the 5G evolution and new MTC (Machine-type-communication) applications,” said Hideyuki Tsukuda, SVP and head of the mobile network unit at SoftBank.
Ericsson rival Alcatel Lucent is on the 5G path as well, collaborating with China Mobile (News - Alert) on a field trial of a virtualized radio access network-based architecture based on network functions virtualization (NFV) technology.
The trial – carried out at Beijing’s Tisinghua University – aimed at greater network convergence, better spectral efficiency, support for more users, higher data rates and a more consistent user experience for next-gen mobile services. The trial provided both indoor and outdoor coverage and demonstrated the flexibility of the vRAN network, including its ability to dynamically scale network resources in response to traffic demands by the users across the campus.