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Wireless Infrastructure Newsletter

5G is impossible without full convergence November 21 2016

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), in partnership with Maravedis-Rethink, has published its Annual Industry Report for 2016, revealing that the Internet of Things (IoT), the hyper-dense network and 5G will not be economic or practical without the convergence and coexistence of licensed and unlicensed technologies. 

Business Models Enabled by Heterogeneity November 15 2016

The introduction set out a picture of the wireless world, in which many types of spectrum and network increasingly work together to create a seamless pool of capacity for service providers, enterprises and consumers to use. 

The Road to Network Convergence November 08 2016

A year ago, when the Wireless Broadband Alliance announced its Vision 2020 program, it was moving away from a specific focus on Wi-Fi, and towards a far broader platform based around many unlicensed spectrum bands and technologies. This recognized the fundamental and exciting role that unlicensed spectrum will play in pushing the boundaries of wireless experience and business cases between now and 2020; and in the platform that becomes 5G.

Unlicensed spectrum technologies have come a long way from being the disruptive younger sibling of the licensed-band networks, to having an equal place at the table. Indeed, this year’s upcoming WBA report looks beyond unlicensed spectrum on its own, and towards the rising levels of convergence with licensed technologies, to enable new performance levels and flexibility for service providers of all kinds.

Coexistence, and increasingly, full convergence will drive the next generation of wireless technologies, along with some key enablers of the heterogeneous network (HetNet) – network virtualization, new management techniques such as self-optimizing networks (SON), flexible approaches to spectrum licensing and aggregation.

Without convergence, the Internet of Things, the hyper-dense network, and indeed 5G will not be economic or even practical. These are three cornerstones of new emerging business cases for wireless service providers, whether mobile operators, pure-play Wi-Fi or machine-to-machine operators, or wireline carriers with a wireless element to their platforms. All of them will depend on different unlicensed technologies coming together, and often working with licensed networks. For instance, for the IoT, over two-thirds of operators expect to deploy two or more different technologies in parallel.

Converged networks will enable or enhance many business cases which rely on massive IoT connectivity or on hyper-dense data networks. Many of these will be seen in the context of the smart city, a key area of focus and activity for the WBA in 2016, and this year’s report devotes a full section to the massive potential of these environments to drive social and economic improvements, and in so doing, to influence future wireless technology roadmaps.

Those roadmaps will lead eventually to 5G – not just a radio upgrade, but an end-to-end platform, spanning the core to the edge of the network, and a top-to-bottom one, from the radio to the applications layer. Current developments in the Wi-Fi market, including the next wave of 802.11 standards and moves towards virtualization, will feed into this new platform alongside those from the cellular and M2M worlds. The result will be a flexible, radio-neutral 5G environment in which a whole new generation of business models will be able to thrive in unlicensed as well as licensed spectrum, building on a long history of innovation in the Wi-Fi community.

Join us at the Wireless Global Congress in San Jose November 14-17, 2016, to learn more about the WBA’ vision in this four day event, featuring a two day conference programme and two days of membership meetings and invitation-only sessions.


LTE infrastructure revenues peak as subscriptions cross 1bn barrier March 19 2016

LTE subscriptions crossed the one billion barrier in the last quarter of 2015, says the GSA, but revenues from 4G equipment have already peaked, according to IHS Technology.

The GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association) and Ovum said the final tally of LTE subscriptions at the end of last year was 1.068bn, or one in seven of all mobile connections worldwide. Its growth rate has now easily outpaced that of 3G, even though HSPA remains the main data workhorse for many operators, and some countries have not yet embarked on 4G. In the fourth quarter of 2015, LTE gained 156m new connections, 75% more than 3G. However, the LTE total will not overtake the 3G installed base until 2020, believes the GSA. It also noted that GSM subscriptions fell by 141m in the quarter.

For the full year, LTE gained 552.2m subscriptions worldwide, a growth rate of 107% over 2014.

Alan Hadden, VP of research at the GSA, said: “A daily average of almost 1.7m LTE subscriptions were being signed up during Q4 2015 and the rate of LTE subscriptions growth is accelerating.”

The Asia-Pacific region has the lion’s share of LTE subscriptions, with 580m, or 54.3% of the total. By December 2015 China had passed 386m LTE connections, adding almost 84m in the fourth quarter alone. North America was the second largest LTE market with almost 237m, though its share of the world total is down at 22.2%, while Europe accounts for 14.8%.

In the Latin America and Caribbean region, subscriptions more than quadrupled to over 54m, while the Middle East ended 2015 with 32.5m – annual growth of around 110% – and Russia with over 11.7m. There are now 480 operators with commercial LTE networks in 157 countries, and the GSA predicts this will increase to 550 this year.

More than one-third of operators are now investing in LTE-Advanced deployments and upgrades, particularly focusing on the carrier aggregation options. In total, 116 operators, almost a quarter of all LTE operators, have commercially launched LTE-Advanced service in 57 countries.

As subscriptions rise, however, many of the biggest operator network roll-outs are coming to an end, creating a squeeze for equipment vendors, even as the carriers look forward to a capex breathing space in which to monetize their 4G users more profitably.

According to new figures from IHS, the fourth quarter of 2015 saw $13bn worth of macrocell roll-outs, mainly driven by LTE in India and China, but warned that the LTE market has now topped out and will start to decline this year. IHS said it expects the LTE market to decline at a compound annual rate of 13% between 2015 and 2020.

Worldwide macrocell revenues in Q415 were up 3% year-on-year and 11% on the third quarter, while mobile infrastructure software revenues grew by 17% year-on-year, led by LTE-Advanced upgrades. For the full year, the worldwide macrocell infrastructure market totaled $48bn, and quarterly LTE revenue is now $2bn higher than 2G and 3G revenue combined.

“The fast LTE roll-out ramp that occurred in China in Q4 caused LTE revenue to soar 20% sequentially, and 20% from Q4 2014,” wrote Stéphane Téral, IHS’s senior research director of mobile infrastructure. “China has reached the end of its massive LTE roll-outs led by China Unicom and China Telecom; LTE roll-outs in western and central Europe are also very close to completion, and in the Middle East 3G upgrades are complete.”


Cohere joins the big names in the quest to define 5G’s air interface March 14 2016

Debate continues to rage about the 5G air interface – will the new generation of mobile networks require an entirely new air interface, or several; or will it rely on evolutions of current OFDM technologies; or be primarily an umbrella framework tying different options together seamlessly and flexibly according to use case? The choices, and the companies supporting them, will become clearer as the standards process gets into gear, but it is a brave company which tries to propose such a fundamental element of 5G, if it is not one of the inner circle of giants Read more at our publication Wireless Watch

MWC: Vendors compete to be the most ‘5G-ready March 07 2016

In the first instalment of Wireless Watch’s Mobile World Congress special edition, we looked at a selection of operator trials of pre-5G networks and services. Now we turn our attention to the vendors’ roadmaps, and the most interesting insights they provided in Barcelona, into developments which may well find their way into future standard or de facto technologies.

Nokia was the most aggressive of the big names in claiming to be 5G-ready – although it was a heavily overused term throughout the show. The Finnish vendor went a step further and said operators would be able to offer ‘5G’ services as early as 2017 using its new AirScale RAN platform (clearly angling for those operators which are promising ever-earlier ‘5G’ services, mainly around major sporting events in Russia and Korea, but which will, of necessity, have to use pre-standard or heavily customized kit).

AirScale will accelerate the transition to 5G when it comes by providing a smooth migration path from current LTE, Nokia promised, rehashing one of the most popular messages which vendors relay when a new generation of technology is looming. Somehow, when that upgrade becomes necessary, it’s never as automatic, low cost and software-based as the roadmaps suggest – virtualized flexible cores and software-defined radios will help, but there is still the question of the antennas, for instance. But Nokia, like its rivals, needs to persuade operators to keep investing in 4G now, rather than wait for 5G over the horizon.

CTO Hossein Moiin said the AirScale demo was “the industry’s first demonstration of how 5G will work in practice, going beyond previous experimental systems”, making 5G “no longer a distant vision” – ambitious stuff, considering the work on standards has only just begun. But some crucial elements of 5G are already accepted, Nokia argues, and these are the focus of AirScale – in particular, ultra-low latency, and a system designed with machines as well as humans in mind.

AirScale’s claim to be a vision of the future rests on its cloud-based architecture and open interfaces, which allow it to support all the radio technologies simultaneously in one base station; and to use any architecture topology with huge levels of scalability, all defined in software from the cloud. It also claims to use 60% less energy than Nokia’s current platforms. The server end of its Cloud-RAN solution uses Nokia’s AirFrame IT hardware, launched at MWC 2015, and Mobile Edge Computing is implemented on those same servers in order to harness information from the radio effectively and support low latency services.

Baseband units can be chained to support massive capacity and IoT connectivity, and a step-by-step road to virtualization is supported by Nokia’s NetAct and CloudBand offerings, which can work with legacy RANs and C-RAN at once. As well as the multiband AirScale base station, the vendor added AirScale WiFi (access points plus a WiFi controller, also running on AirFrame), and a common software layer which runs across small cells, macrocells and WiFi.

CEO Rajeev Suri said: “I believe that 5G not only must happen faster than expected – it will happen faster than expected”, which was why vendors could not wait for standards to be finalized before launching 5G products – a line also taken by ZTE with its Pre5G portfolio, though not by Huawei, which prefers the term 4.5G for its most advanced network offerings, and argues that these will meet operators’ needs for years to come, certainly until fully standardized 5G can be launched.

“5G is different. 5G must happen fast because important use cases demand it. If we know that 5G can help save lives, improve our environment and make our lives better, we need to move faster,” Suri said.

ZTE Pre5G:

ZTE has unveiled the latest developments in its Pre5G range, the Ultra Dense Network (UDN), claiming this can provide a highly functional bridge to emerging 5G platforms. The UDN works with existing networking models but aims to enhance the user experience with a combination of techniques including interference management, suppression and mobility enhancement.

The system adopts system frequency multiplexing to address interference caused by

overlapping cells in dense networks. According to ZTE, this technique can boost downlink rates by 10 times in areas of cell overlap and will be an important component of 5G.

The equipment also uses other expected 5G technologies, but on current network infrastrucfture and sites – like Nokia, holding out the hope of a smooth migration down the road. These include massive MIMO and Multi-User Shared Access (MUSA), which ZTE has been testing for over a year. Early in 2015, it announced the first commercial base station to implement its pre5G architecture, particularly massive MIMO and MUSA, and this has completed field tests with a number of global operators, including China Mobile and Softbank.

Zhang Jianguo, wireless general manager at ZTE, said Massive MIMO “will be in commercial use in China and in other countries later this year”.

Qualcomm and Ericsson:

Qualcomm and Ericsson have announced their latest collaboration, and will work together on early trials and verification of key 5G technology components, to support the technical work required for 3GPP standardization in Release 15. The companies also said they would drive interoperability in alignment with 3GPP to enable rapid adoption of new 5G standards.

“As we did in both 3G and 4G, we are excited about collaborating with leading operators and industry stakeholders such as Ericsson in the development of a unified, more capable 5G platform” said Matt Grob, Qualcomm’s CTO. “Now that the vision and interest for 5G are well established, it is time to focus on the technical and engineering work required to support operator trials and commercial network launches.”

Intel:

Intel was determined to put paid to any perception that it might be an outsider in the 5G race. Not only was it focusing heavily on virtualization and Cloud-RAN – changes to the mobile network where it has the most obvious opportunity to enter the inner circle – but it was talking up partnerships with Ericsson, Nokia, LG, Cisco and Verizon to develop technologies for the IoT, smart cities, driverless vehicles and augmented reality – all important drivers of 5G development.

“5G represents a significant shift for these networks and we think it’s essential to get ready ahead of the curve,” said Aicha Evans, general manager of the Intel communication and services group. “Rather than just being about a personal computing platform, it’s about everything that computing can connect and how it connects.”

Among the specific announcements were IoT-oriented connectivity solutions like the

Atom x3-M7272 wireless communication platform for “automotive applications capable of powering advanced security features”; and the XMM 7120M LTE modem, optimized for machine-to-machine applications.

Intel also announced a new collaboration with Cisco and its strategic partner Ericsson,  to develop a 5G router. This will be submitted to the Verizon 5G Technology Forum, of which all there vendors are members, and will aim to improve speed, latency and IoT scalability for business and residential customers.

NEC:

NEC has developed a prototype of a compact, A4-sized massive-element Active Antenna System (AAS) for 5G small cells operating in the lower SHF (super high frequency) bands, from 3 GHz to 6 GHz.

As well as its small form factor, the combined antenna/RF solution boasts fully digitized antenna beam control and MIMO pre-coding to improve the precision of beamforming and increase. The vendor said that, used in conjunction with NEC’s spatial multiplexing technologies, the AAS can achieve more than 10 times greater per-cell throughput than conventional LTE base stations.  It is now working on trials of the AAS with NTT Docomo.

“5G communications achieve higher speeds and increased capacity through the utilization of high frequency bands which are capable of securing wider bandwidth. On the other hand, high frequency bands face the issue of heavy propagation loss in communications. As a solution to this issue, NEC has focused on beamforming technologies which improve communication distances and reduce interference,” said Nozomu Watanabe, general manager of the firm’s mobile RAN division.

NEC also issued three white papers related to 5G – ‘Optimum Network Architecture for Full-scale IoT’; ‘NFV C-RAN for efficient RAN resource allocation’; and ‘Massive MIMO for High-capacity Mobile Access’. These are the three areas which the company believes will be most central to 5G’s architecture and business case.

For the IoT, it considers coordination between Mobile Edge Computing and the cloud as well as full context awareness when allocating resources. The C-RAN paper outlines NEC’s approach to this architecture, including its proprietatry inter-cell interference mitigation techniques and its fronthaul design, and describes a migration to 5G based on “virtualization of cells”. And the third paper shows how Massive MIMO can be applied to small cells, using technologies like NEC’s new AAS.

NEC is also working with MediaTek to develop 5G air interface and chipsets.

This article is part of our Wireless Watch subscription service. Learn More

 


MWC 2016: The big themes in Barcelona February 29 2016

These were the biggest themes this year in Barcelona – no big surprises on the topic list, though there were plenty of unexpected twists within each area, many of them concerned with unexpected new alliances (Qualcomm joining the rebranded Open Interconnect Consortium; Facebook luring Deutsche Telekom and SK Telecom into its Telecom Infra Project). In Wireless Watch’s two special MWC editions, published today and on Friday, we distil the essence of each of these big topics from a mass of announcements, debates and hype.

5G:
Inevitably at the center of serious discussions and marketing hype, though lent a touch of reality by the start of the first meeting of the ITU’s IMT-2020 working party, which will specify frameworks and assess candidate technologies and spectrum, around the world in Beijing. In addition to R&D wizardry, there was much discussion of real world use cases, many of them in vertical and Internet of Things markets; and endless permutations of operators, vendors and academic bodies announcing 5G alliances.

Small cells and densification:
Small cells have been on the ‘best of MWC’ list for years now, but in 2016 they are no longer in their own ghetto, but underpinning many of the year’s big architectural themes. Operators are starting to densify their 4G networks in the bid for massive capacity, and small cells are intrinsically connected to several of this year’s bid ideas, including LTE-Unlicensed and true HetNets. A significant uptick in adoption is being driven by the enterprise need for excellent mobile coverage indoors, and will be further increased by the additional of virtualization and multi-operator platforms to the small cell mix.

Virtualization and Mobile Edge Computing:
Rather like 5G, these key architectures made the shift from interesting R&D activities to concrete element of operators’ plans, in most cases a couple of years ahead of 5G, as well as being a key future enabler of the next generation of services. The European stakeholders may be concerned about dwindling influence over core modem standards, but ETSI is asserting huge influence in these higher level frameworks, via its NFV, Mobile Edge Computing and new MANO (management and orchestration) efforts, all of them creating a common platform for the most important new approaches to mobile networking.

Facebook and Google:
The two web giants had a very high profile in Barcelona, and while some of their activities mirror one another – like last year, there was plenty of talk of drones and balloons – they are certainly not forgetting that they are engaged in a bitter head-to-head, to drive the next generation of the web experience, which will be predominantly wireless. Epitomizing this fight was Google’s endorsement of RCS (Rich Communications Services), the GSMA’s ailing attempt to defend operators’ voice and messaging businesses against over-the-top alternatives like Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger; and Facebook’s Telecoms Infra Project (TIP), which seeks to bring open source and hyperscale technologies into the telecoms networks, not just the data center, to shake up operator economics.

Unlicensed spectrum:
While there was plenty of analysis of the decisions of November’s World Radio Conference about 4G and potential 5G spectrum, there was also a heavy emphasis on integrating unlicensed frequencies into the carriers’ mix, as well as adopting new, flexible licensing schemes such as dynamic spectrum access. The expansion of the Qualcomm-led MuLTEFire Alliance and the imminent trials of LTE-Unlicensed set the scene, and the US’s 3.5 GHz scheme was also under the spotlight.

Internet of Things:
Since the many manifestations of the IoT are the biggest hope, for most of the mobile industry, that revenues and profits can continue to grow in future, it was unsurprising that MWC was a show about connected objects, not smartphones (despite the high profile launch of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the LG G5). There was a real attempt to relate IoT technologies to real business models, and an improved presence for the vertical industries which will work with – or compete with – the MNOs to drive the new services. Connected and driverless cars grabbed center stage as usual, but there were many other aspects to the IoT-fest, from smart factories and Industry 4.0 frameworks; to an unexpected rapprochement between Intel and Qualcomm in the relaunched Open Connectivity Foundation. And in the home of the GSMA community, there was a starring role for the upcoming 3GPP standards for low power wide area networks (LPWANs) – NB-IoT and LTE Category-M – as they embarked on the quest to fend off unlicensed spectrum challengers.


MWC: Operators vye for 5G glory, but Huawei focuses on 4.5G February 19 2016

In last week’s edition, we looked at how the major OEMs will need to tread a careful balance, at this year’s Mobile World Congress, between being ahead of the pack on the 5G roadmap, and injecting plenty of life into that nearer term source of revenues, LTE-Advanced – in particular, the last full 3GPP 4G releases, 13 and 14, known as LTE-Advanced Pro.

Huawei has been calling these ‘4.5G’ for some time, and for once this is not just a marketing slogan but a real summary of how the Chinese vendor – and much of the industry – sees LTE-A Pro. A stepping stone to 5G, yes, but one which will continue to evolve in parallel with the new generation, and with significant overlap. Operators will not tolerate a complete step upgrade again, and even if new air interface technologies are introduced alongside the current OFDM-based ones (especially for the IoT), they will look to virtualization and software-defined networking to enable them to evolve their platforms gradually, in line with real customer need, and to support multiple technologies at once.

All of which makes 4.5G quite a meaningful label, for once. Huawei, the last of the big OEMs to preview its major MWC announcements, said it believed more than 60 commercial 4.5G networks would be deployed this year, ushering in a “golden five-year period” for Releases 13 and 14. “4.5G is the natural evolution of 4G and necessary transition to the 5G,” said Ryan Ding, president of products and solutions. “It can effectively protect operators’ investments and enable them to provide faster services and better user experience on the basis of existing infrastructures.”

Huawei’s definition of 4.5G, which it unveiled over a year ago, includes gigabit download speeds – which are supported in Qualcomm’s latest modem, the X16 – and sub-10ms latency. In particular, the new releases will make LTE – initially designed almost exclusively for faster mobile broadband – more suited to the Internet of Things, with new specifications like Category-M and NB-IoT, and the ability to support up to 100,000 connections per cell (the latter another of Huawei’s 4.5G criteria).

Huawei said it had already demonstrated or tested 4.5G technology with more than 20 operators in nine countries (Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Norway, Singapore, Turkey and the UAE.). It added that operators in China, Hong Kong and Singapore had all achieved gigabit transmissions using pre-standard Huawei 4.5G kit. In addition, it added that Korea and the UK had started building LTE integrated trunked radio networks, and MNOs in Korea and China had launched commercial trials of NB-IoT.

By 2020, Huawei predicts the average mobile customer will be using about 5GB of data per month and there will be around 3bn “connected things” on cellular networks. “The answer to this vision now is 4.5G,” it says.

It also said it was engaged in 5G trials with some operators, but refused to follow Ericsson in putting a number on it this (the Swedish firm claims “nearly 20”). “We will have to wait for five years or even longer for 5G,” said William Xu, Huawei’s chief marketing strategy officer. “That is why Huawei has proposed 4.5G.”

Among the actual products to support 4.5G, Huawei unveiled a new family called GigaRadio. The first members are a blade remote radio unit (RRU) and an active antenna unit. The former is 20% smaller and 50% faster than other products targeting the same space, Huawei claimed, and can support gigabit speeds.

The OEM was not only reiterating its 4.5G mantra at its pre-announcements, even though its label is coming into line with the wider LTE platform with the appearance of LTE-A Pro on the horizon. It also set out a five-point plan to address the future needs of telecoms operators undergoing the transformation to digital. The five are Big Video or video everywhere; Big IT; Big Operations, mainly focused on agility; Big Architecture, or elastic networks; and Big Pipe for ubiquitous connectivity.
The big message was clear – for digital transformation, telcos need to rethink their platforms from end to end, and only very few vendors can address every link in the chain (Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson/Cisco). And as many observers pointed out, there was a clear overlap between Huawei’s five initiatives and the key areas Ericsson identified as growth drivers in 2014. The Swedish firm saw those growth areas – video and media, cloud platforms, IP, OSS/BSS and ‘industry and society’ – growing their revenues by 20% to total $5.3bn in 2015.

To achieve similar results from its new five-point plan, Huawei said it would invest $1bn over five years in a “developer enablement program” to expand the ecosystem around its framework, and says it already has 600 partners in its 10 open labs in China, Europe and other regions.

Meanwhile, other vendors were far less coy about overusing the ‘5G’ term than Huawei. The head of Samsung’s Network business unit, Youngky Kim, previewed the Korean firm’s own MWC infrastructure plans, including what it said were key enablers of 5G such as “multilink connectivity technology, centralized radio, IoT and mmWave radio access solutions”. Kim said: “5G technology will offer us a new level of experience, which is immersive, tactile and ubiquitous. Thanks to seamless mobility, higher throughput and low latency of 5G technology, new services like hologram calls, virtual reality broadcasting of live football games and self-driving cars will enrich our lives.”

In Barcelona, Samsung promises to “make 5G technology a reality” with a demonstration of millimeter wave radios, transmitting eight UHD 4K videos at once with latency below 1ms.

On the LTE-A Pro side, it will also launch solutions to support LTE in 5 GHz spectrum (LTE-U and LTE-LAA), plus MP-TCP (multipath transfer control protocol), Distributed-RAN Inter-site Carrier Aggregation and Samsung Smart Multi-Link. It names MP-TCP as one of its “key priorities”. The technology allows aggregation of two or more separate networks running different RATs, such as WiFi, 3G, 4G, 5G and LPWA. It does not just connect to them simultaneously, as in dual or multi-connectivity, but merges the data streams from each network at the IP layer, to make aggregation simpler and faster. The technology has already been commercialized in Korea.

Meanwhile, Smart Multi-Link is based on Samsung’s Unified Core architecture. This is designed to support backward and forward compatibility by supporting cellular networks from 2G to 5G, plus non-3GPP technologies, using NFV and SDN approaches to enable multiple distributed RANs to behave as a single pool of capacity around a single core.

Also on the virtualization front, it has upgraded its Cloud-RAN platform to version 2.0+, integrating new SON (self-optimizing network) and scheduler elements. Among the improvements are the ability for base stations to detect interference at the cell edge and control radio transmission power in real time, to boost data throughput by an average of 40-50%.

For the IoT, Samsung will show off a range of offerings including an IoT-optimized core, a specialized standalone base station for IoT, gateways, and support for the LPWA technology LoRa. It will also be offering a package of equipment, sensors and services for public safety IoT applications, claiming to be preparing “beyond standards” implementations to address mission critical use cases, as well as supporting Cat-0, Cat-1, Cat-M and NB-IoT.

The operators will be vying for 5G glory as enthusiastically as the vendors. Vodafone, AT&T, NTT Docomo, Telefonica and SK Telecom are among those which will demonstrate pre-5G technologies or announce major trials. Vodafone, has announced an extended set of partnerships – with Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson, Intel and Qualcomm – to research 5G technologies and prepare its networks for the transition, whatever that may involve in the real world.

Pre-standard operator trials are important because they help to define real requirements and shape the platforms in the direction of concrete business cases rather than technical wizardry. Vodafone aims to work with its partners to “define industry standards, establish technical guidelines and prepare product roadmaps”. It will evaluate the emerging 5G technologies to decide which it believes should be part of the standards; test hardware and software in its group Innovation Labs in the UK; conduct trials in global markets; and prioritize the benefits of 5G that can be brought to market by 2020.

CTO Johan Wibergh said: “The telecoms industry is still establishing what technology will deliver the benefits we expect from 5G, so it is important to establish dedicated research programmes with these leading global companies.”

Vodafone also chairs the NGMN (Next Generation Mobile Networks) 5G Requirements and Architecture group.

Over the pond, AT&T is working with Ericsson and Intel to launch a trial 5G network in Austin, Texas, in order to test emerging concepts like millimeter wave radios and virtualized RAN. Lab tests will take place in the second quarter of this year, and outdoor trials in the second half. By the end of this year, AT&T says it will provide real world connectivity to certain locations in Austin, using its selected ‘5G’ technologies, though these will initially be for fixed access only.

John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president of technology and operations, said: “New experiences like virtual reality, self-driving cars, robotics, smart cities and more are about to test networks like never before. These technologies will be immersive, pervasive and responsive to customers. 5G will help make them a reality. 5G will reach its full potential because we will build it on a software-centric architecture that can adapt quickly to new demands and give customers more control of their network services. Our approach is simple – deliver a unified experience built with 5G, SDN, big data, security and open source software.”

Ericsson will also be showing off its 5G partnerships with Korea Telecom and NTT Docomo at MWC, demonstrating radio prototypes which support Multiuser MIMO, and beam tracking in millimeter wave bands, to boost throughput beyond 25Gbps.

Seizo Onoe, Docomo’s CTO, said in a statement: “Both companies are already conducting joint outdoor trials to understand how 5G will really perform in the field. This will enable us to plan for the new and enhanced services that we will be able to offer with 5G. We will be in a good position to highlight our commercial 5G capabilities in 2020.”


Triband aggregation pushes TD-LTE limits December 14 2015

Three-carrier aggregation, TDD and 256QAM – a mounting number of trials points to a dream team for 4G

As operators push for ever-greater 4G speeds, carrier aggregation is becoming more essential, and more complicated. Combining three, four or even five bands will push LTE to new limits, and the trials are piling up. The latest results come from SK Telecom in Korea and Nokia Networks, which showed peak download speeds of 428Mbps using triband TD-LTE carrier aggregation (CA), together with 256QAM modulation.

This demonstration is a vital proof point for the TD-LTE community, said the partners, which worked with Qualcomm Snapdragon on the device modem side. Unpaired TDD spectrum is often more plentiful and affordable than FDD bands, and may provide opportunities for new or disruptive entrants. The Chinese carriers, and some others such as Sprint and Softbank, will make heavy use of FDD/TDD combinations to drive up their capacity and improve their economics.

The test used Nokia’s Flexi Multiradio 10 base station with software to aggregate three 20 MHz carriers in Band 41 spectrum (2496-2690 MHz). Load balancing capabilities were important to optimize spectrum efficiency and user experience across the carriers. The next step will be to establish a TD-LTE testbed and conduct wider trials of specific services and applications.

Tests like these are, then, important to prove the capabilities of TD-LTE to deliver the highest performance. This was the first example of TD-LTE 3xCA with 256QAM, and “lays the foundation for the introduction of TD-LTE in Korea”, according to SK Telecom. The head of its network technology R&D center, Jin-hyo Park, said: “We have showcased our readiness to prepare for the introduction of TD-LTE in Korea – which will provide an altogether unmatched service experience to our users across the country.”

Nokia added in a statement: “The trial verifies the clear benefits of 3xCA combined with 256QAM-capable devices that can boost the peak throughput from 110Mbps to 428Mbps. Nokia’s SingleRAN Advanced platform provides a strong foundation for SK Telecom to build the most advanced TD-LTE network capable of effectively addressing the demand for bandwidth-intensive services.”

Recently, Telstra of Australia became the first operator to boast a successful trial of five-carrier aggregation, working with Ericsson to get close to 1Gbps. The firms aggregated 100 MHz of Telstra’s spectrum holdings across five separate 4G channels integrated on the carrier’s LTE network.

Its group managing director for networks, Mike Wright, wrote in a blog post that end-to-end tests achieved download speeds of over 950Mbps using a specialized field test application, as well as speeds of around 843Mbps over the internet to speedtest.net.

Telstra’s commercial LTE-A network currently delivers 600Mbps peak speeds, using triband CA, in selected areas. It is also working with Ericsson on pre-5G RAN and core network projects.

And Singapore’s StarHub has been showing off some of the gains that are available from combining FDD and TDD spectrum, together with VoLTE for voice. It recently achieved the first TDD-FDD VoLTE handover using its 4G HetNet, which includes a dense roll-out of outdoor small cells, in the island state’s busy Marina Bay.

Its supplier Nokia said the deployment uses LTE-Advanced carrier aggregation technology to improve data rates, and small cells at strategic locations to handle peak-hour data demand. It also provided load balancing and project management capabilities for the trial.

“With HetNet and through our close collaboration with Nokia Networks, we are proud to deliver the world’s fastest, future-ready 4G network that can address the ever-growing data traffic demands of our customers without compromising on the quality of service, paving the way for Singapore to build the world’s first Smart Nation,” StarHub CTO Mock Pak Lum commented.

In Greece, Ericsson has worked with Cosmote on Europe’s first trial of 3xCA with 256QAM, this time with FDD spectrum. The companies demonstrated download speeds of 500Mbps in a live LTE network in November using Ericsson base stations and Networks Software 16A. The Swedish vendor said its 256QAM downlink encoding technology provides up to 33% higher downlink throughput in good radio conditions, boosting spectral efficiency.

Ericsson also recently demonstrated three-carrier aggregation and 256QAM with China Mobile in Beijing, once again using its RBS 6000 base stations in a live LTE network. This reached downlink peaks of 426Mbps in TDD mode.


WRC-15 closes with some tough balancing acts achieved November 30 2015

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As always, the World Radio Conference has had to attempt a difficult balancing act between competing claims on spectrum resources, and that gets harder on each occasion, particularly as the mobile industry's demands for ever-greater broadband capacity grow. While recognising the social and economic impact of mobile broadband, the WRC also has to be mindful of the needs of  other user. In the 2015 conference, which concluded at the end of last week after more than three weeks of discussions, it particularly had to address the concerns of the broadcasting and satellite sectors.

 The broadcasting industry generally reacted favourably to the decisions made in the 700 MHz and sub-700 MHz bands. The first major outcomes of the event allocated the 700 MHz spectrum as a global mobile broadband resource, which will variously be used for LTE-Advanced, IoT and 5G services. However, although spectrum below 694 MHz is being repurposed for cellular networks in some countries, notably the US, the WRC resisted lobbying from the mobile industry and kept it in the hands of the TV sector in Region 1 (EMEA).

This conference was not specifically tasked with looking at 5G spectrum allocations, though that will be a central agenda item in the 2019 event. However, some of the decisions, including 700 MHz harmonization, will influence how, and when, some MNOs can deploy 5G. And WRC-15 delegates approved several agenda items for 2019, which will be directly related to 5G, particularly related to high frequency spectrum. Many 5G activities are focused on bands above 6 GHz, and right up to 100 GHz and beyond, with the view that exploiting these high capacity and underused airwaves will be the only way to keep meeting the levels of demand for mobile data.

However, the first wave of 5G standards and deployments are likely to remain concentrated on traditional sub-6 GHz bands, so that WRC-19 can set the stage for a second phase of work, which will need to address the considerable challenges of creating efficient radio designs for high frequencies.

 John Giusti, chief regulatory officer of the GSMA, said in a statement: "We acknowledge the agreement at WRC-15 for a new agenda item for WRC-19 to identify high frequency bands above 24 GHz for 5G mobile services. This is a critical first stage in the journey towards a new wave of mobile innovation, considerably faster than existing technologies and driving a hyper-connected society in which mobile will play an ever more important role in people's lives."

In the shorter term, the mobile industry now has three additional globally harmonized bands - harmonization, as Giusti commented, is "key to driving the economies of scale needed to deliver low cost, ubiquitous mobile broadband to consumers around the globe". As well as the 700 MHz (694-790 MHz) spectrum, the others are 200 MHz in the C-band (3.4-3.6 GHz), which is seen as an important capacity band for small cells; and the L-band in 1427-1518 MHz, which provides a balance of coverage and capacity.

The GSMA may not have got its way on the sub-700 MHz band this time, but its tone was optimistic. Giusti said: "The GSMA particularly commends the vision shown by many countries seeking the flexibility to use the sub-700MHz band (especially 610-694/698 MHz) for mobile broadband. Not only can legacy television services in the band be delivered far more efficiently using less spectrum, but the reality is that consumer habits are evolving as video content is increasingly accessed via mobile devices. Allowing both mobile and broadcasting in the band gives these governments the ability to respond to the changing needs of their citizens."

The satellite industry had lobbied heavily ahead of the Geneva event, aware that some of the bands which the cellular operators are eyeing for 5G are currently used for satellite. A group of global and regional satellite industry assocations issued a statement, under the auspices of the Satellite Spectrum Initiative, which was generally upbeat about the WRC outcomes.

The statement read "The world's governments resoundingly affirmed a clear vision for the importance of many vital and irreplaceable services provided today over satellite. They also agreed on a clear framework for future access to spectrum for innovative satellite communications." The groups pointed out that, while spectrum in the L and C bands was harmonized for mobile IMT use, there were clear measures to protect adjacent satellite users in 1518-1559 MHz, and there was no reallocation of the upper portion of the C-band, in 3.6-4.2 GHz.

The conference did not include any globally harmonized bandsi, currently used for satellite services in the C, Ku or Ka bands, within the WRC-19 agenda item to identify future 5G spectrum, leading satellite delegates to boast that they had preserved the Ka band, in particular.

Several agenda items were adopted for future WRC conferences, including a study for 2019 of additional fixed satellite service (FSS) airwaves in 51.4-52.4 GHz. In addition, an agenda item for WRC-23 was adopted, focused on additional satellite spectrum in 37.5-39.5 GHz. And a resolution was adopted, which paves the way for using FSS links for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or drones.

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