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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.

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NEC shows off SDN focus in UK smart city project March 11 2015

by Caroline Gabriel, Research Director

Japan's NEC is harnessing two key carrier network trends - software defined networking (SDN) and densification - to attempt a significant comeback in the mobile space. This will involve targeting non-traditional operators as well as conventional cellcos, and all these strategies are showcased in a new smart city project announced with Bristol, UK.

Having been squeezed out of the RAN market in the 3G era (though it remains a powerhouse in backhaul), NEC has been assembling a new platform with which to take on Ericsson once again. This is heavily geared to SDN, and the company is integrating its Netcracker OSS/BSS subsidiary, which has been virtualizing its platform aggressively, into the main operations, reflecting the convergence of hardware and software.

These elements will be important to the SDN-based network the vendor will create for Bristol, which will be able to support services for businesses, residents and the local universities. The groundwork for the SDN platform was done at the University of Bristol and that will be incorporated into the real world network deployed by NEC, along with the vendor's own virtualization technologies. NEC will virtualize many of the functions of a network whose physical layer will rely on a combination of fiber, wireless and mesh, tied together by IoT big data analytics tools.

The overall project is called 'Bristol is Open', and is a joint venture between the city authority and the university, with the bold goal of being the "world's first open programmable city". Initial applications will be for the direct benefit of these two partners - for instant, more efficient traffic management to ease congestion in the city, and services for academics. However, there is the potential to expand the uses of the network to support the wide community and commercial partners and there is already a long list of participants including the BBC, national and European government agencies, and academic institutions.

Any city project, however 'smart', that is led by a local council, brings back memories of previous phases such as muni WiFi, which experienced high levels of failure, often because there was no clear business model.

By including SDN in the mix, and partnering with a range of expert companies, the new wave of connected city initiatives hopes to create platforms that are flexible enough to keep costs under control and to support a wide variety of current and future services. These could generate revenue, increase cost efficiencies or deliver social and economic benefits in order to, for instance, attract new businesses, or reduce crime.

There will also be a greater opportunity to harness a wide variety of data than with earlier technology platforms. The project plans to tap into data from sensors covering as many aspects of city life as possible, including energy, air quality and traffic.

The council said the SDN-based infrastructure would have an immediate impact in the area of transport management, reducing bottlenecks and managing public transport and car traffic more dynamically. It has already opened up almost 200 of the city's data sets related to traffic flows, energy usage, crime and health trends to help shape new services.

Extensions of the platform envisaged by NEC include low latency connectivity for many IoT (internet of things) purposes, including driverless cars in future, as well as smart health services; coupled with high bandwidth connections for applications which demand that, such as HDTV public broadcasts or ultra-fast information exchange between universities. According to Paul Wilson, managing director of Bristol is Open, the network will also result in a "city-scale lab" in which global hi-tech companies, start-ups and community organizations will be able to test out their ideas and applications.

Dejan Bojic, director of strategy and solutions at NEC EMEA, commented in a statement: "This is a truly groundbreaking smart city project. It will use the latest NEC SDN-enabled network technologies - which will operate with Bristol Is Open's SDN platform, developed by the University of Bristol - to create an open, dynamic, virtualized network to serve each traffic type according to its quality of service priorities and real time levels of demand over multicarrier WiFi, LTE, millimeter wave and optical channels."

If the city center trial is successful, it could be extended to surrounding areas such as the Bristol suburbs, Bath and nearby counties. The project is due to go live this spring, and will run for at least the five years.

There are other UK smart city projects in the works, including a series of roll-outs planned by infrastructure owner Arqiva and IoT network specialist Sigfox. Their first location to go live was the London borough of Greenwich, which will stage a driverless car trial.

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