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Wireless Infrastructure Newsletter

Europe pulls together a plan for 5G - carved mostly from dreams March 05 2015

by Peter White

The love-in that is the annual Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona has focused squarely on the mass hysteria surrounding the creation of an all-encompassing 5G network which will solve the ills of all cellular participants. How likely is that?

We have already covered the technology directions of a variety of vendors as they prepared for the show - all puling in slightly different directions and yesterday it was the turn of the European Commission, which fronted an inaugural 5G vision in a paper which "explained" 5G and talked about the 5G Public Private Partnership (5GPPP) and how it would solve every radio problem known to man - all within 5 years.

The whiff of hysteria that the industry is in was clearly evident by the breadth and ambition of the paper - but stating the problems is fairly easy - creating the technologies which will provide the solutions - and especially if this happens over the next five years - will be miraculous.

There is the increasing sensation that cellular is pulling together to bail the sinking cellular boat in a similar way to how it responded to the threat of WIMAX when it created LTE over a decade ago. Suddenly all of the rival players are beginning the process of defining what needs to be done, to fend off falling voice revenues, rising data volumes and the dual threats of absorbing WiFi into the fold and acknowledging the possibilities of the Internet of Things.

But how helpful are reciting mantras such as data volumes of 10 terabytes per square kilometer; or 1 million terminals per square kilometer, or reduction to one tenth of the energy consumption or to one fifth of the current latency, or cutting network management to 20% of today's costs, or offering data rates of 50 Mbps to every user, and providing location services to within a meter?

As we say, that is only stating the problem, but Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society stood alongside CTOs from Alcatel-Lucent, DoCoMo, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, Orange, Samsung and Thales Alenia Space and told us what he hoped the future might bring.

This amounts to the largest R&D program ever mounted, but this is not to win a war or get a man on the moon. This is to save the momentum of one of the richest industries in the world, which is beset with nothing more prosaic than problems of cost and the hunger of an expectant public.

Here are the list of 5G ingredients if you take the 5GPPP vision; it will be a heterogeneous network (using multiple spectrum and radio technologies); it will in fact support three different kinds of traffic profiles, high throughput for video services, low energy for long-lived IoT sensors and low latency for mission critical enterprise services. Small cells will drift slowly towards Ultra Dense Networks.

And all of this will be on a single network, not some on WiFi, some on cellular and some on specialist IoT networks - no! Because if the cellular community doesn't own ALL of it there won't be enough money to go around. Public safety will be part and parcel of 5G too.

It will integrate networking, computing and storage into one programmable and unified infrastructure and leverage from the characteristic of current cloud computing, and create the opportunity for virtual pan European operators. There will be variants for vertical markets such as automotive, energy, food and agriculture, city management, government, healthcare, manufacturing and public transportation.

5G will support many more devices simultaneously and improve terminal battery life and help European citizens manage their personal data, tune their exposure over the Internet and protect their privacy.

The new air interface will use enhanced spectral efficiency, which we presume will come from someone getting past the Shannon limit.

Somehow in there the 5GPPP threw in the idea that satellites would be involved, but perhaps this is just a sop thrown to Alcatel and Thales, given that European mobile satellite services were still-born and will do nothing for latency.

The new 5G will use simultaneous radio technologies to increase reliability and availability and it will rely on better interference mitigation, backhauling and installation techniques.

We could go on, but the paper is quite clearly all things to all people, it places cellular at the heart of all IT services, and absorbs fiber as if cellular operators all owned all the fiber in the world. Well if they keep buying fixed line operators they soon will. It naturally has a high dosage of Software Defined Networking, Network Functions Virtualization, Mobile Edge Computing and Fog Computing (Cloud to the edge), and uses Data Analytics and Big Data to monitor QoS through new metrics.

For the past five years we have talked to people chasing that simple problem of how to be sure that cellular customers are getting the experience that we imagine we are sending to them OTT - simple QoS and no-one has been able to agree on a simple process for it. Solving that alone in five years would be an accomplishment, never mind the rest.

One interesting hard fact pushed was the involvement of 6 GHz into the mix. Certainly this high volume, low penetrating spectrum, which could make lots of bandwidth for heavy data lifting is a distinct possibility, in the same way that WiFi has flirted with 60 GHz for same room communication in what is a layered approach - so cellular could talk long distance in 700 MHz, shorter distance in 3G and 4G spectrum, and shorter distances in high volume in both 5 GHz and 6 GHz, in a multi-layered network. There is at least a basis in that statement for 5G planning and lobbying for spectrum clearance.

The start of commercial deployment of 5G systems is expected by 2020 it says, though we think this is unlikely, but the exploratory phase to understand detailed requirements is already under way said the 5GPPP.

Not one word was said throughout this indulgent fantasy, about data and services costs, and until the cellular community at large comes up with a pricing formula which consumers are willing to continue paying beyond 2020, they will find that whatever they bring to market may stumble on what is in consumer pockets.

Meanwhile just to give even greater clout to the Chinese voice over what 5G may look like, Indian operator Bharti Airtel this week signed a partnership deal with China Mobile. Initially they will work towards growth of the LTE ecosystem and go in for joint procurement of devices such as Mifi, smart phones, data cards, LTE CPEs and USIM. Later they will collaborate on promoting their own robust ecosystem to accelerate the commercialization of TD-LTE across 4.5G and 5G technologies.

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Wi-Fi Blasts Ahead with 11ac Wave 2 Chipsets November 29 2014

By Maury Wood, Principal Analyst

Wi-Fi infrastructure has been evolving in two ways, in terms of performance and of usability. A significant wave of hotspot upgrades is under way, driven by the uptake of 802.11ac and of Hotspot 2.0/Next Generation Hotspot. These two technology shifts are the most important in the shift of public Wi-Fi from best effort towards carrier-grade.

2x2 MIMO 802.11ac is now a standard feature in new smartphones, phablets, tablets and notebook computers. By early 2015, new iOS and Android radio firmware will enable Multi User MIMO functionality in smartphones, potentially doubling Wi-Fi throughput as 11ac Wave 2 Access Points are deployed. This article highlights some of the key findings of the latest and unique report entitled “Wi-Fi Blasts Ahead with 11ac Wave 2 Chipsets” published this week by EJL Wireless Research, a research partner of Maravedis.

Promise of Gigabit Wi-Fi

Consumer client devices and access points (both consumer broadband gateways and enterprise-class / carrier-class) using 11ac Wave 2 technology promise nearly instantaneous (very low latency) data transfers with high Quality of Experience / Quality of Service. They will be capable of supporting multiple ultra high definition streaming video flows, including UHD “telepresence” video conferencing flows, as well as hundreds of clients per AP. Additionally, 11ac Wave 2 client devices and access points will offer increasingly robust and comprehensive wireless plus wired security as well as content-aware traffic engineering features.

Complex System Design Risks

Semiconductor companies who can supply both Wi-Fi radios and companion digital System-on-Chip (SoC) processors plus the software and system reference designs are at an enormous advantage over microchip companies who can only supply the digital SoC processor. Wi-Fi systems, such as access points and wireless broadband gateways, are extremely complex hardware (requiring digital, RF and mixed-signal integrated circuits) and embedded software systems. The overwhelming majority of WLAN equipment OEMs are uninterested in attempting to integrate these complex systems using radios and processors from different suppliers. A good illustration of this complexity is the Netgear R7500 Nighthawk X4 consumer WLAN router, which integrates the Qualcomm IPQ8064 with the Quantenna QSR1000 radio, and despite this combination of “best-in-class” silicon components, does not achieve performance that is superior to Broadcom’s chipset (radios and networking processor).

Integrated System Solutions Rule The Roost

Embedded software is frequently the critical determinant of Wi-Fi system performance, and suppliers of both radios and companion processors deliver optimized system software, as well as comprehensive system-level application / software integration engineering support to their customers. For this key reason, this report does not include analysis of general purpose embedded processors from AppliedMicro, Cavium, Freescale (including the Comcerto C2200 and QorIQ T1020), and LSI Logic, none of whom offer companion Wi-Fi radio products.

Super Smart Access Points Plus Storage

The purpose-built Wi-Fi access point networking processors most recently announced by Broadcom, Qualcomm and Marvell have enormously powerful general purpose multi-core ARM CPUs and specialized accelerator engines, and (concurrent with Wave 2 radio performance enhancements) herald a new era ofsuper-smart access points able to run multi-Gbps line rate unified threat management, adaptive / intelligent QoS, continuous spectral analysis and cognitive RF interference avoidance, deep packet inspection and other advanced embedded applications. This order-of-magnitude lift in access point compute capacity is occurring simultaneously with the trend towards controller-less cloud-managed enterprise AP architectures, as well as the trends toward Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN).

Broadcom – Market Leader

Among the top 30 best performing (using maximum 5 GHz downlink throughput as the metric) 11ac Wave 1 and early Wave 2 WLAN routers, using test results from Small Net Builder (www.smallnetbuilder.com), Broadcom chipsets occupies 22 slots (including 8 of the top 10), Qualcomm occupies 7 slots, and Marvell occupies 1 slot in results posted in October 2014. We believe that Broadcom is the performance leader in Wave 1 Wi-Fi chipsets today.

With more than 100 known 802.11ac production design wins, Broadcom is the current leading supplier of Wave 1 802.11ac chipsets (radios and companion networking processors), but Qualcomm (with 58 known 802.11ac Wave 1 production design wins) is now poised to threaten Broadcom’s leadership market share in 2H15 and 1H16 with strong recent Wave 2 product announcements. Broadcom is currently under competitive pressure to announce 11ac Wave 2 radios and upgraded fully carrier-class StrataGX processors.

Wave 2.5 Radios and RF PAs in 2H15

Announced Wave 2 11ac radios (from Qualcomm and Quantenna) do not have support for 160 MHz or 80 MHz + 80 MHz bonded channels. EJL Wireless Research terms next generation 11ac radios with 160 MHz bonded channel support as “Wave 2.5”, and forecasts this capability will appear in 11ac radios announced in 2H15. As the FCC, ETSI and other international regulatory bodies open up additional 5 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi use, this will become a more important feature (potentially doubling maximum PHY data rate). Companion RF front-end ICs with adequate linearity performance to support 160 MHz channels are likely to be announced from suppliers such as SkyWorks and Qorvo (RFMD / TriQuint) in that timeframe. This report also compares the cutting-edge infrastructure radios and Wi-Fi networking SoC processors from the nine suppliers covered.

Download the brochure of this must-have report.

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