Last year was the first time that Wi-Fi carried more mobile traffic than cellular did, according to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast (2015 to 2020), which cites Maravedis’ research. That trend is fundamentally changing the telecom market in a variety of ways.
For example, the more that mobile operators and their customers rely on Wi-Fi, the more important it is for 802.11 to provide good quality of service experience (QoS/QoE). (One way to define “good” is a connection that’s at least as fast, reliable and low latency as what cellular offers.) Otherwise, many customers will choose cellular, and mobile operators will pay the price in terms of having to buy additional base stations, backhaul and spectrum – if there’s even any spectrum available for them to buy. Hotspot owners and aggregators also will pay the price in terms of less revenue, both from end users and from their mobile operator partners.
To avoid those problems, the Wi-Fi industry has spent the past couple of years developing “carrier-grade” 802.11, which aims to provide a better user experience than traditional “best-effort” Wi-Fi. By the end of 2017, carrier-grade access points will start to outnumber best-effort ones, Maravedis predicts. By 2020, more than 90 percent of hotspots will be carrier grade.
The Business Case for LTE Coexistence
When it comes to Wi-Fi QoS/QoE, one looming wild card is LTE’s use of the same 5 GHz band that many hotspots inhabit. LTE Licensed Assisted Access (LTE-LAA) technology aggregates signals across licensed and unlicensed bands in order to deliver more bandwidth than the licensed spectrum alone could support.
Note that “support” doesn’t refer only to the maximum amount of bits that a slice of spectrum can handle. Support also can be viewed in financial terms. For example, a mobile operator might configure LTE-LAA so that the LTE “anchor” carrier is used for minimal traffic because that licensed spectrum is scarce and expensive. The bulk of the traffic then would go over the unlicensed carrier(s), thus reducing the operator’s cost of delivering service and in turn increasing its ability to achieve a profit.
Whatever the scenario, LTE-LAA also highlights why mobile operators – and their vendors – have a vested interest in finding ways to ensure that their traffic coexists peacefully alongside Wi-Fi. If LTE-LAA pollutes the unlicensed spectrum, then the interference will undermine Wi-Fi’s QoS/QoE, making offload less attractive to customers. That would shift more traffic back into licensed spectrum, which is already crowded in urban areas.
For example, Qualcomm and Verizon Wireless are among the companies developing “listen before talking” (LBT) technologies, which enable LTE-LAA devices and infrastructure to check to see if a nearby Wi-Fi application is already sending traffic on a particular frequency. If there is, LBT would look for another, clear frequency before transmitting.
Time and real-world deployments will show whether LBT is a viable way to enable coexistence. In urban and suburban areas, unlicensed spectrum is already crowded, so there will be times and places where LBT inevitably struggles to find clear frequencies. Many of those times and places also are when and where cellular spectrum is overloaded, such as city centers during the workday. The likely result is that there will be times and places where mobile operators and their customers would benefit the most of LTE-LAA offload, but LBT will be unable to broker it.
Offloading to Other Bands, Including New Ones
The good news is that other technologies are emerging to help shoehorn more traffic into unlicensed spectrum. Some of these technologies also complement one another to maximize their benefits. For example, self-optimizing Wi-Fi networks (SON) can identify when a dual-band Wi-Fi device could and should move to just one of those bands, thus freeing up the other band for other users. That alone would help reduce congestion, which could be further reduced if LBT devices also are active in that area.
Another example is WiGig, which uses unlicensed 60 GHz spectrum. If it achieves significant market share, that would mean less traffic clogging up the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. The 802.11ah and 802.11ax standards could have similar effects by shifting some traffic into new bands between 900 MHz and 6 GHz.
Maravedis is the leading analyst firm covering Wi-Fi. If you need market research on Wi-Fi or would like to produce unique content as part of your content marketing strategy, contact us today.
Huawei has set out a three-step process which it claims operators must go through, to become fully cloud-enabled. Of course, this triple jump is supported at each stage by elements of the Chinese firm’s All Cloud framework, which it unveiled at its analyst summit last week, pitching itself at operators embarking on digital transformation and the new network architectures required to enable that.
Huawei’s three stages are:
- Virtualization, which includes NFV and more flexible network resource allocation to improve efficiency and performance.
- Cloudification, which includes adds full orchestration and automation of network functions to basic virtualization, allowing operators to provision and manage services in real time, which will enable many new business models, especially in the IoT.
- Cloud Native, which Huawei defines as the stage where “the entire software system comprises a series of software microsystems that provide microservices”.
Most operators, the vendor says, are in the first stage, if they have embarked on NFV at all, while a few have reached step two. But all three will be needed to deliver on the full promise of virtualization and cloud – rapid provisioning, operational and cost efficiency, and agile response to shifting demand.
Libin Dai, Huawei’s director of network transformation, said the firm was working with various groups and operators to develop real use cases and tools around its framework. For instance, it recently announced an alliance with the MEF (Metro Ethernet Forum), ON.Lab and China Unicom to work on a set of proofs of concept, based on SDN, NFV and lifecycle orchestration.
“Huawei looks forward to bringing open source and standards together as we develop key use cases in order to deliver next generation services,” said Dai.
For research on wireless infrastructure, please refer to our RAN modules.
Managed hotspot provider Boingo Wireless is leading the charge to bring virtualization to public WiFi networks, in order to reap the same benefits which mobile operators are targeting in their cellular platforms. Boingo says about 20% of its WiFi locations in US airports now support the NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) specifications, which are becoming a widely accepted standard.
The company aims to expand NFV to most of its networks in US airports and large venues this year. Considering how new and largely untried NFV is, this represents rapid progress in an effort that started about a year ago, when Boingo announced a virtualization initiative with Procera Networks. Its aim is to reduce the need for hardware roll-out and upgrades, as well as to support traffic more efficiently and improve customers’ quality of experience.
As WiFi networks move towards carrier-class performance and become highly strategic to operators such as cablecos, they need to adopt the same kind of optimization and QoS techniques which are more familiar in cellular. And many are looking at the cost efficiencies and flexibility of doing that on off-the-shelf hardware.
At the Consumer Electronics Show last week, Boingo’s CTO Derek Peterson said NFV is living up to its promises of making it easier, quicker and cheaper to reconfigure hotspot networks to improve performance, and deploy new services.
This is part of a broader strategy which Boingo calls SMART (Secure, Multiplatform, Analytics-Driven, Responsive and Tiered) Networks, and which it announced in 2014 as a way to get ahead of the managed WiFi pack and offer new levels of flexibility and consistent experience to its wholesale and retail customers. That is all about matching quality of service to different users – or in Boingo’s case, roaming partners such as cablecos too – in order to use network resources more efficiently and target them where they are most needed, while improving the customer experience, especially for high value customers and services. The company sees virtualization as a way to increase the dynamic aspect of this goal while controlling costs.
Peterson told FierceWirelessTech that the company designed some of its NFV technology inhouse and used some open source elements, as well as adopting Procera’s
PacketLogic/V virtual CPE solution. This shapes network traffic to improve efficiency and QoS, and to apply different classes of services to individual locations or subscribers, according to personalized profiles. For instance, users in airports can now choose from tiered service plans ranging from 5Mbps to 50Mbps and with varying levels of QoS.
All these capabilities are incorporated into a controller which is installed in the network to centralize management. On the vCPE side, Procera claims its software can now match the raw performance of a hardware CPE, achieving 150Gbps on an off-the-shelf x86-based box.
Peterson has said of the Procera tool: “Their ability to deliver a fully virtualized PacketLogic solution enabled Boingo to achieve the ROI that we needed for our business model. We evaluated hardware-based solutions, but they did not meet our cost or deployment flexibility requirements.”
Boingo’s first NFV deployments were in five US airports including Dallas/Fort Worth. This will be important to support major wholesale contracts such as its WiFi offload deal with Sprint, which is centered on 35 airports.
It is also implementing virtualization on the data center side and Peterson told CES that process is 90% complete, and that 60% of its network processing functions are now conducted in the cloud, rather than locally.
Boingo also builds small cell, DAS and WiFi networks in many kinds of public locations, in a major expansion of its original hotspot aggregation model for consumers and business travellers. In the third quarter, it reported revenue of $37.2m, up 20.6% year-on-year, but its net loss widened to $4.8m, from $3.8m a year earlier.
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Ever since the mobile access network started its migration to IP, the narrative has centered on whether Ericsson, the mobile king, or IP giant Cisco, would be the winner in the new market. That made the news that the two companies are entering into a deep partnership seem shocking at first - but then completely logical.
The two companies announced on Monday that they will cooperate from development to delivery of systems for carriers and enterprise customers, and predicted a full $1bn each in additional revenue by the end of 2018, as a direct result of the alliance. They will focus their efforts heavily on cloud computing the the IoT (internet of things), and Ericsson will receive patent licence fees from its new friend. The Swedish firm also expects to save SEK1bn ($115m) a year from the deal.
There are huge challenges in achieving workable cooperation between two companies with such different approaches - Ericsson still R&D-heavy and increasingly services-driven; Cisco a sales machine focused on hardware and software, and tending to buy the new technologies it needs.
But the deal has fewer risks than a merger (even supposing that got past antitrust) and is a decisive move to preserve both partners' markets in the face of the rise of Huawei and the merger of Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent. Both companies are traditionally wary of major mergers and Ericsson resisted all pressure to follow Nokia's lead and acquire a router company like Juniper. "I don't believe in big mergers - this is by far the best solution you can get," Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg told Bloomberg. "This is much faster and more efficient."
The wireless infrastructure business is consolidating as traditional hardware becomes a game of scale and the value shifts to virtualization and SDN, services and cloud platforms. In these areas of future growth, Cisco and Ericsson are far more complementary than they are in their traditional markets. While Cisco had little chance of penetrating Ericsson's mobile RAN fortress, nor Ericsson Cisco's enterprise IP heartland - despite strong attempts by both around the edges - they can target one another's customers with their software-oriented platforms.
Ericsson has a far more developed services offering - Cisco's structure and roadmap is still mainly product-focused, though the cloud, IoT and SDN markets will inevitably bring elements of managed services into the mix. Their strengths and weaknesses in virtualization, orchestration and SDN are different, and while Cisco has a more end-to-end approach to the IoT, Ericsson has been developing the links between a hosted cloud service and billions of endpoints.
And of course, they both have a core customer base of large service providers, though they usually sell different products to different departments. Even that is changing - as seen in AT&T's Domain 2.0 and many other operators' bids to shake up their supply chains, the providers of base stations, routers and other kit are being brought together around SDN.
Better then, to play nicely in those playgrounds than try to muscle each other to the sidelines, and in doing so, wrongfoot the other competitors, without the disruption of a huge merger or joint venture, Nokia/ALU-style. Indeed, as those two vendors spend much of 2016 working out the details of their marriage, with the aim of offering a full scale IP/mobile platform plus software, Ericsson and Cisco could leapfrog them and provide a similar combination in a simpler way.
Both partners will have the chance to squeeze rivals - Huawei for both of them, Nokia/ALU for Ericsson, Juniper, ALU and agile SDN specialists for Cisco. Even Huawei will have to look nervously at an axis which boasts $75.4bn in combined revenues in the last fiscal year and has 76,000 professional services staff.
They proclaimed their new alliance as one which would create the "networks of the future", and offer customers "the best of both companies: routing, data center, networking, cloud, mobility, management and control, and global services capabilities."
As well as offering an end-to-end portfolio, they outlined two other key goals - to create a new mobile enterprise platform based on a "highly secure technology architecture for seamless indoor/outdoor networks", which would presumably tap into Cisco's WiFi and Ericsson's LTE and 5G work; and the acceleration of platforms for the IoT.
Among the details of the deal are commitments to create reference architectures and products;
systems-based management and control; a broad reseller agreement; and collaboration in key emerging market segments. Also, a combined team will start work on a joint initiative focused on SDN and virtualization.
They will cross-licence each other's patent portfolios - they have a combined 56,000 patents, though clearly the weight is towards Ericsson, which will receive the revenues from the agreement. They will also discuss Frand (fair reasonable and non-discriminatory) policies.
Vestberg said in a statement: "Foremost, we share the same vision of the network's strategic role at the center of every company's and every industry's digital transformation. Initially the partnership will focus on service providers, then on opportunities for the enterprise segment and accelerating the scale and adoption of IoT services across industries. For Ericsson, this partnership also fortifies the IP strategy we have developed over the past several years, and it is a key move forward in our own transformation."
His counterpart at Cisco, Chuck Robbins, said: "With the pace the market is moving, the successful companies will be those who build the right strategic partnerships to accelerate innovation, growth, and customer value … We have worked with Ericsson during the last year on developing a strategy for future industry leadership, and can start executing together today."
The firms secured public support from the CEOs of key customers including Vodafone and AT&T, welcoming the potential to accelerate innovation in the integration of wireless and IP, and the move to the IoT.
And Roger Gurnani, chief information and technology architect at Verizon, summed it all up, saying: "This global partnership has the potential to reshape the industry."
The upheaval in the wireless infrastructure chip sector continues, with Intel said to be in talks for the biggest deal yet, a takeover of Altera, which had a market cap of $13.3bn on Friday.
If a bid transpires from the negotiations - leaked by sources to The Wall Street Journal - it would be one of Intel's biggest purchase ever, and would reflect the chip giant's urgent need to reduce its reliance on stagnating markets, notably PC processors, and consolidate its strength in servers (still 98% share, but under the first credible attack in years, from ARM).
This is no longer just about enterprises - Intel is pushing its server processor technology into the carrier network and wireless infrastructure spaces, riding on the interest in virtualization, including Cloud-RAN. It has made several acquisitions recently, including those of LSI's Axxia division and Mindspeed's former Picochip unit, aimed at improving its capabilities in base stations, network processors and C-RAN (even at the cost of introducing ARM-based platforms into the fold).
In this market, and in the broader cloud server segment, Intel has a natural advantage, but needs to build on that quickly to fend off ARM's licensees. Since the UK-based core provider moved to 64-bit, partners like Cavium and EZchip have been pushing the Cortex-A architecture into the heartlands of Intel x86 and of proprietary designs, including high end servers, accelerators and network processors.
Altera makes programmable chips (field programmable gate arrays or FPGAs) for base stations and other infrastructure, and leads this segment, ahead of Xilinx and Lattice, especially in the high end sub-sector which comprises over half the market. In 2013, the company became the largest customer for Intel's fledgling foundry business, signing a deal for the US giant to manufacture new top end parts with its cutting edge 14nm FinFet process. At the time, there was also considerable speculation that Intel would need to expand its FPGA expertise, probably via acquisition, in order to take a lead in base stations, and particularly in Cloud-RAN.
This is because FPGAs are increasingly needed, alongside general purpose processors, to satisfy the demands of performance-intensive infrastructure such as cloud servers and carrier networks. FPGAs can run specific tasks very quickly and are increasingly seen in data center platforms used by Microsoft and Baidu alongside Intel chips. Altera has been the leader in penetrating this high growth segment, and if Intel acquired it, there would be the chance to secure those revenues for itself, and also to integrate CPU and FPGA more closely, to gain competitive advantage against rivals.
In particular, that would cut off a valuable source of FPGAs for ARM-based competitors, though that in turn could boost Xilinx, and possibly make it a target for acquisition too (its shares leapt 6% on the reports of the Intel talks with its arch-rival).
As well as servers, FPGAs are an important element of base stations, and of the emerging virtualized version, Cloud-RAN. Intel has been prototyping a base station platform built around its Xeon processor with accelerators optimized for signal processing. Prototypes based on FPGA chips are being used in China Mobile's huge C-RAN market trial, which aims to virtualize network functions on an x86 server in order to control a large number of small and macro cell sites in a flexible, centralized way.
At this year's Mobile World Congress, Altera and Intel were part of China Mobile's demonstrations of C-RAN based on the NFV specifications. Altera signed a strategic collaboration with the China Mobile Research Institute (CMRI) in 2014, focused on the future needs of 5G with regards to virtualization and FPGAs.
"It has been nearly five years since CMRI first introduced the C-RAN concept to the industry, and there is now wide recognition within the industry that this solution is essential for 5G networks," said Chih-Lin I, CMRI's chief scientist, said in Barcelona. "As a key partner helping to realize the industry vision of the C-RAN architecture-based 5G wireless network, Altera provided advanced technologies and great support to our project as we conducted the research and development together."
Intel has also talked about producing a full base station platform, though to date it has mainly worked with partners to get x86 processors into cell site equipment, as seen in its alliances with NSN to create the RACS/Liquid Apps offering, and Cisco/Ubiquisys for the Smart Cell.
The Altera deal, if it materializes, would pull all these strands together, capitalize further on the important Axxia takeover, and give Intel a strong position when the C-RAN market gains scale (which, despite major trials by China Mobile, Telefonica and others, is unlikely to be until the industry gets close to its '5G' stage, around the end of the decade).
Analysts at Citi told Bloomberg that the acquisition could add 4% to Intel's earnings per share and contribute $2bn in annual revenue, as well as being an effective "fab filler" following recent huge investments in new plants and the 14nm process. It could also give Altera the boost it needs in its largest market, wireless and telecoms equipment, where its sales have recently been flat. It has also seen decline in military, automotive and industrial equipment chips, though the networking business has enjoyed growth and it saw a 12% year-on-year rise in sales in 2014, to $1.9bn, with net income pu 7% to $473m.
Founded in 1984, California-based Altera has more than 3,000 employees in 19 countries. Its largest customers are Huawei and Ericsson, which accounted for 10% of its revenue apiece last year and would be attractive targets for Intel, which has made slow progress in penetrating the heart of the mobile infrastructure world, despite its strength in some types of core network processors
The long-neglected 3.5GHz spectrum band is coming into its own at last. The past week has seen Huawei launching the first LTE-Advanced device for the band, and T-Mobile joining the group of companies advocating it as suitable spectrum for a flexible licensing approach, and for the emerging LTE-LAA (Licensed Assisted Access) technology.
Many advocates see the unpaired 3.5GHz spectrum as ideal to be dedicated to small cells, which are well suited to the short range of high frequency base stations, and to create a near-global roaming platform and ecosystem. The current FCC consideration of plans for shared access in 3.5GHz may set interesting precedents for flexible licensing regimes which could encourage the uptake of new approaches, such as LTE-LAA.
While most work on this technology - which allows LTE to run in licence-exempt or shared bands to provide supplemental downlink for a licensed-band 4G network - has been focused on 5GHz, some believe 3.5GHz would be a better option as it does not involve potential conflicts with WiFi, and could be led by LTE. T-Mobile USA's influential CTO, Neville Ray, has supported this view, in a presentation called 'Promoting Innovation in the 3.5GHz Band'.
Although he still expects most short term LAA effort to be focused on 5GHz, the 3GPP has been specific that the standard should not be specific to one band. Ray said it was important that the FCC - which will set the pace for some other regulators - should remain flexible in its rules for the band, arguing that with respect to LAA, "no additional regulation is necessary" because it will be designed to be a good neighbour - better, in many cases, than other technologies which would be able to access the portion of the band that the FCC proposes to assign for 'General Authorized Access' (GAA). There will be two other tiers, one for protected incumbent government users, and one licensed to operators, possibly on a short term basis, under a Priority Access Licence (PAL) scheme.
Last week, lobby groups New America Open Technology Institute (OTI) and Public Knowledge (PK) met with the FCC to reiterate their support for keeping a majority of the 3550-3700MHz band reserved for GAA, and allowing opportunistic access to PAL frequencies until actual commercial services are operational from licensees. However, they do not want LTE-LAA to lead in this band in case it keeps WiFi out, and expressed concerns that Qualcomm, Verizon and others have been reportedly testing pre-standard LAA technologies in 3.5GHz. "Although Qualcomm has indicated this technology is most likely to be deployed by carriers in the 5GHz unlicensed bands, it could readily be used by licensed carriers in the 3.5GHz band," the filing said.
In other parts of the world, 3.5GHz has generally been assigned for fixed broadband wireless and has been used for proprietary or WiMAX networks in many areas. Some of those networks are being converted to TD-LTE, especially where regulators are allowing mobility. For instance, when UK regulator added mobile usage to the licence, 3.5GHz spectrum holder UK Broadband launched TD-LTE services in parts of London.
In Europe, CEPT has agreed to harmonize spectrum between 3400MHz and 3600MHz for 'TDD-preferred' allocation and 3600MHz to 3800MHz as TDD-only. And the three major Japanese cellcos recently gained 40MHz of spectrum in this band for TD-LTE. Other LTE-Advanced plans in this TDD spectrum have been announced in the Philippines, Bahrain, Canada, Argentina and Peru, said Huawei, and Australia's National Broadband Network company has been trialling the technology too.
Huawei claims to have launched the world's first 3.5GHz TDD LTE-A device, supporting two-carrier aggregation and maximum downlink speed of over 220Mbps.
Some companies are placing high hopes on a future flourishing of this spectrum, including small cell start-up Accelleran, which last year upgraded its M101 TD-LTE small cell to support the US spectrum, in the hope that the FCC's complex proposal will soon be finalized.
As first-wave LTE deployments, most of them in paired FDD spectrum such as 1.8GHz, start to reach capacity, many operators plan to 'densify' using small cells and TDD spectrum, which is particularly suited to downlink-heavy applications and for minimizing interference in multilayer HetNets.
"'At Accelleran we are very aware that one of the key requirements for operators is to have a small cell platform in 3.5GHz that can reduce the TCO,", said Jeff Land, director of business development at the start-up last year.
by Caroline Gabriel, Research Director
The two industry bodies agree joint activities in small cell virtualization, with project to define operator requirements
The Small Cell Forum recently announced that the next step in its Release Program, aimed at accelerating uptake of its chosen technology, will focus on virtualization. It is now extending that area of activity with a partnership with ETSI.
The European standards alliance has been the biggest single driver behind the intense carrier interest in virtualization, with its NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) specifications. It recently completed the first stage of its NFV work but began on a follow-up round, focused in particular on interoperability in an immature segment which could be threatened by fragmentation and a large number of industry groupings.
The SCF hopes to avoid contributing to that risk, by working with ETSI rather than pursuing a separate path. It also believes the two technology areas - both important to many mobile operators' second-wave LTE plans, and to presumed '5G' platforms - should evolve in tandem.
Most operators are considering virtualization initially in the packet core, transport or even CPE aspects of their networks, rather than the RAN, where the cost and architecture benefits are less well proven. But when they do turn to the access network, many believe small cells will be the first area of focus for NFV projects, since this will be a new area of deployment where innovative architectures will be easier to test without disrupting established systems. In addition, vendors like Alcatel-Lucent have been demonstrating how virtualized gateways and basebands could transform the flexibility and economics of very dense small cell networks.
The SCF will work with ETSI's NFV Industry Specification Group on a new project focused on carrier requirements for virtualized small cells, and will use that work to come up with recommendations on best methods of implementation. The Forum's virtualization activity is already being carried out in line with the recommendations in ETSI NFV Use Case 6 and the two organizations have a five-year track record of cooperation. For instance, they have held plugfests to test small cell interoperability and encourage adoption, and last year this event moved on to address multivendor SON (self-optimizing networks) in HetNet environments.
The Forum's chairman Alan Law said: "Virtualization of the small cell layer and the radio network can open up a wide range of use cases and opportunities, so it's important that we fully understand each of these. The work with ETSI enables us to align our work streams, providing input and conclusions that will help shape future use case definitions."
by Caroline Gabriel, Research Director
There are some '5G' discussions and claims which are completely legitimate to have in 2015, especially if next generation networks really are to start appearing from 2020. Vendors, operators and research institutes need to identify the areas in which R&D dollars will be best spent, and it is vital for regulators and policy makers that there are some clear directions on how spectrum will be used in future networks.
There are others which are dramatically premature, particularly all the talk of the '5G air interface' in Barcelona at the recent Mobile World Congress, probably the aspect on which fewest parties are in agreement, and which really does have to wait for the 3GPP to kick off activities.
There are interesting projects in this area - for instance, Alcatel-Lucent and Intel are working on the Universal Filtered OFDM air interface, which had its origins in WiMAX, and could be one candidate for the next generation.
Separate air interfaces may be needed to support IoT nodes in lower frequency bands and high bandwidth applications in the 10-100GHz range. Since the official spectrum policies above 6GHz may not be decided until WRC-19, the industry faces the interesting challenge of "designing new air interfaces ahead of when spectrum is released", as Intel put it.
But there is not even consensus on whether a new air interface is needed at all. "I suspect that it will require a new air interface," said Alex Jinsung Choi, head of SK Telecom's corporate R&D center in South Korea, and Eduardo Esteves, VP of product management for Qualcomm, echoed this as both took part in a panel discussion at Mobile World Congress. But Tom Keathley, SVP of wireless network architecture and design at AT&T, told the same session: "I don't think we know at this stage whether a new air interface will be required. I think it will be a bit of time before we can answer that with certainty."
In general, despite all the marketing hype attached to so-called pre-5G demonstrations, Barcelona attendees were firmly focused on the short to medium term and the achievable. But that did not stop a large number of organizations using the event to launch their 5G manifestos, and seek to place themselves and their particular agendas in the driving seat.
Just ahead of the show, the European Commission fronted a paper which set out an inaugural 5G vision based around its previously announced '5G Public Private Partnership' (5GPPP). It stated the issues (the easy bit) and recited the usual mantras - data volumes of 10 terabytes per square kilometer; one million terminals per square kilometer; one-tenth of the energy consumption and one-fifth of the latency of current platforms; cutting network management to 20% of today's costs; data rates of 50Mbps to every user; location services to within a meter. Then it gave itself the familiar, but perhaps unachievable, deadline of five years to solve all that.
The EC received a lot of attention, but there were plenty of other alliances and proposals. Here is Rethink's selection of the ones which are likely to have a real impact on how '5G' pans out:
The IPv6 Forum has launched a new 5G World Alliance, with the lofty aim of achieving "seamless global network interoperability". President Latif Ladid said: "We are talking here about a 5G world where technologies such as an all-IPv6-based M2M, the mobile IoT, mobile cloud computing, SDN, NFV, fringe and tactile internet will converge over fixed and mobile networks to change lives and businesses everywhere." Ladid said the alliance was currently establishing board members and said it would work alongside the ETSI IPv6 ISG to share its findings.
Among the objectives that the 5GWA is looking to achieve are:
- Global harmonization and synergies of the telecom and internet worlds
- The creation of large-scale worldwide interoperable testbeds
- Promotion of end-user empowering applications and global solutions
- Promotion of interoperable implementation of converging and integrated standards
- Developing educational and '5G-ready' programs
- Resolving issues that could create barriers to 5G deployment
4G Americas has signed a memorandum of understanding with the 5GPPP, outlining the basis for cooperation and collaboration between the two organizations. The MoU specifically agrees to share information on basic system concepts for 5G frequencies to support the global regulatory process, and preparation of future global 5G standards by identification of common interest and consensus building.
The NGMN (Next Generation Mobile Networks) Alliance has published a white paper detailing end-to-end operator requirements for 5G, intended to guide the development of future technology platforms and standards. A global team of more than 100 experts contributed to the white paper by developing the consolidated operator requirements. These are summarized predictably enough - "the capabilities of the network need to be expanded to support much greater throughput, lower latency and higher connection density. To cope with a wide range of use cases and business models, 5G has to provide a high degree of flexibility and scalability by design. In addition, it should show foundational shifts in cost and energy efficiency. On the end user side, a key requirement for 5G will be that a consistent customer experience is achieved across time and service footprint. NGMN envisages a 5G ecosystem that is truly global, free of fragmentation and open for innovations."
Ericsson announced its new '5G for Sweden' research program, involving companies such as Scania and Volvo, as well as several academic and research partners from across the country.
Ericsson said it wanted to develop and roll in ICT solutions into products and services built upon emerging 5G standards. An example of this is work it is doing with Scania, which will examine future transport solutions.
Nokia and Ericsson will collaborate with Korea Telecom on 5G and IoT following the signing of new memorandums of understanding. The first sets up an IoT and LTE-M lab to develop business models aimed at convergence and the automotive industry. This will be on KT premises and will involve all three Nokia business units (Networks, Here and Labs). The second builds on an existing 5G cooperation with Ericsson.
Nokia and NTT Docomo carried out a joint demonstration in Barcelona, of technologies they say will be part of the '5G' networks the pair plan to showcase at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. They achieved above 2Gbps in the 70GHz band.
China Mobile, NTT Docomo and KT announced that they would conduct a three-way 5G technical collaboration in an attempt to accelerate commercial deployments and drive standardization efforts. They will explore new services and vertical markets enabled by 5G, jointly identify 5G key technologies and prove the validity of system concepts. The operators will also work with global organizations such as ITU, 3GPP, GSMA, NGMN and GTI to facilitate global harmonized spectrum planning and a unified global 5G standard, the companies said in a joint statement.
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Self-optimizing networks start-up launches elastic-SON, which supports NFV and cloud-based management
Without SON, it will be impractical to build the dense, heterogeneous networks that operators envisage for the coming years, but the technology is in its infancy, and a wave of innovation is going on to match it to carriers' real world requirements, especially for small cells.
Cellwize said operators are primarily asking for multi-technology, multivendor support, and the virtualization of network functions to improve flexibility and costs. It took its first step to NFV support by virtualizing its SON and application servers, delivering optimization via virtual machines.
The resulting solution is called elastic-SON and aims to tempt mobile carriers with a 'pay-as-you-grow' approach. The SON system can be tailored to the size and requirements of the individual network, and if more capacity is required, cloud managers can increase the number of virtual machines with a few clicks.
CEO Ofir Zemer said: "NFV has been a key development for 2014 and it makes sense for centralized-SON to be in the cloud. As operators move their networks into a virtualized environment, it is vital that the RAN section can be managed by a robust virtual SON solution."
Completes first proof of concept trials of virtual EPC, working with NEC, Cisco and ALU
The biggest Japanese cellco has worked with long-time R&D partner NEC, as well as Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco, to create a proof of concept for a virtualized evolved packet core (EPC). All three are also part of Telefonica's huge multi-country NFV trials, and, with other vendors, are starting to accumulate important trial experience with major carriers. After the success of this test, Docomo says it expects to deploy services on a commercial virtualized EPC by the end of March 2016 (the end of its fiscal year).
The EPC is the element of the network which most carriers expect to virtualize first. This can be done relatively in isolation from the rest of the system and even in the cloud. NFV moves some or all of the functions of the network from dedicated hardware appliances to virtual machines running on generic hardware such as servers and switches, and creates tunnels between those VMs. That means VMs can be created or moved without reconfiguring the network each time, while there are savings on the cost and complexity of specialized hardware.
Docomo said it had successfully carried out joint verification tests, and that each of its partners had verified "cutting edge" network control mechanisms, in separate exercises. These included highly efficient handling of user traffic and automatic network recovery - to ensure that, in the event of hardware failure, a back-up could be quickly and automatically created on different hardware.
The operator said it would collaborate with other vendors too, emphasizing - like Telefonica at this year's Mobile World Congress - that one advantage of virtualization would be the end of being locked into just a couple of suppliers. Seizo Onoe, CTO at Docomo, also believes it will be essential to work with a range of partners to accelerate progress. "NFV is highly expected to change the ecosystem of network industries," he said in a statement. "But without a high degree of collaboration among the players, such hopes could end up like pie in the sky."
Also on the virtualization front, Alcatel-Lucent said it was working with Mobily of Saudi Arabia on the first commercial deployment of the vendor's virtualized wireless controller - and the first NFV deployment of wireless control.. The lightRadio 9771 Wireless Cloud Element RNC is part of ALU's vRAN portfolio, which is also part of China Mobile's extensive Cloud-RAN proof of concept work.
Alaa Malki, CTO of Mobily, said in a statement: "We have a very technologically sophisticated customer base and we need to stay at the forefront of technological innovation to provide the level of experience that will keep them satisfied." And Amr El-Leithy, president of ALU's Middle East, Africa, Turkey and Azerbaijan region, said: "This is the first deployment anywhere for the virtual RNC by Alcatel-Lucent and it authoritatively demonstrates that carrier grade cloud network solutions is a reality. Today, we have achieved a significant milestone with our virtual controller now handling live traffic in Mobily's commercial network."