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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."
BY CAROLINE GABRIEL
Juniper Networks' chances of being acquired by Ericsson, or any other large vendor, look slim now that the Swedish firm has said it will not counteract the Nokia/Alcatel-Lucent deal with a major takeover of its own. And if Nokia's mega-merger gets approved, we can presume that some of Juniper's alliances with the Finnish firm - increasingly important to its efforts in the mobile operator market - will be diluted or ended. So what will Juniper's strategy be, to make itself noticed by the MNOs?
The firm has multiple challenges in this market, but it is essential that it makes an impact on it - as MNOs converge with fixed-line carriers, and mobile services increasingly become the primary driver of network investment, this is no longer the cadet branch of the service provider sector. Yet Juniper must deal with the shift of the whole carrier base towards software-defined networking (SDN), a fundamental shift; the strengthening of ALU, a serious rival in routers, via Nokia's ownership; and the stagnation of some of the enterprise bases where it is well entrenched.
CEO Rami Rahim, who took the helm in November after his predecessor left under a cloud, insists he is not looking for major acquisitions to turn Juniper around, though he may fill gaps with smaller ones, or with partnerships like the newly announced WiFi deal with Ruckus Wireless. Nor is further major restructuring on the cards, Rahim said in a recent interview with the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Now the company's fortunes are all about "innovation", he insisted - but highly targeted innovation, designed to steal a march on Cisco in certain key areas.
The overall focus is on agile and scalable cloud-based service delivery architectures, whether physical, virtualized or hybrid, particularly for service providers and government or financial organizations.
There were signs of optimism, after a year of turmoil, when Juniper turned in a better-than-expected first quarter, though analysts at JP Morgan quickly put out a client note warning that product revenue growth would be "modest" in 2015. This is partly because Juniper is rolling out a wide range of new offerings, which will take time to bed in. In Q1, these included the QFX10000 family of spine switches.
During the current quarter, major announcements have included the latest core router, the PTX1000, announced this week, and the deal with Ruckus, a bid - perhaps a last-chance one - to stay relevant in enterprise and carrier WiFi.
The PTX1000 shows Juniper's difficult balancing act in terms of focusing its development resources and its message - between scaling up its cloud delivery platforms, to be able to handle massive quantities of data, security and applications; and scaling down its physical internet core, an important differentiator since 2012 when Juniper unveiled products to push routers out to the edge, unify wired and wireless access, and even replace some backhaul links.
However, as the network simplifies and the physical core shrinks - while value and competitive edge shift to SDN - Juniper will have to deal with a significant change in revenue mix and margins.
The PTX1000 is a compact, 3Tbps model powered by Juniper's recently announced ExpressPlus chipset. It is designed particularly for distributed peering between operators, which Juniper says cuts response times for applications and increases the reliability of mobile and fixed access, compared to consolidated peering points.
Meanwhile, the Ruckus deal highlights other important aspects of Rahim's strategy - to extend platforms created for the enterprise, from LANs to SDN, into the carrier world rather than treat the two markets separately; and to rely on partners, not inhouse developments, for far more product lines, concentrating internal resources on the core platforms.
Juniper has been left out in the cold by recent M&A activity in the network infrastructure market, but it is going some way to compensate by forming an alliance with carrier WiFi leader Ruckus Wireless - its third WLAN partnership after deals with Trapeze and Aruba.
The deal is likely to replace Juniper's current enterprise WiFi partnership with Aruba, which is being acquired by Hewlett-Packard, probably depriving the router vendor of an important ally in its war against Cisco. HP's move has sparked several knock-on deals already, including Fortinet's acquisition of Meru and a partnership between Aerohive and Aruba reseller Dell.
Ruckus has some useful qualities to help Juniper stay relevant. It is seen as the most aggressive and innovative of the WiFi independents (especially since Ericsson acquired rival BelAir). With its heavy focus on carrier WiFi (it is leading the charge to support Next Generation Hotspot, for instance), it will also offer Juniper a stepping stone into service provider WiFi. It only had 3.3% share of the overall $9bn WLAN deployments market last year, according to Dell'Oro, putting it in seventh place - at least well ahead of Juniper, which was estimated to have 0.5% and only about $36m in revenue. In enterprise and outdoor, Ruckus was in second place behind Aruba with 7%, though its strengths are greatest in the latter sub-category.
In effect, Juniper is backing away from offering its own WLAN products and concentrating on its new partner to fill that gap and therefore to facilitate more sales of products such as LAN switches (a sector in which Juniper was in fourth place last year, Dell'Oro says, with 3% share).
The companies will work together to sell carrier-grade WiFi products to large and medium enterprises. Their offering will be built around Ruckus's ZoneFlex access points and SmartZone WiFi management platform, plus Juniper's EX Series Ethernet swtiches, plus tools and services in security, BYOD (bring your own device) provisioning and onboarding, and network management. These will be based on Juniper's Open Converged Framework, to allow for integration with third party equipment and software.
The partners cited Gartner research predicting that enterprise WLAN spending will rise from $5.3bn this year to $7.8bn by 2019, worldwide.
Dan Rabinovitsj, Ruckus's COO, said: "Juniper Networks provides the wired infrastructure critical for serving as the backbone for the Smart WiFi networks we deliver." Jonathan Davidson, general manager for development and innovation at Juniper, added in the statement: "Building on Juniper's Open Converged Framework, teaming with Ruckus ensures carrier-grade levels of scale and performance through our interoperable wired and wireless solutions to solve the WiFi capacity and coverage challenges that our enterprise customers face."
Juniper has been moving away from creating its own wireless products inhouse in order to focus on its core switch and router business and the important migration to software-defined networking (SDN). Those priorities have made homegrown WiFi a distraction, especially as Juniper's acquisition of WLAN access point maker Trapeze in 2010 did not yield the results it had hoped for.
BY CAROLINE GABRIEL
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As outgoing CEO John Chambers hosted his last Cisco Live annual conference, it was fitting that the centrepiece of the event was virtualization. The somewhat abrupt timing of Chambers' retirement indicated that he felt the giant IP company was at an important turning point, which made it the right time for a change of leadership.
The move, by carriers and enterprises, from physical to virtual networks and towards software-defined networking (SDN) will define the next few years in Cisco's core business and decide whether it remains in the dominant position which Chambers, despite recent turmoils, carved out for it.
As part of a broad set of SDN announcements, Cisco executives spent some time focused on operators, saying that their progress towards virtualization was more rapid than many had expected. It was anticipated that carriers would largely confine their first-wave efforts to relatively discrete platforms like the packet core, but in fact, according to Kelly Ahuja, Cisco's SVP for the service provider business, they are actually trialling virtual network functions, as well as SDN, across a wide range of elements, including firewalls, load balancers and VoLTE infrastructure.
"Most operators are telling us - look, my network is a chaos, an IT construct is a chaos. Virtualized chaos is still chaos, so what you got to do is show me what value these things can add for me," Ahuja said.
In that context, Cisco is focusing on one of the areas with the greatest potential to turn virtualization into gold for operators - virtual managed services, which provide the ability to support large numbers of third party offerings, from flexible MVNOs to corporate customers' services. "Business customers are where we're starting to see most relevant application and deployment of that," Ahuja said, according to SeekingAlpha.
Building platforms to support large numbers of customers' and MVNOs' offerings is a key commercial goal of AT&T's Domain 2.0 SDN program. Cisco is working with the US carrier, and with rival Verizon, on their SDN projects, which are among the most advanced in the telco world. This will cheer investors, who have been concerned at signs that Cisco might start to be squeezed out of its central position in the infrastructure of AT&T and other major customers.
The first wave of Domain 2.0 vendors announced by AT&T indicated the disruptive effect SDN could have on its supplier roster, and included Metaswitch, Tail-f and Affirmed Systems, and excluded Cisco, (though Cisco subsequently hit back by acquiring Tail-f). Verizon, which recently announced its own SDN program, has stuck with traditional partners in phase one and will add specialists and start-ups later - its key vendors are Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia, Ericsson and Juniper. These large companies will create the framework architecture and the interface specifications, and Verizon's first targets are the relatively low hanging fruit of SDN - the data center, packet core and IMS.
To help bolster its position in the carriers' SDN roadmaps, Cisco is steadily adding to its platform, and says it now supports 15 virtual network functions for telcos. In a long list of announcements at Cisco Live, the most carrier-focused were additions to the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) EVPN. This is targeted at service providers and it has now gained a Virtual Topology System (VTS). For operators requiring a programmable fabric, VTS adds the ability to provision and manage a VXLAN, based on BGP EVPN, as a software overlay across Cisco Nexus switches. (VXLAN is a proposed protocol for running a virtual network on existing Layer 3 infrastructure, and an important tool for allowing operators and enterprises to migrate gradually to SDN, without sacrificing hardware investments.) VTS will support any virtual switch that supports the BGP protocol.
Cisco first introduced BGP EVPN on the Nexus 9000 switch early this year but it is now being extended to the Nexus 5600 and 7000 families, and to the modular Nexus 9500. However, the Nexus 1000v does not yet support BGP.
While programmable fabric will be important to large carrier SDN programs, some smaller ones may use the more pre-packaged Cisco offering, Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), which is mainly targeted at enterprise customers and the SDN 'mass market'. New extensions to the fabric software include extensions to support integration with Microsoft Azure; plus a plug-in for VMware vCenter plug-in; an ACI toolkit for simplified network provisioning; and a 'stretched' fabric that can extend from 30km to 150km over DWDM, pseudowires and dark fiber for multi-site data centers.
Cisco also announced two Nexus 3000 Series switches based on merchant silicon. The Nexus 3232C is a 32-port 100G switch based on Broadcom's Tomahawk chipset, while the Nexus 3264Q is a 64-port 40G variant. Both will ship in the third quarter with prices starting at $35,000. They indicate another disruptive aspect of SDN - the shift towards hardware which is more commoditized in design, openness and, of course, price. That in turn will drive vendors like Cisco, which have relied heavily on ASICs designed inhouse, towards the economics of merchant silicon, boosting providers like Broadcom.
BY CAROLINE GABRIEL
Despite exit from cellular basebands, high end smartphones are still its biggest growth driver, thanks to WiFi
Broadcom may have failed in the smartphone modem market, but the growth in high end handsets is still driving its growth, along with its traditional broadband access offerings. However, while the smartphone segment is proving more resilient than many analysts predicted last year - also boosting ARM in the last quarter - it is increasingly hard to squeeze more profits out of it as the sales pattern shifts to emerging markets and featurephone upgraders.
Broadcom delivered solid results for its first quarter, and predicted a return to more significant growth in the current Q2. Its Q115 revenue was $2.06bn, up 3.7% year-on-year, though down 4% on the last quarter of 2014. Connectivity and other chips for high end smartphones were the most significant contributor, said the company, along with broadband access products. Those two categories together delivered a 13% year-on-year increase in revenue.
Net income was $209m, which was sharply down on $390m in Q414 but up on the year-ago figure of $165m.
In a preliminary statement on its second quarter, Broadcom said it expected to return to sustained growth and to report $2.1bn in Q2, just about meeting Wall Street predictions. The exit from the lossmaking modem business is helping to improve profits and reduce expenses.
"Our connectivity business continues to strengthen with two sequential quarters of year-over-year revenue growth [driven by] the ramp of new highly integrated products such as a location hub…and significant customer interest in 5G WiFi chips," Broadcom CEO Scott McGregor said.
He also singled out small cells as a source of future growth - the firm acquired one of the pioneers of small cell SoCs, Percello, back in 2010. This could be taken as a sign of long-sightedness, though much of Broadcom's success has been based on its excellent sense of timing, entering markets just as they are about to explode (as it did, spectacularly, in 802.11g WiFi), so it may be more likely that the firm expected small cells to gain volume more quickly than they did. Now, however, the market really is seeing mass deployment, especially in homes, and Broadcom should be able to profit from that.
Its modem acquisitions have, of course, proved to be complete miscalculations, rare at Broadcom. Initially it bought former WiMAX baseband specialist Beceem, then added Renesas Mobile (itself based around its parent's acquisition of Nokia's inhouse modem business). Only months after the second deal, however, Broadcom gave up hope of stealing significant share in Qualcomm's heartland and in July 2014 said it had decided to exit, laying off about 2,500 people and taking on restructuring charges of $230m spread over the ensuing 12 months.
At the time, McGregor sought to cheer up investors by showing them how Broadcom
would look "when the baseband exit is in the rearview mirror", promising growth (above the sector's overall rate) in every other major area of activity, and "a market lead in chips for DSL, cable, satellite and fiber".
Three quarters later, shareholders can see some signs of that upbeat outlook coming true. Much of the $100m attached to the baseband business actually stayed within the company, said Broadcom, as baseband partners chose to continue working with the firm on the communications side (WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and so on). "The theoretical worse case did not materialize, and we've grown since then," McGregor said.
Despite relinquishing the modem slot, smartphones remain important to growth, with key drivers including the uptake of 802.11ac and 2x2 MIMO WiFi in high end phones, with the adoption curve particularly sharp among Chinese OEMs.
"You used to think of phones in China in the low and mid-range, but now Xiaomi, Huawei, and Lenovo are focusing more on the high end market. There is an increased opportunity in those customers. They really want the better specs they get from our products," McGregor told the Q1 analyst call.
Broadband revenue was primarily driven by pay-TV, upgrades to video cells, set-top boxes and the spread of GPON networks in China, said the firm.
"If you want to design wins today you have to have leading products with HEVC and 4K….and Broadcom was first there with that technology," McGregor said.
This reflects some of the shifts of emphasis which Broadcom announced in the wake of its cellular modem decision. It said at the time that it was leading the world in HEVC Ultra-HD set-top box chips, with McGregor claiming that MSOs and their set-top providers were all heading down that route in time for 2015.
Another important move is from 10 Gigabit to 25 Gigabit Ethernet for the enterprise and with 50 Gigabit on its drawing board (it is applying pressure for the world to standardize on its approach).
The network infrastructure business is also in a buoyant phase, with revenue up 6% year-on-year to $631m, largely driven by data center switch-chips.
BY CAROLINE GABRIEL
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The rumor that Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent would merge has come around many times in recent years, but the story hasn't got any more attractive with repetition. But now it is real, with Nokia confirming reports that it is in "advanced discussions with respect to a potential full combination" with its French rival.
Nokia said any deal "would take the form of a public exchange offer by Nokia for Alcatel-Lucent". The Finnish company currently has a market capitalisation of €29bn, and ALU's is €11bn. Analysts estimate that ALU could be worth €4.50 a share, or a total of €12.7bn ($13.4bn).
Of course, a deal would give the enlarged Nokia the scale that may be required to stay ahead in the pressurized telecoms equipment market. But it will also create massive integration challenges which could distract the new entity for a couple of years during a time of critical transition among carriers, in particular towards software-defined networking (SDN).
In the early stages of that new phase, Nokia looks well positioned in terms of product offering and philosophy. There seemed to be a real strategic option to move gradually away from the rapidly commoditizing hardware businesses, relying on partners for those (as it has already done in some areas like microwave backhaul and WiFi), and become a leader in carrier software - a smaller company, but a profitable one focused on the key area of investment for service providers in the later years of the decade.
But Nokia seems determined to cast off its long history of radical reinvention and cling to the 'size is all' mantra which has recently driven the network equipment sector. Combining with Alcatel-Lucent would give it combined revenues of €26bn, based on last year's performance, just ahead of Ericsson's €24.4bn.
It would see Nokia abandoning the strategy which has finally brought it to the brink of turnaround - doubling down on mobile broadband alone - since it will take on ALU's significant wireline business.
The mobile-only approach has seen the Finnish firm sell off its devices business (and possibly, according to other reports this week, its Here mapping unit). The refocus has also seen it divest many non-core businesses, as well as invest in smaller firms with technologies that will be important for the two dominant mobile growth drivers - SDN/virtualization and '5G'. Nokia has been prominent in the early development of both, moving early into software-driven network platforms under its Liquid banner, and demonstrating R&D breakthroughs in anticipated 5G approaches such as millimeter wave spectrum and massive MIMO.
The decision to sacrifice size and some revenues for profits and differentiation has brought Nokia close to recovery after years of losses and serial restructurings. Just at the moment when CEO Rajeev Suri might claim tentative victory, he seems set to throw it all away. Yes, ALU would bring Nokia greater scale to withstand the economics of Ericsson and Huawei; and most importantly it would bring the French firm's most impressive product line, its core and edge routers. That would enable Nokia to go after a wider range of service providers, as Ericsson is doing, and - importantly - to target the rising tide of convergence between MNOs and wireline operators, offering a complete portfolio without relying on partners.
But the risks and downsides are daunting. Nowhere will Oscar Wilde's aphorism, that second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience, be more apt. Both the would-be partners have come through exceptionally badly managed marriages which almost killed the bloated companies they created. The merger of Alcatel and Lucent in 2006, and the joint venture created between Nokia and Siemens in the same year (Siemens exited in 2013), have both become bywords for the wrong way to approach mergers, and they gave Ericsson and Huawei significant leeway to step into the breach and consolidate their shares. Both those deals were panic-driven, with traditional companies clinging together for warmth in an increasingly cold competitive climate, but without any clear vision of how they might evolve towards the realities of the future market. Sadly, nothing different could be said of a Nokia-ALU merger.
Amid the inevitable pain of the integration process, there is real risk that the new strategies both firms have put together will be lost. Logically, Nokia's mobile broadband should fit beautifully with ALU's approach. Under CEO Michel Combes, the French firm has, like its suitor, divested many units. It has drilled down on all-IP infrastructure plus SDN for growth, and on access (including mobile) for cash. On the wireless side, it generated €5bn in revenue last year and has a stronger US base than Nokia. These roadmaps seem complementary, but it is very doubtful that such new and therefore fragile strategies will be well combined by two still-traditional firms which are only just emerging from traumatic restructurings.
Nokia shares fell by almost 7% in Helsinki on its statements, but ALU's leapt by 14% in Paris, perhaps reflecting that investor confidence in the Finnish firm, especially since it addressed its cash shortage via the Microsoft deal, is higher than in ALU, and therefore the risk of a reversal of fortunes is higher.
One critical factor is how profitable a combined company could be in the short term. There would be medium term economies of scale, presumably including further large-scale cutbacks, but both have only tentatively returned to the black in the past year so the short term outlook is hard to predict. In 2014, Nokia's operating profit was €170m (its net profit was €1.2bn thanks to tax benefits), while ALU achieved an operating profit of €572m but a net loss of €83m. By contrast, Ericsson had an operating profit of SKr16.8bn (€1.8bn) and net income of SKr11.1bn.
As well as profit considerations, there will be significant regulatory review which could include intervention by the French government, which is very reluctant to see national businesses sold off. The balance of power between the French and US elements of Alcatel and Lucent was a complicating factor back in 2006 (the insistence that CEO Pat Russo should be based in Paris was blamed for weakening ties to key customers like Verizon, for instance). France may have moved on from former president Chirac's comments that Finland has the worst food in the world, but the administration of Francois Hollande will certainly scrutinize any bid for ALU carefully and has a track record of trying to block corporate mergers. Alcatel traces its roots back to 1898 and has been a flagship French firm, though it was privatized in the 1980s.
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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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.
by Caroline Gabriel, Research Director
So Mobile World Congress (MWC) is over for another year, amid the usual record-breaking statistics (from 93,000 visitors, up 45% on the first Barcelona event in 2006; to 7.55Gbps wireless transmission speeds demonstrated by SK Telecom and Samsung).
There were plenty of eye-catching devices, with the Galaxy S6 Edge undoubtedly the star of the show in terms of headline power, though otherwise the mobile gadget space is fragmenting rapidly. The days of a line-up of remarkably similar large-screened smartphones are over - those handsets are there, at ever cheaper price points, but they jostle for attention with virtual reality headsets, connected clothing, smart coffee makers and whisky bottles, and of course the connected cars (Fiat 500 seemed to be the most popular model on display). Indeed, wearables and associated IoT (internet of things) apps virtually colonized MWC's second venue (its previous home in the Fira complex at Plaza Espanya).
Other headlines were sparked by the companies which, back in 2006, when the 3GSM show relocated from Cannes and changed its name, scarcely figured. Google's MVNO plans, Facebook's extension of its internet.org initiative, PayPal's endorsement of NFC with its acquisition of Paydiant - these were the talking points, drowning out the traditional keynote addresses by the major mobile operators.
Traditionally, the CEOs of the established cellcos have used their conference platforms to lay down their demands to the industry (remember then-CEO of Vodafone, Arun Sarin, warning the LTE sector in 2007 to speed up its efforts or face the WiMAX threat; or trading insults with his Nokia counterpart over 3G delays in 2004). These days, it is the new breed of service providers which are setting the pace - Google's Sundar Pichai may have announced a fairly cautious MVNO plan, but his speech had far wider implications, including the call for full WiFi/cellular convergence, still a divisive theme at an event dominated by the entrenched interests of 3GPP platforms.
Those interests are particularly threatened in the IoT, which was a huge theme of the show this year. As the news that Freescale and NXP are to merge neatly demonstrated, this is a dangerous world for the traditional wireless operators and vendors. It throws up significant opportunities to extend their businesses into new, high growth markets, bringing companies like Freescale and NXP - which had been squeezed badly in the smartphone segment - back to Barcelona with new connected device platforms. But the margins on those chips are low and the IoT is already sparking consolidation, as this semiconductor mega-merger illustrates, with the old-school suppliers and operators needing to huddle together for warmth in a business of scale.
Of course, the carrier's network - wireless RAN, core and transport, and increasingly virtualized versions of those - remains the heart of the serious conversations and trading at MWC. With that in mind, we selected our key themes of 2015:
The shape of the new cell site:
After several years when the ever-shrinking base station was the central theme in RAN discussions, this year saw most of the major equipment vendors announcing major refreshes of their macro layers. Massive MIMO (or at least, 8x8 arrays), carrier aggregation across three bands and including TDD, Coordinated Multipoint and Cloud-RAN - these were the important features of the new macro. This was not 5G, but technologies that will be deployable this year or in 2016 - indeed, it seems more than likely that, however '5G' turns out, it will be focused on the dense capacity layer, while the macro coverage umbrella will remain 4G for decades to come.
Small cells were out in force too, and in a widening variety of form factors. Traditional homogeneous mini-base stations are part of a very variegated approach to the capacity layer. They may form clusters with their own controller (local or virtualized) to support an enterprise or a rural deployment. For the former, the big news was that Cisco will resell the Spidercloud Enterprise-RAN solution, despite its own 2013 acquisition of small cell pioneer Ubiquisys. For the latter, the Small Cell Forum kicked off its latest Release Program, devoted to easing deployment issues in rural and remote scenarios, from villages to oil rigs to temporary situations such as disaster relief. Quortus, with its virtualized packet core, was one of the first to update its portfolio to target this important area, while Parallel Wireless was showing off its rural solution, implemented by EE in the UK.
The classic small cell is expanding its reach, seeking to provide greater value than basic coverage and capacity. Ip.access, another of the founders of this industry, has gone as far as to position its Presence Cell purely as the enabler of big data and e-commerce services - and not necessarily connected to the main network at all. Its approach has convinced Vodafone, which announced that it would deploy the retail-oriented platform.
Then there were small cells which did not follow the traditional architecture. Stripped-down antenna/radio units for Centralized-RAN; separate antennas optimized to work with urban small base stations, from companies like Kathrein and CommScope; a converged WiFi/cellular unit from Alcatel-Lucent; hosts of carrier WiFi access points and management platforms as well as lower-power DAS solutions. This is a segment where all options are open, and in which operators will pick and choose the solutions which suit their individual spectrum, business model and capacity requirements.
The virtualization of the RAN is a more distant prospect, for most operators, than the lower risk decision to run a packet core or even a CPE as software on off-the-shelf hardware. However, some pioneers were demonstrating their vRANs, notably Telefonica and China Mobile, and Intel was locked in combat with the ARM ecosystem over the market for high performance processors, optimized for C-RAN servers and accelerators, as the industry chases a general purpose chip with the horsepower to run high end network processes as well as customized silicon.
Not everything can be converted to software of course, though even the physical elements like antennas and radios will be increasingly software-defined and programmable. Pushing that trend to its extreme was Cambridge Consultants, which has developed the IP for the first all-digital radio transmitter, Pizzicato. Unlike conventional software defined radio, it has no analog components, which allows many radios to work together without interference. In the first trial, Cambridge Consultants created 14 simultaneous cellular base station signals at low power, and with the radios "squashed together in a way that analog doesn't tolerate". Such solutions can be programmed to generate manhy combinations of signals at any frequency in an adaptive way. The Pizzicato transmitter consists of an integrated circuit outputting a single stream of bits, and an antenna.
Of course 5G was a massive talking point, though outside the conference halls and the big vendors' glossy demonstrations, there was less hype than expected about the next generation of wireless, with most operators more focused on technology they could deploy in the next 1-2 years, and eager to wait for key decisions at the World Radio Conference in November, and at the 3GPP and other standards bodies, before getting too excited about 5G. Many alliances were formed and roadmaps laid down, but the most tangible aspect of the discussion was the use of millimeter wave spectrum, in which there were many demonstrations for access and backhaul. The high frequency bands are almost certain to play a key role in next generation wireless, and like many supposed elements of 5G, they will start to have a real impact far earlier, as seen in technologies like 60GHz WiGig and some small cell backhaul solutions, notably InterDigital's Peraso baseband system-on-chip for this market.
There was considerable excitement about LTE-LAA (Licensed Assisted Access), which uses 5GHz spectrum for supplemental downlink to a licensed-band 4G network. Although it will not be standardized until next year, supporters like T-Mobile and Qualcomm showed off their plans, along with a companion technology which aggregates a 5GHz WiFi carrier to LTE. Cellular players were trying to dampen down talk of colonizing licence-exempt spectrum, and stressing that LTE and WiFi could coexist peacefully, both in technical terms and in carriers' business models. However, while LAA is clearly a small cell play, given the high frequencies and low power limits involved, some were arguing that the industry would do better to focus on getting 3.5GHz standardized as a specific small cell band, avoiding WiFi showdowns and the quality challenges of unlicensed spectrum.
As noted above, the IoT was an important theme, but given the nature of the event, there was a particular focus on LTE solutions to support IoT applications, and the question of whether these will prove viable as alternatives to WiFi or specialized long range networks such as Sigfox or LoRa. Huawei was demonstrating its contributions to future LTE-M standards, while the LTE-only baseband specialists, such as Sequans and Altair, have a major opportunity to push 4G-only solutions into a mass market. While the 3GPP works on LTE Category 0 as the underpinning of LTE-M, for now the vendors have resurrected Cat-1, whose low data rates made it a Cinderella specification in the broadband world, but whose ultra-low power consumption now makes it a candidate for the cellular IoT. Sequans, Ericsson and Verizon announced that they had run tests on a commercial LTE network, delivering 10Mbps data rates at very low cost and power, and with peaceful coexistence with higher-powered LTE devices.
The new operators:
Facebook and Google both tried to paint pictures in which they had ongoing close alliances with cellular operators, but they managed to visualize a world in which the MNO's role was severely constrained. They are driving new approaches to the network - full WiFi/cellular convergence; harnessing of LTE-Broadcast for social media as well as content; dynamic spectrum allocation on-demand to hundreds of providers; low cost delivery to the 'next billion' world inhabitants. All of these examples see the web giants becoming less over-the-top and actually shaping the network of the future, with the cellcos just providing part of the plumbing, however important that part. The vision will be supported by virtualization and the ability for cloud platforms to support a new generation of network as a service concepts, spanning WiFi, LTE and other connections, and eventually assigning capacity dynamically to large numbers of MVNOs. That is the end game for platforms like XCellAir, which has been spun out of InterDigital. Such services could be run by traditional operators, as AT&T's Domain 2.0 roadmap clearly envisages, but they could equally be controlled by web or IT majors.
The new operating systems:
It isn't all going Google's way though. Android dominated a show in which Apple plays not part (except in everyone's conversations), but the search giant is struggling to control and unify the user experience as large device and service providers create their own user interfaces and developer platforms. Amazon AppStore broke the 400,000 apps mark, for instance, boasting of "huge progress" with its alternative to Google Play. And as smartphones morph into many new types of connected device, many of them driven from the cloud, there may be the chance for different operating systems to break the Android/iOS duopoly. There was considerable interest in the mobile implementations of Windows 10 from Microsoft, while start-up options like Jolla's Sailfish and Mozilla's Firefox Mobile were looking, for the first time, like credible platforms with operator support, not just bright open source ideas.
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.
by Caroline Gabriel, Research Director Maravedis-Rethink
Big wireless suppliers try to influence operators' and regulators' agendas as they dream up visions of the next generation.
While the big network vendors have mainly confined their MWC announcements and previews to relatively short term developments, none of them could resist breathing the '5G' word, seeking to convince their audiences that they had somehow stumbled on the secret ingredients for the next generation of wireless, well ahead of the actual standards bodies.
Ericsson promised to demonstrate "fundamental 5G functionality" in Barcelona, to support both human and machine applications. The Swedish vendor even unveiled results from its 5G testbed, which it says has performed the remarkable feat of already achieving two 5G milestones (even before anyone knows what 5G will be). The testbed includes base stations and concept devices operating in the 15GHz band, indicating the importance most vendors are placing on high frequency spectrum for next generation standards.
Of course, like all the vendors, Ericsson hopes that by calling its R&D efforts '5G' it will improve their chances of being included in the standards, or at least the basic concepts, which do go on to underpin the next generation.
Its two supposed milestones are 5G/LTE dual connectivity and 5G multipoint connectivity, the company said. The first supports a 5G device moving between LTE and the new network, establishing simultaneous connections with both before seamlessly handing over, in order to smooth the user experience. The second allows the 5G device to connect to two 5G base stations simultaneously, improving bit rate performance with multiple downlink streams, as well as signal strength and resilience.
Both of these are 4G concepts, adapted for the supposed characteristics of the new generation network (ultra-small cells, ultra-low power, support for millions of sensors, and so on). As in 4G, multipoint connectivity will be particularly important to enable multilayer HetNets with macrocells, small cells and WiFi interworking seamlessly.
Nokia, too, has been giving a glimpse of what 'future 5G' demonstrations it will make in Barcelona. It will show off radios running in high frequency millimeter and centimeter wave bands (3.5GHz to 70GHz), which will boost capacity, and will be combined with new frame structures to support latency down to single-digit milliseconds. These will be particularly focused on the IoT.
Its good customer Korea Telecom will be partnering with Nokia in the MWC 5G and IoT demonstrations and the operator's head of networks, Seong-Mok Oh, said: "I hope that the strategic partnership with Nokia, including the joint demonstration at MWC 2015, will lay a foundation for the two companies' leadership position along the journey towards an IoT world."
Nokia has also been working on massive MIMO trials with KT's rival, SK Telecom, though these are looking to a shorter timeframe than 5G, initially at least. The two companies said this week they had achieved peak downlink speeds of 600Mbps using 4x4 MIMO. They first got to 300Mbps by implementing the MIMO array in a 20MHz block of spectrum, and then doubled that speed by doing the same in a second 20MHz chunk and aggregating the two. Devices with four antennas and carrier aggregation support have not been developed, so Nokia used a simulated device supplied by test and measurement specialist Aeroflex.
And 4×4 MIMO will be challenging to deploy in a commercial network, because of the need to squeeze four antennas into a small device, and also because it is difficult to maintain the right RF conditions for the 4x4 airlink, so real world user experience may be patchy.
Japan's NEC promises to outline its 5G vision with demonstrations and three white papers outlining what it believes will be the key enabling technologies in 2020 and beyond. These focus on the access network, the backhaul, and massive MIMO, particularly its development of a 'massive-element antenna' for future small cells.
Like Huawei, its post-2020 vision is heavily geared to machine services, from intelligent transport to the use of big data to save energy consumption, as well as next generation consumer multimedia offerings and ultra-accurate logistics systems. The heart of this platform will be SDN, virtualization and Cloud-RAN, all areas where NEC has engaged in advanced R&D and trials.
And Samsung says it will show off three 5G "technology candidates" at MWC. Chang Yeong Kim, head of the DMC R&D Center at the Korean firm, said in a statement: "We consider 5G to be a transformation of how networks are constructed and how radio resources are used. To support 100 times greater throughputs at a fraction of the latency, we need to consider more than just a single network component; we need to look at how everything works together."
The three candidates highlighted by Samsung are a nearly-commercial implementation of wireless backhaul in 60GHz spectrum, combining active and passive radio steering techniques to increase the range of the radio without exceeding unlicensed-band power output limits. An active antenna array enables a beamformed radio signal to be directed at a passive lens antenna, which further concentrates the radio signal toward a fixed point with high precision and multi-gigabit data rates.
The second technology is 'full dimension MIMO' (FD-MIMO). Current MIMO solutions have antennas configured to form beams only horizontally. Users who are at the same horizontal angle from the antenna (even at different vertical angles) still receive the same signal and continue to share radio resources. With the introduction of FD-MIMO and 2D-array antenna technology, wireless signals can be adaptively beamformed to specific users in both horizontal and vertical domains. That delivers a more targeted signal to more than eight users per cell at a time and is good for high rise buildings, stadiums and other crowded locations.
Samsung said it is leading the standardization of FD-MIMO in the upcoming 3GPP Release 13.
It also says it will demonstrate peak stationary data rates of 7.5Gbps - or 1.2Gbps when moving at 100 kilometers per hour - using 28GHz millimeter wave spectrum and Samsung's Hybrid Adaptive Array antenna technology.
However, amid all this cleverness, Peter Merz, head of radio systems technology and innovation at Nokia Networks, injected a note of realism in a recent interview with Telecom.com. He said: "I want to stress that 5G is not around the corner. We're expecting the first commercial roll-outs and deployments starting in 2020. We still have five years to go in order to research technologies, go through standardization, free up spectrum, verify the technologies and then iron out specifications in order to have a ready-made, lean-cut, efficient technology that can be deployed by operators starting in 2020. 5G is like a marathon, it's not a race."
We can only hope that vendors are bearing such words in mind in Barcelona and focusing most of their efforts on real world requirements for 2016 to 2018, even while they seek to influence operators, standards bodies and regulators building their long term plans.