Networks have become an underlying essential part of our life over the past 20 years in the workplace and in our social life with LAN, WAN, Datacenter, Cloud and 3G/4G mobile networking technologies being a key enabling component of the shift to cloud applications and social media.
The next frontier of networking is the area of 5G and network-centric business models. This is a complex space as it brings Edge computing, IoT devices and 5G public and private networking with application integration into multiple tailored offers.
This article intends to provide a better understanding of each component and insight into the combined impacts of these technologies on our lives and the monetization opportunities in both the consumer space led by the mobile service providers and in the enterprise, along with how the SP’s and hyper scalars will partner or compete. The areas covered are as follows:
- Mobile evolution
- Why 5G and its key features
- Standards bodies
Mobile networks have developed every 10 or so years since the 1970s, with each generation offering increased functionality. In summary, we have seen:
1G – 1970’s/1980’s: The advent of the ‘brick’ phone costing thousands of $’s and with noticeably short battery life
2G – 1990’s: The launch of the ‘digital’ phone with text and messaging only
3G – 2000’s: The browser enabled phones creating a huge industry and a change in the way we live and work
4G – 2010’s: 4G (also known as LTE) becomes ubiquitous, an all-IP device with computing power in your hand
5G – 2020’s: 100 times faster than 4G with download speeds between 10-20 Gbps (challenging the continued need for cabled ethernet and Wi-Fi networks)
Why 5G and its key features
Governments tightly regulate spectrum for ‘radio’, the military has traditionally held large parts of the addressable spectrum with governments auctioning off available spectrum for billions – telco’s have seen limited returns on these, and it has limited those that can afford to play and arguably provide innovation in the space. The available spectrum use has become very crowded in the 1-6GHz range (GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, CBRS technologies). Mobile networking has been exclusively the domain of the mobile operators offering public services. We now see the emergence of Private 5G, where spectrum is slowly being opened up by national regulators – this offers another exciting space where enterprises can innovate faster.
5G uses millimetre wave spectrum in the 24-100GHz range with key benefits being:
- Less used bandwidth range
- The higher the frequency band, the more data available (pure physics of our universe) – current antenna have one cell with 10 antennas, 5G allows for 100 antennas per cell
- Smaller antennas are needed, but with higher density; however, needing smaller cells connected to the base station, requiring significant investment.
- Beamforming – 4G antennas spread a wide beam, which causes the potential for interference between users. Beamforming uses very narrow, directional beams.
- NOMA (non-orthogonal multi-access) radio technology – 3G/4G used frequency division multiplexing and time-division multiplexing (FDM/TDM), 5G allows different signals to share the same channel and hence increase network capacity. NOMA combined with network slicing offers different network QoS/SLA’s to be defined depending on the use case – this will all be enabled by software-defined networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV)
- Multi-channel Edge Computing (MEC) – as we enable edge devices to the network with infinite capacity, they need compute capability to create value-added use cases. Cloud computing instances can be hundreds or thousands of km away from the source, creating latency and lack of capacity; MEC brings computing and storage to the SP data centre, cell towers and can even be embedded within the endpoint device. As a result, a huge new range of applications for the combined value of 5G, IoT and MEC are being developed.
In summary the core generic functions of the 5G trinity triangle are:
- Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)
- Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC)
- Ultra-Reliable, Low Latency communications (URLLC)
These diverse capabilities in terms of data rates, number of connected devices, latency and reliability, put significant demands on the network. Network Slicing (using NFV) will be adopted to provide the differing QoS/features for different use cases. However, network slicing is still in its early days. The technology will need to provide the QoS and network features from the end device to the application or workload. More importantly, how operators will deploy and, more importantly, manage and troubleshoot these environments will be a big ask.
Standards bodies are defining the technology and adoption of mobile. The 3rd generation partnership project (3GPP) is an umbrella term for several standards organization’s which develop the standards and protocols for mobile communications and was set up in 1988. ETSI is the European Telecommunications Standards Institute and develops standards for GSM, 3G, 4G, 5G. The Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) initiative is an industry group within ETSI.
ETSI MEC aims to define the standards and interoperability of computing, storage and analytics at the edge of the 5G network. As previously stated, carriers are cautious over the full-blown adoption (expense and monetization) of 5G. ETSI MEC allows for pilots of MEC on the 4G network before full 5G adoption. Two MEC rollout phases are currently planned, with specific functions and implementation standards provided with each release.
By Andy Cocks a globally experienced IT executive with extensive experience leading sales, business development, alliances, and consulting teams for billion-dollar organizations.