Smart phones have become an integral part of our lives, enabling us to keep in touch with family, friends, and co-workers all over the world. Away from home, our phones tell us how to get to places, which items to buy, what’s trending on social media, and much more. Where 3G and 4G were about making data faster, 5G is about connecting billions of things to billions of people: sensors, cities, cars, appliances, jet engines, wind farms, agriculture, hospitals, factories, and people. In the next few years, 5G will be here, raising the ante on what’s possible.
5G Greatly Expands Capacity
5G is expected to bring a huge increase in the number and types of devices connected to mobile networks and to each other, around 10,000 times more than today, with Internet of Things (IoT) devices and cars accounting for a large part of the growth. All those billions of devices with different connectivity and data requirements will drive demand for new kinds of networks.
To make this happen, one industry consensus indicates we need the following mobile network infrastructure advancements:
- Radio access network (RAN) capacity expands today’s network bandwidth by 1,000 times to increase mobility and coverage for subscribers and connected devices. This includes evolving (advancing, upgrading) existing and new connectivity technologies such as LTE-A Pro, Wi-Fi, and millimeter wave as well as more radio towers, smart cells, and remote radio heads (RHHs) supporting Cloud-RAN deployments.
- Mobile core adds 100 times more capacity to meet the growing traffic demand. This is primarily evolved packet core (EPC) equipment, which today is represented by various LTE network elements.
- Backhaul capacity increases ten-fold with more routers, switches, fiber, and microwave that connect a cell site to the mobile core.
Network Transformation as a Path to 5G
Over the past few years, we’ve seen progress in migrating the core network to a software-based model using concepts from Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN). This transformation is making it easier for communication service providers (CommSPs) to add new services simply by decoupling hardware from software, enabling flexibility of new services and functions without incurring equipment installation costs.
Now, mobile network operators can take advantage of a similar network transformation to also benefit from increased agility, reduced latency, and new service opportunities. Solutions are already available for virtual radio access networks (vRAN) and Cloud-RAN. Here are some examples:
- NEC Corporation is collaborating with Intel to develop a Cloud-RAN solution for virtualizing the functions of mobile base stations.1
- China Mobile, Intel, and Telefónica joined Alcatel-Lucent to showcase an NFV-based vRAN that allows operators to optimize and enhance network performance and the consumer experience.2
Intel also announced at Computex that we are collaborating with Foxconn – a leading supplier of hardware platforms for network equipment, data centers, and the cloud – on proofs of concept and pilot programs for technologies like Mobile Edge Computing, Cloud RAN and NFV, in an effort to accelerate the path to 5G. From this venture, CommSPs, their solution providers, and their solution integrators are expected to benefit from the ability to purchase high-quality, high-volume, cost-effective platforms based on Intel® technologies as they re-architect their networks.
IoT Opportunities for CommSPs
One of the major advantages of vRAN is the ability to reconfigure it simply by loading different network functions and services into virtual machines (VMs) on servers. This flexibility enables a CommSP to support multiple wireless infrastructures with the same piece of equipment since air interfaces can be software-defined.
For example, instead of having separate pieces of equipment to support 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G, a single, high-volume server could handle all of them simultaneously. This model could be applied to the various types of IoT usage models. IoT devices with low bandwidth, low-performance requirements, like vending machines, could be supported over 2G, 3G, or 4G. On the other hand, IoT devices requiring real-time performance and guaranteed bandwidth, such as avionics and self-driving cars, would be supported with 5G. The need for network slicing will be felt even more by the operators in order to meet the demands of diversified services at low latency, power and cost.
More Price Points and New Customers
With 5G, CommSPs will be able to offer subscribers much higher data rates than with 4G, jumping from typical 4G rates of 5 to 12 Mbps and a 100 Mbps peak rate. According to Ericcson,3 5G should be able to provide the following data rates for particular scenarios:
- Indoor and dense outdoor environments: 10 Gbps and higher
- Urban and suburban environments: several 100 Mbps
- Sparsely-populated rural areas (developed and developing countries): at least 10 Mbps
Another area where 5G lends itself to differentiated services is response time, ranging from the ultra-low, one-millsecond latency needed for self driving cars to tenths of seconds for non-time-critical IoT devices.
CommSPs have the opportunity to increase revenue with 5G by greatly expanding tiered pricing models and adding new subscribers in sparsely-populated areas.
Software-Defined 5G Networks
Network transformation is essential to build the foundation for 5G, and this includes improving the orchestration and manageability of the network, thus increasing CommSPs’ ability to deploy new services more quickly and cost-effectively using software-based models. Solution providers applying NFV and SDN concepts are laying the groundwork for highly flexible 5G infrastructure.
For more information about Intel solutions for wireless access, visit https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/communications/communications-wireless-access.html.
You can follow Lynn on Twitter at @comp_lynn.
3Source: Ericsson White Paper, “5G Radio Access,” February 2015, pg 3, www.ericsson.com/res/docs/whitepapers/wp-5g.pdf