5G, the next generation standard of mobile communications has entered into its initial requirements definition and research phase with commercial deployments expected to start around 2020. 5G will not just be an improvement to current mobile technologies, 4G/LTE, it is supposed to become de-facto standard for broadcasting and for connecting billions of devices and sensors opening the possibility for Communication Service Providers to transform into Digital Services Providers.
It also promises to revolutionize our lives by transforming major industries from transport to energy and healthcare and by enabling futuristic services such as tactile Internet, driverless cars, remote surgery or use of holograms. That is why the development of 5G starts with the definition of its key use cases, and will be mainly driven by system performance and user experience requirements in the first place.
As we start the journey of defining and shaping this major technology development that will underpin future networks for the next 20 years, I would like to provide a quick overview of the key requirements as they are expressed today and the fundamentally new and disruptive practices that will be required to operate and manage these future networks.
5G radio interface / Spectrum
On the radio access side, it is likely that higher and widely available spectrum bands will be utilized initially (above 5 GHZ and up to 60 GHz). This is because the physical constraints of lower spectrum bands impose a limit to the spectral efficiency that can be achieved given the background noise (Shannon’s law).
Also, higher spectrum bands offer very short wavelength (millimetre waves) that can accommodate the implementation of extreme MIMO (Multiple Input – Multiple Output) techniques, essentially the use of multiple small antennas to send and receive radio signals that enable much higher speeds and data throughput. But looking further ahead in the future, such high frequency deployment to achieve capacity densification will be combined with lower frequency implementation to achieve better coverage (sub 1GHz and up to 5 GHZ).
Finally the radio processing stack (MAC, RRM) will be simplified, distributed and decentralized into the devices in order to minimize the latency introduce by the RAN. Keeping in mind that 5G is supposed to reduce end-to-end latency to less than 1 ms to allow for true real-time applications (an improvement factor of at least 10 compared with current 4G).
All these new radio processing techniques should allow us to theoretically reach throughputs of 1Gbps in a cell as opposed to 50 Mbps in today’s LTE-A networks (an improvement factor of 20).
5G will also enable what we commonly refer to as future networks. These future networks shall fulfil a number of requirements, including the following ones:
Connecting billions of devices - Future networks are expected to connect the billions of sensors and smart objects that will equip our daily life. This requires extreme scalability, especially on the signalling side, extremely simplified Operation, Administration and Maintenance and management and support of multiple radio interfaces including low power narrow-band radio interfaces dedicated to connected objects.
Open platform - Collaborative business models are expected to become the norm in the telecoms world. The network has to be designed as an open platform with standardized APIs (Restful) allowing 3rd party digital content providers to access network resources and build value added digital services, following the model of current mobile apps ecosystem.
Mission-critical reliability - This is required for future digital services such as remote health or road transport signalling. One of the requirements is around 100% coverage. Given the physical limitations of cellular coverage, this requirement could be fulfilled through device to device connections (to complement traditional device to base station connection).
Real-time - The whole promise of future digital services enabled by 5G rely on the ability of future networks to deliver zero latency and be configured and managed in real time. While 5G radio interface will deliver this ultra-low latency, the configuration, orchestration and management of networks will have to be fully automated. The current concept of manned Network Operations Center and Service Operations center and their reference business processes (eTOM, ITIL, etc.) will gradually disappear and be replaced by fully automated systems and processes.
Simplified and Flat architecture - The overall network will be simplified, with many functions disappearing. Backhaul and Core Network will most likely merge together, and one single GTP tunnel will link the handset or the connected object directly to the content server in the cloud. This means some of the traditional difficulties related to correlating data from a variety of disparate data sources will reduce, but troubleshooting quality of service issues and ensuring consistent digital experience might become more complex.
Agility through Virtualization - In order to achieve the required agility for configuring on-demand digital services, the networks will move to the cloud and will be virtualized with NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) and SDN (Software Defined Networking) set to become the norm in the coming years. This will trigger the need for intelligent network and service orchestration that is QoS and experience centric and that can manage and correlate the virtual and physical parts of the network.
Digital Experience centricity - 5G promises to help communication services providers evolve into digital services providers. This means that the digital experience whether related to a consumer or a connected service or a connected device will be key. This can only be achieved through extreme reliance on real time analytics that will become the brain and commanding center of 5G networks. The real time constraint will also dictate the move from centralized to distributed analytics and edge compute
Capacity through complex HetNet design - To achieve the channel capacity targets, and because of the short range propagation of higher spectrum bands that will be used initially for 5G, it is expected that the design will involve ultra-dense heterogeneous networks. This will involve very small cells with lots of complex intra and inter technology mobility and selection algorithms that will need to be optimized and orchestrated in real-time by intelligent automated systems that can manage the end-to-end service performance. The final efficiency achieved by 5G will greatly depend on the performance of these automated systems.
Network Slicing and Network as an appliance - As stated earlier, 5G is thought as a major transformational technology that will connect the majority of industries, products and services. The ownership of the digital services delivered through 5G could lie with various industry players such as car manufacturers or smart city developers. This means that future networks should be “sliced” or delivered as “appliances” by CSPs to various third party partners. This involves the ability to easily and dynamically configure such on-demand network “slices” and deliver them with the required custom QoS and User Experience levels.
So to summarize, we are at the dawn of a major revolution in the business and operations model of mobile communications as we have known them for the past 25 years. The successful communication service providers will be the ones who will anticipate this revolution, take an active role in shaping it and start their gradual transformation to be ready on time to deliver on this promise and reap the benefits. And this transformation is a lot about their Customer, Service and Network Management processes and systems that will allow them to deliver on these key requirements.
To be ready to gradually fulfil the new requirements introduced by 5G and future networks, CSPs must start today the transformation of their OSS, Orchestration and IT systems that fulfil the following capabilities:
- Extreme scalability; we will move from the Tera Byte to the Peta Byte era. This requires fully distributed architectures and big data object storage in the cloud.
- Extreme performance; to fulfil the real-time requirements, the systems will have to deliver a processing performance in the range of multiple Tera inserted data records per hour
- Full automation; this is an absolute requirement for the management of real time network orchestration and optimization and real time dynamic experience management. – humans just cannot act fast enough
- Simplified processes; eTOM and ITIL processes will evolve towards much simpler, more integrated and automated business processes.
- Extreme convergence of virtualized and hybrid, mobile and fixed, public and private, shared and proprietary
- Greater integration; much greater integration between orchestration, service assurance, service fulfilment and policy management is an absolute must. These systems must share same inventory, topology and configuration references.
- Open Architectures; Open cloud OS, Web services and Restful APIs will be needed to enable efficient real-time information sharing, on-demand network services packaging and service orchestration.
- Analytics driven; this is essential to achieve the desired customer centricity. Systems must be driven by artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. This will allow the evolution from a reactive business process to a proactive, predictive and prescriptive one.
- Powerful Service Experience Management; capabilities allowing parallel on-demand management of multiple network slices/appliances and digital experiences
At MYCOM OSI we are anticipating this major technology shift and have started working with some of our leading customers on this transformation journey. We are also heavily engaged in shaping the management standards of future networks through our involvement in various bodies such as 5G Innovation Centre and TM Forum. Please click here to learn more about our participation at the University of Surrey’s state-of-the-art 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC).