By delivering massive capacity and connectivity, 5G will be the key enabler of a new era that will affect every end user, the economy, and the society as a whole. It will make the probable possible by connecting everyone and every ‘thing’ efficiently.
You don’t need a crystal ball to see the future of communications with 5G. More users will generate more traffic with applications for a variety of use cases. And, like all technology, mobile broadband must evolve to meet user demand and expectations.
massive capacity and connectivity
The 5G era: >30Gbps throughput and >1 million connected devices
The demand for digital content and services over mobile networks continues to rise. Bell Labs predicts a global average increase in demand of 30 times to 45 times from 2014 levels — with some markets experiencing as much as a 98 times jump over the same period. (See the Nokia Bell Labs Report under Related Material at the end of this article.)
But today’s mobile networks were designed primarily to deliver mobile broadband. They were not engineered to support the expected growth in demand for digital content and connectivity to machines.
At the current rate of adoption, 3G, 4G/LTE, small cells, and Wi-Fi-like technologies will only satisfy about 81 percent of the conservative demand forecast by 2020. If more disruptive demand forecasts are considered, operators will only be able to address 75 percent of the total demand.
5G is all about anytime, anywhere support for:
- Massive broadband that delivers gigabytes of bandwidth on demand
- Critical machine-type communication (MTC) that requires immediate, synchronized eye-to-hand feedback for virtual reality applications that will allow users to remotely control robots, creating the tactile Internet
- Massive MTC that connects billions of sensors and machines, from watches to refrigerators, to parking meters and cars
With 5G we will create the programmable world.
For example, 5G will connect the factory of the future and help create a fully automated and flexible production system.
In the healthcare industry, hospitals will be able to arrange remote robotic surgeries as if the surgeon were physically present next to the patient. At the same time, 5G connected healthcare chips will constantly monitor vital signs, prevent conditions from becoming acute, and adapt medication to meet changing conditions.
While on the roads, self-driving cars and smart infrastructures enabled by 5G networks will reduce accidents and save millions of lives every year.
An evolution, not a revolution
For some, talk of 5G possibilities creates concerns about current investments and future expenses. After all, many operators are still investing in 4G. But, 5G is not about throwing out the old to bring in the new. It’s really about an evolution to a mobile network built on the symbiotic integration of existing and new technologies.
5G complements 2G/3G/LTE and Wi-Fi. It will be a combination of existing and evolving systems, such as LTE, and new technologies engineered to address a diverse set of use cases.
With the right integration, 5G will provide end users with transparent and ubiquitous connectivity. It will deliver higher peak rates and a more consistent user experience.
For operators, 5G will provide the capability to access and use new spectrum to increase capacity. And with that capacity, operators will get a more flexible, scalable, and programmable network on which to introduce new services.
Using existing technologies
Because 5G will build on top of existing technologies for massive capacity and connectivity, investing in 4G is the right approach. Investments in advanced 4G LTE technologies will allow operators to boost capacity and quality of experience today and secure 5G sites for tomorrow. This is especially true for technologies such as macro cells and small cells, as well as WLAN and HetNets.
Likewise, LTE-A, Pro, and MulteFire offer many options that will enable massive capacity and connections. This includes carrier aggregation and multi-connectivity that enable operators to increase capacity by combining licensed and un-licensed spectrum and deliver higher data rates.
Network functions virtualization and software-defined networking technologies offer more opportunities to support future requirements. They provide the scale, flexibility, and performance capabilities that will enable the creation of a programmable network. This will give operators the opportunity to offer new services and deploy them faster to meet the exact the needs of different industries.
Finally, analytics will be the key to understanding the performance of the network. Operators will use analytics to create the intelligence needed to automate and orchestrate the resources required to deliver requested services.
Building massive capacity: >30Gbps
By deploying the most cost-effective combination of access technologies, operators can build the massive capacity they need when they need it. They can intelligently steer, spread, and load balance traffic across multiple access technologies to the user.
For example, an operator could start with 3G + LTE + Wi-Fi in a geographic area. Later, the operator can add LTE-U or MuLTEfire and 5G in a millimeter wave band.
Once the network is deployed, the operator can offer retailers a service that combines a DSL line with 5G access. This can be used for an ultra-high availability solution that ensures point of sales terminals are never offline.
Creating the opportunity for this type of intelligent service offering requires operators to be aware of user service needs and preferences. It requires operators to understand the unique performance requirements of specific applications, such as video, voice, web browsing, and telemetry. And, it requires operators to be aware of the performance and availability of each interface.
The right solutions can be built with an understanding of all requirements.
For example, based on Bell Labs research, Nokia has built a working 5G solution with the aggregation and load balancing function above the LTE convergence layer. This function sits at the border of multiple access networks. It has no dependencies on the core network. The unification point is not built into the physical access interface gear. With this approach, it can easily incorporate any existing, specialty, or overlay network elements, such as standalone Wi-Fi access points.
Because the solution sits close to the access networks, it has access to fast feedback about changing channel conditions and congestion. This enables good traffic steering decisions even when conditions change quickly.
With this intelligent aggregation and load balancing function operators can add new 5G air interfaces to all the other networks that can reach users.
Enabling massive connectivity: >1 million devices per cell
Innovative thinking and the right combination of technologies are also needed to enable new 5G solutions for massive connectivity.
5G differs from 4G LTE in that it will be designed not for one traffic type, but multiple types. And, each type of traffic will have different and often extreme requirements.
For example, a massive number of new Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be attached to a 5G network. Bell Labs Consulting estimates that the total number of IoT connected cellular devices will be between 1.6B and 4.6B by 2020. While these devices will add little traffic compared to mobile broadband, they will require signaling to communicate with the network. Bell Labs estimates that a typical IoT device may need 2,500 transactions or connections to consume 1MB of data.
The billions of connected devices, combined with more social and messaging type video applications that generate small packets of signaling data could overload today’s networks. This will reduce the bandwidth for mobile broadband traffic and impact the QoE for subscribers.
Working with Bell Labs innovations, Nokia has developed a solution that supports a broader variety of traffic types with much greater efficiency than is possible with LTE today. The Nokia approach offers 5x the capacity over existing LTE connections. And, it offers a 10x reduction in latency to transmit the first packet of data.
With this solution, more than 1 million devices can be served by a single radio cell. Operators can support new types of services, like remote control of machines and ultra-reliable real-time networking between any kind of machines, be it sensors, robots or vehicles. They can extend their current business into new segments and create new revenue streams. And, they can improve QoE for all of their services.
Transforming our digital lives
The move to the new 5G-driven, programmable world will be gradual. Rather than a replacement for existing technologies, such as 4G LTE, 5G will complement and coordinate all technologies. It will ensure they all work perfectly together.
By combining all available technologies with new innovations operators will be able to get the full value of 5G. They will be able to create the massive capacity and massive connectivity needed for a new era of communication. This will allow them to look beyond technology to create new business models based on the delivery of agile, elastic, and highly personalized services. It will make all the probable use cases possible and enable the connection of everyone to every ”thing”, transforming our digital lives.