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Selecting the right strengths to build extraordinary 5G radio access networks

Through multiple generations of cellular technology, we’ve learnt a lot along the way. Each generation has a slightly unique area of focus with 2G for voice, 3G for web and data, 4G for mobile broadband. 5G will encompass all the existing capabilities and add new ones such as ultra reliable low latency communication for real-time control of machines. Not only that, it will have to support all these capabilities at massive scale and not just in traditional consumer markets but for enterprises across all types of vertical industries. No wonder then, that we need to consider carefully how the radio access network will provide the required levels of connectivity.

In designing, building and operating a 5G network, service providers must balance their investments in the existing network as they begin to deploy 5G. Here are some of the key points to creating a strong radio access network.

Building from a solid foundation

While many CSP’s have deployed 5G and with others in the planning phases it’s important to note there are two distinct phases. The first phase, known as non standalone (NSA) couples 4G and 5G together, allowing the radio carriers to be combined to increase throughput. Therefore, it’s critically important to have the highest performing 4G network to deliver an extraordinary 5G experience.

Upgrading made simple

With many existing 4G radios deployed, upgrades should avoid costly site visits and tower climbs. Upgrading the radio unit and baseband through software reduces the deployment times, while single RAN supports different modes of operation from 2G-5G using the same baseband hardware allowing for an easier transition path. The option to support multiple interfaces with simultaneous operation of CPRI, eCPRI and OBSAI makes for simpler integration of existing and newer fronthaul and backhaul in the transport network.

A wider spectrum

The essential element in radio access is spectrum, and now the 5G standard supports a much wider range of bands, this means radio units must support multiple variances with widest possible RF bandwidths and combined 4G/5G mode of operation to simplify and balance resources as subscribers move to 5G.

Capacity and performance with security

5G supports wider carrier bandwidths and that means much higher peak throughputs and capacity. A modular baseband system using plug-in cards allows for growth overtime, and with a high capacity backplane means not having to add additional chassis hardware which introduces more complexity and cost. In challenging times, adding capacity must be made easy by activating new features remotely through software such as implementing smart scheduler changes or increasing modulation schemes. All elements must be designed for security meaning that protection should be built-in from the start without the need to add additional software, which increases complexity and vulnerabilities.

Providing coverage outside and inside

Building coverage involves different layers of spectrum, from low and mid-bands for wide area coverage to higher bands for smaller dense urban high traffic areas. With many deployment scenarios you need to have options in terms of power outputs, different form factors such as micro remote radio heads and hybrid antenna systems. Features such as built-in PIM can mitigate the interference on antenna receivers to improve coverage and reduce the number of sites required. For indoor coverage, small cells play a critical role as traditional coaxial DAS systems are not supported for cmwave and mmwave bands, while plug and play capabilities for femtocells make deployments easier for enterprises.

A more flexible deployment architecture

Varying capacity and coverage requirements necessitate greater choices in how RAN functions are deployed. Centralized RAN offers performance improvement in the most challenging environments such as mass events where mitigating congestion is essential. Cloud RAN provides the flexibility to run base station functions, balancing cell-site simplicity with the ability to increase capacity on-demand and support low latency functionality using edge computing.

Energy efficiency and environmental impact

The mass scale deployment of 5G new radio must not drive an increase in operating costs. Modernizing legacy technology cell sites with a single RAN solution coupled with innovations in system on chip reduces overall footprint and power consumption. Using liquid cooling in antennas and baseband, rather than air cooling can rebalance the cost and environmental deficits, while adding features like muting of radio resources in low traffic conditions increases energy efficiency.

These strengths are built through constant innovation and development. We are at the beginning of the 5G journey and Nokia is there at every step, from the groundbreaking research in fundamental technologies such as massive MIMO to today, where we have over 3,000 patent families declared essential to 5G and continue to drive leadership in standardization.

In 2019 we saw the early adopters deploy 5G, and now we have many mass market NSA launches and SA (stand alone) trials. In 2021, the migration to SA will start along with the introduction of 3GPP release 16 with wider scale implementation in 2022.

With over 350 4G customers across the world supporting over 5bn device connections, and 70 commercial 5G deals with 21 live networks we continue to work closely with service providers to modernize their networks.

Making sure you start from a position of strength in the RAN will give you the best opportunity to deliver extraordinary 5G.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #5G #RAN

Jason Elliott

About Jason Elliott

As head of CSP cross-portfolio solutions and partners marketing, Jason combines broad technical and market knowledge to advance the future of communications. He has contributed to showcasing many industry firsts at technology events around the globe and is impassioned to show how technology can have a positive impact on our world.

Tweet me @jre_elliott

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