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Mar 17 2016

Solving the paradox of 5G… without ready standards

Twitter: @LarsLagerstrom

5G may have come a long way already, but the formal standardization work is just about to begin. The lackluster response when it was first introduced has since morphed into a strong demand for the technology. Not surprisingly, operators and vendors have come forward with contributions to the standardization process, such as the 4G Americas 5G Technology Evolution Recommendations to ensure that the upcoming specifications will meet their needs.

 

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Many operators express an urgent need for 5G to meet the booming demand for increased capacity or to boost revenues through new services. Verizon, for example, has announced ambitious plans to include 5G demonstrations at its headquarters in early 2016, pilots in New York, San Francisco and Boston later in 2016 and commercial availability in 2017. Several operators are planning to deploy 5G in time to support some of the world's biggest sports tournaments in the next few years, including South Korea's SK Telecom for Seoul in 2018, MegaFon and MTS for 2018 and NTT DoCoMo for Tokyo in 2020. In the absence of standardization, I often wonder what those first implementations might look like.

Can we navigate the confusion before standards are in place?

The only thing that is crystal clear right now is that 5G will require spectrum allocation in higher frequency bands than what operators are using today. Many operators are expected to run out of capacity and spectrum within the next few years. Consequently, the 5G headlines so far have been mostly about trials using high frequency radio equipment to obtain “close to 5G” data rates.

Not surprisingly, almost everything at Mobile World Congress this year was labeled “5G-ready”. It made me feel proud that our 5G-ready label actually stood for something very significant: that Nokia AirScale radio access technology is commercially available and ready for whatever the final 5G specifications will be.

But what about all the other requirements 5G is supposed to fulfill? Operators all over the world agree that they want 5G to be more than just  a new radio technology. And, indeed, no new radio technology alone will be able to deliver on the full promise of 5G.

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Figure 1 Nokia 5G end-to-end network architecture

While Nokia certainly is heavily involved in trials and proof of concepts, we encourage a top-down approach to 5G.  Nokia 5G end-to-end network architecture shown in figure 1 and further detailed in the 5G System of Systems white paper is a great example.  The end-to-end architecture consists of distinct domains, each one zooming in on a certain aspect of 5G, which allows us to specify individual functionality without losing sight of the big picture. This way we can avoid silo solutions because the 5G end-to-end architecture is there to connect the dots. And even more importantly: Because we started with requirements derived from use cases that deliver concrete results, we now have a methodology that ties back to real benefits of 5G.

The 5G evolution has begun and there is no turning back. I certainly hope that we will avoid a situation similar to what we are experiencing in Network Function Virtualization (NFV). Here the lack of a standard has led to a plethora of proprietary solutions that are difficult or even impossible to connect later. Until the formal 5G specifications are agreed, presumably at the ITU WRC-19* in 2019, the industry needs a framework, where each 5G functionality has its own slot. Nokia 5G end-to-end architecture is such a framework and can help operators start their 5G evolution even in the absence of a formal standard. With a clear architecture, operators can mitigate the paradox of 5G without defined standards and hopefully contribute to defining them together.

The 5G Master Plan white paper is a good starting point and gives a high-level view of the transformation.

Are you looking to start your 5G evolution before the specs are in place? Contact your local Nokia rep to arrange a workshop and/or provide further details.

Save the date: on 20-22 April Nokia will gather top telco industry experts to the annual Brooklyn 5G Summit to further 5G progress.

* International Telecommunication Union World Radio-communication Conference

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #5G #innovation #standards

About Lars Lagerstrom

A network veteran, Lars is Nokia Networks’ go-to-guy for many topics, including Nokia Reference Architecture, Enterprise Architecture, customer-centric OSS transformation, business transformation, 3G strategies, revenue growth, and operator processes. When he’s not solving architectural puzzles, you can find him with his 3 grandchildren or on his boat somewhere in the Finnish archipelago.

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