With the race to 5G heating up around the world, it’s tempting to focus on the hype being generated about the applications and services the next-generation network will enable. Much attention has been given to what the blazing fast speeds and super low latency of 5G networks will enable, including connected cars, smart cities and virtual reality.
The reality, however, is that it will be several years before 5G networks will support these types of applications. Even the 5G smartphones that will hit the market this year will be 5G in name only, lacking the speed, capacity and latency that fully realized 5G networks will deliver.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the future deliverables that 5G will support or enable, there are several key focal areas that need attention for 5G network deployment to deliver on those promises.
- Focus on the details
In the short term, focus should be placed on exactly how 5G networks will be built. The existing 4G monolithic networks need to transition to 5G’s microservices-based cloud infrastructure. Operators with high band spectrum licenses need to support massive MIMO-based antennas, which must be deployed to reduce interference. Additionally, 5G architecture depends upon the integration of cloud-based virtualization and the creation of an end-to end ecosystem for user experience. Finally, attention must be focused on determining where fiber is needed to support high throughput needed for the significant increases of devices and subscribers that 5G will create.
2. Focus on NSA and SA
Currently, most 5G networks are being deploying as Non Standalone (NSA), which utilizes existing LTE radio access and core networks to anchor mobility management and coverage. This is a good strategy for initial 5G deployments. For the future, however, a plan must be developed for Standalone (SA) mode, which incorporates 5G new radio (5G NR) and 5G core network (5GC). 5G SA supports microservices, network slicing, virtualization, control and user plane separation (CUPS) and ultra-low latency. Additionally, 5G SA enables better average revenue per user (ARPU) without increasing costs for subscribers.
3. Focus on virtualization and slicing
Through network slicing, a single physical network is created and can be broken into multiple virtual networks, each of which is unique. While slicing the core network is relatively simple, end-to end slicing requires the ability to slice network connectivity, radio access networks (RANs) and radio spectrum. If the same network is used for multiple slices, slicing RAN resources and radio networks is quite complex. Likewise, migrating the entire infrastructure to a cloud-based virtualized network, which provides orchestration for microservices, is a complex, challenging scenario. Successful 5G deployments will take into account the dynamic usage of the network so it can be slice based on predefined profiles, dynamic feedbacks and analytics, enabling the creation of multiple slices with click of button. Additionally, slicing supports the enterprise use case, which allows businesses to utilize 5G networks for private networks with higher bandwidth and assured quality of service (QoS).
4. Focus on the edge
A focus on edge computing is needed to successfully deploy 5G. Edge computing co-locates computing, storage and networking functions closer to where the data originates, reducing the amount of data being sent back and forth between devices and the core network. This saves time and power, conserves bandwidth and reduces latency. Furthermore, it creates additional security for safer transactions and enables the rapid, cost-effective scalability of network devices through a common infrastructure. Edge computing enables the provisioning of load balancing and provides support for multiple levels of nodes needed for hierarchical networking and resource pooling. Only through edge computing will 5G networks be able to bring machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) data processing directly to a wide range of devices.
5. Focus on IoT
The focus on network slicing and edge computing should be done with an eye toward supporting IoT. Many IoT devices have different resource requirements that can only be obtained through 5G network slicing, which also enables the management of different use cases and variable customer experience indices. Meanwhile, many IoT devices need high uplink data and lower downlink transfers rates made possible with edge computing. Currently, several service providers are partnering with vendors that host the telco core, which enables the offloading of IoT traffic and supports them on different slices. As the focus turns to 5G and IoT, plans should be made to support Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). This revolutionary change depends significantly upon the communications and connectivity that will be afforded through 5G networks, ultimately blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.
Without question, 5G is the way forward for operators. It changes the way in which networks operate, as well as how machines and people connect to the network. While many services and applications are being hyped for 5G networks – connected cars, smart cities, virtual medical services – the reality is that most are years away from fruition. Without question, there are shorter-term benefits that will be realized as 5G networks are built. However, for 5G to deliver upon its short- and long-term promises, focus must be given to the details concerning how 5G networks are architected and delivered.
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