4G, 5G Mobile Backhaul: What is The Difference For The Consumer?
The aim of LTE was to make anytime, anywhere services a reality. To achieve this, LTE increased capacity, improved coverage and provided high-speed mobile data. Demand for data has since increased beyond all expectations and today there is a tidal wave of traffic on mobile networks. This growth has been driven by the availability of rich multimedia content and consumers using their mobile devices to run multiple, always up services including streaming video, internet applications and connection to sensors in their homes and cars. This growth shows no sign of slowing down and the industry consensus forecasts that traffic on mobile networks is going to continue growing dramatically for the rest of this decade.
Annual global mobile data traffic (Exabytes) Source: GSMA – Mobile Spectrum, Data Demand Explained, 06/2015
With 5G we move from mobile data to mobile services, with the network being optimized to deliver services and not just data capacity. Consumers expect ubiquitous service delivery with the ability to run multiple, always up services, stream video, connect to sensors in their homes and cars, and run all of their traditional fixed broadband services on the move. We are also seeing new or improved services with every permutation of performance parameters being required, ranging from:
- High bandwidth services like streamed high definition (HD) video with strong jitter and loss requirements.
- Medium bandwidth secure services like online banking and shopping.
- New real time services like edge computing and augmented reality which require ultra-low latency and high bandwidth to enable large data volumes to be processed rapidly and decisions to be made in real time.
- Mission critical services for real time management of machines, which require ultra-low latency and ultra-high reliability.
- IoT services and smart cities, which generally require highly secure, “best effort” connectivity for a “massive number of sensors. The bandwidth required depends on the sensors in the IoT ecosystem, some ecosystems will just report readings on sensors and require ultralow bandwidth, others will be connected to multiple HD video sensors and will require high bandwidth connectivity.
To achieve this, the 5G network must have higher bandwidth, higher RAN density and lower latencies than in 4G. However, this is not enough to support the huge range of diverse service requirements. Therefore, future 5G backhaul networks will need to implement “network slicing”. In this approach, ‘slices’ are created across the network with each slice being optimized on a per service basis. This allows per service performance to be maximised while minimising power, operations complexity and equipment costs.
However, consumers are not waiting for 5G. They are already using mobile services with rich multi-media content. They want these services to be available, anytime and anywhere, on any device. The problem is, we don’t have a 5G network today and the MNOs are delivering these services by increasing the capacity and coverage of their existing 4G networks. They do this by increasing the density of the 4G-radio resources and scaling the mobile backhaul accordingly.
We are now at a point where it makes sense to add intelligence and agility to the mobile backhaul network when scaling the network to support these “5G services”. For example, the backhaul network can use SDN capabilities to react to the rapidly changing traffic demands of the mobile network, providing capacity when and where it is required. In addition, technology exists to put NFV (Network Function Virtualization) at the cell site; this computing resource can be used to:
- Reduce traffic in the network with traffic deduplication
- Increase service security with edge security mechanisms
- Reduce latency for real time services by performing computing at the edge
- Enhance SLA management for SLA dependant services
- Provide mobile edge computing (MEC).
The 4G architecture is network centric, focused on providing the capacity, coverage and connectivity for mobile data. Mobile data is essentially transported as “dumb pipes” with very little, if any, service optimization. With 5G, we move towards a consumer centric architecture, centred on making mobile services available, whenever and wherever, on any device. Service delivery is optimized on a per service type basis by use of network slices. These network slices, cross an intelligent network from radio to core.
In supporting the delivery of 5G services on today’s 4G network, it makes sense to add the intelligence and agility to the mobile backhaul network that would enable the network to move towards the consumer centric architecture provided by 5G.