5G is rolling out faster than previous wireless generations and will have a much bigger impact on telecoms infrastructure and the supply chain. As mentioned in my previous post, 5G introduces a new radio specification (5G NR), a next generation wireless core network (NGC) and a modular RAN architecture that directly supports disaggregation and open solutions. 5G NR supports mmWave spectrum that opens up massively increased bandwidths for users but also requires many more radio units of significantly greater complexity. 5G is a huge opportunity for users, carriers and solution providers that will define wireless networks for a least the next ten years.
4G enabled a digital wireless network for voice and high-speed data. Using LTE, 4G networks delivered 2 to 5 times greater spectral efficiency than 3G networks, significantly reducing cost per bit for data traffic. LTE was subsequently enhanced including support for carrier aggregation, high-order MIMO, unlicensed spectrum, vehicle communications and machine type communications for IoT applications. In spite of the fact that the transition to LTE and LTE Advanced was very successful, 5G is expected to deliver a further significant performance and feature uplift.
That said, 4G/LTE will continue handling a very significant part of the world’s mobile data traffic. The chart below taken from the Cisco VNI Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast, 2017-2022, shows the mobile traffic using 4G continuing to grow through 2022 but remaining at roughly 70% of total traffic per month. At the same time wireless data traffic using 5G is expected to grow from 0% to reach 12% by 2022.
According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) by the end of October 2019 a total of 50 operators have launched 5G networks and 328 operators had announced they were investing in 5G. Also, according to the GSA, almost 130 5G devices were announced during the first 8 eight months of 2019. A key challenge for carriers is ensuring that networks are ready for the rapid growth in the number of 5G devices as companies start shipping mid-range devices with integrated 5G modems towards the end of 2020.
As I discussed, 5G has been designed to support diverse applications with specific features for Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (uRLLC) and Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC). 5G NR brings together two significantly different frequency bands. Sub-6GHz 5G provides 10’s of MHz of spectrum and will be used to provide wide coverage and moderate increases in data bandwidth. mmWave 5G provides 100’s of MHz of spectrum and supports eMBB speeds of 1G bit/s and above.
Typical data speeds today on the more advanced LTE networks are 100 Mbit/s. First indications are that users on 5G networks are experiencing typical data speeds up to 1 Gbit/s and peak download speeds of 2 Gbit/s or more. These bandwidths will challenge service providers as the coverage for 5G and the number of active 5G users grows dramatically over the next few years. An additional difficulty for 5G will be efficiently handling very low bandwidth IoT traffic, latency sensitive traffic requiring latencies down to 1ms, and high bandwidth traffic on a single network. Network slicing will be key to delivering on this and has implications for both the RAN and network core.
Sub-6GHz 5G builds on LTE-Advanced technology and requires a similar wireless infrastructure. mmWave 5G is the result of significant technology research and uses massive MIMO, beamforming, beam-tracking and other technologies to overcome the transmission limitations of mmWave signals and deliver the high capacity and throughput enabled by the wider spectrum available. Most carriers are planning to use a mix of sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G. Initial deployments are using non-standalone (NSA) 5G where the network is managed by the existing LTE evolved packet core (EPC). Carriers are now moving towards deployments of standalone (SA) 5G where the network is managed through the new 5G NGC.
Carriers are investing heavily in 5G both to meet the demands of users for more bandwidth and services, and meet the requirement to continue delivering a return to investors as users consume ever greater bandwidths. The 5G RAN and NGC are designed to be both open and virtualized. The transition from 4G to 5G is complex and brings many difficulties for carriers and solution providers. 5G NSA is a relatively simple solution that can be built on the existing 4G infrastructure. 5G SA requires a whole new wireless infrastructure and the challenge for service providers is choosing between traditional RAN products that are 5G ready, and open RAN solutions using open interfaces and standardized x86 boxes where possible. These open RAN solutions are becoming available from a much wider ecosystem than the traditional RAN solutions.
To learn more about ECI’s 5G Solutions, click here.