5G Update: Use Cases, Network Slicing, Trials, and Regulation

Posted by Mae Kowalke on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 with No comments

Achieving commercial reality for 5G is a considerable challenge for mobile network operators, with a range of potential obstacles standing in the way. Wireless Week broke those down into six top concerns, citing a recent Telecommunications Industry Association survey and report: trials, testing, and deployment; global rollouts; spectrum issues; network densification and small cells; use cases; and network slicing and virtualization. Other industry reports and commentary touch on these and similar topics around 5G. 

On the use cases front, SNS Telecom's March, 2017 report, "The 5G Wireless Ecosystem: 2017-2030," notes that diversifying revenue streamsin the face of declining ARPU for conventional voice and data serviceis a key driver for the pre-standards 5G deployments already underway.  

"For example, South Korea's KT has established a dedicated business unit for holograms, which it envisions to be a key source of revenue for its future 5G network," SNS Telecom said in a summary of its report. That diversification goal impacts how operators go about building and deploying their networks, especially with regard to spectrum: "In order to support diverse usage scenarios, 5G networks are expected to utilize a variety of frequency bands ranging from established sub-6 GHz cellular bands to millimeter wave spectrum."

On a related note, there is also the topic of using unlicensed spectrum with the 5G New Radio standard. RCR Wireless News touched on this in a recent article, noting that the possibility opened up this spring at a 3GPP meeting when the organization approved an early, 'non-standalone' version of the spec for early 5G deployments, and also agreed on a study item focused on 5G NR use with unlicensed spectrum. 

Slicing and dicing

To support 5G services, changes must be made to network core, noted Sue Rudd, Director of Service Provider Analysis, at Strategy Analytics, in a Telecom TV video. For one thing, 5G could mean "faster speeds in the access network than are present in the backhaul, switching the traffic bottlenecks," Telecom TV said in a summary of the video

A related challenge, Telecom TV noted, is network slicing—an aspect of 5G that's "important for revenue opportunities, enhanced service quality, and network efficiencies, but guaranteeing the new classes of service is difficult and will require a rethink about VPNs."

At the heart of 5G is the idea of supporting a diverse set of services on one network platform, noted Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst at Heavy Reading, in a recent Light Reading article.

"Network slicing is fundamental to this vision because it enables operators to configure virtual network instances optimized to the customer type or application," Brown elaborated. Making that happen means working across network domains, operators, and even industries, requiring a very high degree of collaboration.

Trials and tribulations

Despite T-Mobile's criticism of focusing so heavily on millimeter wave spectrum, that technology is nonetheless a key aspect of overcoming 5G system designs. RCR Wireless News noted that "pre-commercial millimeter wave systems are being tested by a number of carriers," in an article recapping discussions at the recent 5G Innovation Summit on a variety of topics related to millimeter wave, including the ability to capture information about and understand the millimeter wave radio frequency environment, keeping design and test expenditures in line, and testing in the manufacturing environment.  

Verizon is among the carriers taking a leadership role with millimeter wave technology for 5G, proceeding with its planned trials of fixed wireless service using that spectrum, RCR Wireless news reported. That includes "exploring the engineering and testing challenges that come along with figuring out the best ways to assure and deliver a new service with new technology." 

Vendors, too, are busy testing 5G technologiesusually in collaboration with operators. For example, noted RCR Wireless News in another recent article, Ericsson teamed up with Etisalat in the United Arab Emirates to prove out 24 Gbps mobile 5G in an outdoor environment in Abu Dhabi, using 800 MHz and 15 GHz bands. And, in Korea, Nokia is working with KT to deliver 5G using 28 GHz band spectrum.   

An uncertain future

To conclude, lets return to the topic of use cases and consider 5G from the consumer viewpoint: if it succeeds as hoped, the next generation of mobile will bring with it many far-reaching technological changes. AndroidHeadlines noted that those changes could be as diverse as new types of smartphones or smart devices designed to connect with virtual reality ecosystems, futuristic connected cars, and machine learning taking smartphone apps and services to a whole new level.

It's probably safe to say that, for both operators and users, 5G will involve use cases we can't yet imagine, and have many unintended consequences (whether good or bad).
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