The most newsworthy stories in wireless today are all about
5G. In 2019, we enter a cautious, early adoption phase of this next generation
of wireless technology. A small number of users will get a first taste of 5G in
specific geographic locations, using specific applications, none of which are ubiquitous
It’s not. 5G is here (albeit in small doses)! All the hype
and irrational exuberance of a few years ago is turning into initial pilot
deployments. It’s an exciting time, especially for those of us in the trenches
of 5G development. Here are some of the major trends driving 5G innovation
CLICK TO TWEET: In this 2019 trends blog, CommScope's Ben Cardwell explains why 5G begins now.
Private networks look
enticing for new markets
Mobile network operators spend a lot of time waiting for
others – waiting for power companies to bring electricity to new sites,
municipal planners to approve small cell locations, and in some cases, backhaul
providers to hook up metro cells. These inhibitions on agile deployment
increase operator interest in indoor private networks where site access, power
and backhaul already exist. 5G is an enabler for service providers and neutral
hosts to deploy private networks with highly reliable indoor wireless.
Private networks could give neutral hosts stronger plays in
key vertical markets such as business enterprise, healthcare and manufacturing.
For example, a business might utilize a private network offering from a neutral
host for a totally wireless office space that offers higher quality and more
reliability than WiFi.
No longer tethered to desk phones and LAN cabling,
employees’ mobile devices would join the company’s wireless LAN as they enter
the building, which is the same network their laptops run on. The enterprise
saves on infrastructure costs while enabling wireless location and tracking
services. When the employee leaves work, their mobile device snaps back onto
the outside cellular network, provided by the same operator.
The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in the
U.S. will help enable such private networks in 5G. The wireless operators or
neutral hosts would host and manage these like an IT infrastructure, providing
much more scale than traditional telecom networks. Private networks are one of
the leading visions for 5G.
Enhanced mobile (and fixed wireless) broadband
visions aside, mobile broadband is fundamentally what the wireless industry is
all about. Enhanced mobile broadband is about making it even better. In 4G, LTE
laid the foundation for exceptional mobile data speeds, and its LTE
Advanced-Pro evolution will continue to be the workhorse of the industry, even
as 5G emerges. We will continue to see investment in LTE for many years with 4G
and 5G co-existing in the future. We will also continue to see more and more
new spectrum open up to enable continued mobile broadband growth.
5G will enable service providers to keep up with the intense subscriber demand
for more wireless bandwidth by adding capacity to their networks.
Technologically, achieving 5G performance requires providers to eliminate
network bottlenecks by adding more small cells, more fiber and mobile edge
computing to their networks. The industry has been most successful with
deploying and utilizing more fiber. Many operators worldwide are committed to a
fiber-heavy and fiber-deep future.
deployment of outdoor small cells is proving more challenging due to zoning
delays. But these metro cell deployments are increasing despite these issues,
and we expect them to continue accelerating in urban and suburban areas, with
the goal of bringing the fiber hop-off point as close to the user as
possible. Mobile edge computing (MEC) is
a bit of a laggard. This model envisions computing resources being brought out
from central offices to Cloud-RAN (C-RAN) hubs closer to or at cell sites. What
is occurring first is the actual build of the C-RAN hubs and centralizing of
some radio capabilities. The next step will be an upgrade to MEC with more radio
functions virtualized, which is a few years away.
wireless access, however, has emerged as among the first 5G applications to be
deployed. FWA enables wireless carriers to compete for more share in the
residential broadband market. 5G speeds are fast enough that FWA can be used
for streaming home internet traffic, including over-the-top video. So, in
addition to going to a traditional cable TV provider, you could have the choice
to go to a wireless provider for home internet and television plus wireless
voice services. The first commercial services of FWA are becoming available in
countries around the globe, including Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
We expect it will take until 2020 or so for widespread deployment of mobile and
fixed 5G broadband, with the technologies hitting maturity around 2025.
Open interfaces will enable more 5G
are also beginning to show preference for more open networks where they can
have more flexibility to launch unique types of services. When we start talking
about developing new markets with private networks or the Internet of Things
(IoT), we also need more innovators in a more empowered ecosystem. We no longer
can rely on just a few large players in wireless. We need small- and medium-sized
companies to go after these vertical markets.
RAN is the way to get there. Open RAN is the mobile industry’s equivalent of open
source. The way we can take chipsets to build a multitude of different devices
is the same way we need open RAN interfaces and building blocks to create a
multitude of networks. Open RAN will enable a service creation environment that
can help realize the more advanced 5G use cases. IoT platforms for a healthcare
system, or autonomous robots for a manufacturing facility, or a fully wireless
and connected smart city require a multitude of innovators across industries,
which open interfaces make possible.
ORAN Alliance, which promotes Open RAN standards, is making significant headway
in realizing this vision. One of its key principles is to lead the industry
toward open, interoperable interfaces, RAN virtualization and big data-enabled
RAN intelligence. The future of 5G will be more open and innovative if we are
to realize the truly remarkable applications envisioned.
The wireless future
When it comes to connecting devices to the network, wireless
has obviously won. Now we need to see how far 5G can take it. As fixed wireless
access penetrates residential markets, and open interfaces in 5G networks promise
to make new vertical markets more accessible, the possibilities are endless.
This year we will see the first glimpses of 5G. But what might come in years
following is more, better and faster. The 5G future continues to shine brightly