As we wander around our homes we find ourselves frustrated by inconsistent wireless coverage. Most of us have two available networks: WiFi @ 2.4 or 5GHz and the 4G LTE mobile wireless network. Thanks to basic topology and wireless propagation, downstairs the WiFi is often good and the cellular signal is poor, while upstairs the reverse is true. But my old Samsung Galaxy 4 handset lacks the smarts to create seamless connectivity. Why do we have to bring personal wireless technology expertise to solve this problem when the networks should be smart enough to able to do this intelligently themselves?
Ahhh but of course, we all know why: our WiFi is on a fixed-line copper network with a few tens of meters range at most that is separate from the cellular mobile smartphone wireless network served by a tall cell tower around 4Km away, in completely separate network domains, working with very different technologies, and often with two different service providers.
Fixed-mobile convergence is a very old topic. So old that it probably has traversed the hype cycle not once, but several times since mobile phones emerged decades ago.
In a couple of years 5G, however, is now looking in hood shape to change the game. While clearly driven by new massively capable MIMO radio technology, its radically new core architecture is also being designed to be agnostic to the access technology used, whether it be 5G, 4G, WiFi, fixed and mobile, etc. This will be achieved by a clear separation between functions used to support the various access networks and functions used to support new services.
Okay, so for the very first time, that gives us a logically clean architecture on which to build a sound solution. But how then do we solve in-home coverage problems?
Multi-access convergence will soon begin to transform the end user experience!
Luckily, some people get to work with not one, but two very smart teams looking to solve these issues: Nokia Bell Labs and BT Labs. Since late last year, Nokia Bell Labs has engaged on a joint project investigating the potential of multi-access convergence anchored by a scalable cloud-native 5G core. The exciting result is how we see a way that can greatly improve the end-user quality of broadband experience in the home.
Stephen Johnson from BT Labs and Stepan Kucera from Nokia Bell Labs have shown this 5G converged core demo as an alpha test complete with a mini-Faraday cage. Using such a mini Faraday cage, it's possible to replicate what happens when one or more brick walls get between our WiFi router access point and the device. Even as the WiFi signal was degraded and eventually cut off, Nokia demonstrated how 5G could pick up the slack using an innovative Bell Labs solution. Together, BT Labs and Nokia Bell Labs brought this as a demo unit to BT’s Innovation Week at Adastral Park earlier last year, where visitors could see rock-steady throughput rates being delivered to the end user device. Even with these early successes, they are only starting to tap into the potential of how the 5G core will reshape the way connectivity is delivered to end-users. By going for multi-access capability, the users and their needs are put at the very centre of the architecture, transforming how we all will experience new services and clever applications that depend on seamless ultra-high-performance network connectivity. Representing both operator and infrastructure vendor viewpoints, the collaboration between two world-renowned labs, Nokia Bell Labs and BT Labs, is critical to making this 5G a commercial reality. In the meantime, we all continue to wander around our homes, eagerly looking forward to experiencing consistent, fast connectivity intelligently delivered by 5G after 2020.