Wednesday, 23 November 2016

5G has Network Slicing playing a big role in its roll out.

Network slicing is expected to play a big role in 5G, and a new technical white paper published by 5G Americas digs into the concept, exploring an end-to-end 5G system framework and discussing the application of network slicing to air interface technologies. “It is not expected that 5G will arrive as a single ‘Big Bang,’” stated Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, in a press release. “Significant progress is already being made on networking technology through the standards bodies and network slicing will play a big role in optimizing 5G networks.” Industry thought leaders seem to agree: One of the many reasons that network slices are so important is the fact that the use cases for future 5G networks are so diverse. According to the white paper, examples of network slices include: a slice serving a utility company; a slice serving remote control for a factory; a slice serving a virtual operator; a slice optimized for streaming video-you get the picture. The requirements for 5G network slicing are currently in a proposed state and are listed in clause 5.2.3 of 3GPP Technical Report 22.891.

The requirements are considered “very stable” at this point and will eventually be placed in a Technical Specification. “Although there are only eight requirements listed as of version 14.0.0, they provide a strong, high-level view and direction for the next generation (NexGen) work of 3GPP with respect to network slicing,” the report states. “Network slicing makes possible the creation of virtual networks using one common network infrastructure,” Rao Yallapragada, director, Intel and co-leader of the white paper, explained in the release. “The implementation of network slicing will provide an end-to-end solution for flexible infrastructure optimized to address future use cases with diverse requirements such as speed, connection, battery life, latency and cost. Including both the core and radio access networks, each slice can be configured with its own network architecture, engineering mechanism and network provisioning.”

Ericsson, SK Telecom commit to network slicing as part of 5G initiative Concepts around network slicing closely align with software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), and the commercial deployment of both of these technologies is expected to grow tremendously over the next several years. AT&T, of course, is already well into its software-driven network transformation, and Verizon is no slouch either when it comes to implementing SDN and NFV.

The whole NFV movement started as an operator-driven concept, so it’s not surprising that carriers would want to get behind it. The white paper says the move to NFV/SDN will allow network slicing to enable much more flexible instantiations of networks that can be designed to meet the specific needs of applications, services and operator business models. Both the NGMN Alliance and 3GPP have been developing the definition and use cases for network slicing so that the standards development organizations can provide detailed studies to understand the feature and functionalities that will be required for network slicing beyond what is already defined in 3GPP Release 13 and ETSI NFV.

The Network Slicing for 5G Networks and Services paper was written by members of 5G Americas. Co-leaders of the white paper working group are Yallapragada and Clara Li of Intel as well as Sabareesan Soundarapandian of Ericsson

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Nokia will demo 5G in Colorado at 28 GHz.

Nokia files to demo 5G at Charter Communications' facility in Englewood, Colorado.

Based on an application for Special Temporary Authority (STA) filed with the FCC, it looks like Nokia wants to demonstrate its 5G gear at 28 GHz for Charter Communications at Charter’s Englewood, Colorado, facility. The application didn’t explicitly name Charter, but it included an address to demonstrate 5G wireless equipment “to one of our customers located in Englewood Colorado, 14810 Grasslands Drive.”

The STA period would be from Jan. 9, 2017, to Jan. 25, 2017, to allow time for setup, customer demonstrations/testing and breakdown of the equipment. Wireless engineering consultant Steve Crowley first tweeted a link to the application, noting the Charter connection. A spokesman for the cable operator said the company would not comment on the application, but it’s clear from Charter’s Nov. 3 third-quarter conference call with analysts that the company is exploring its options beyond the MVNO agreement with Verizon that it plans to activate.

Nokia CTO, Marcus Weldon, says cable could win at wireless this time. Asked by New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin about the timing of Charter’s wireless offerings, Charter Communications Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge said the MVNO is an opportunity to create "high-quality product intermixed" with its existing high-quality products to create value for customers.

“With regard to how that gets integrated, no, I think 5G-type technologies or millimeter wave technologies or small-cell, high-frequency, high-capacity, low-latency wireless networks are products that we will develop," Rutledge said, according to a Seeking Alpha earnings call transcript.

“They may or not be connected to an MVNO relationship or a mobility relationship. I think that there are opportunities to create wireless drops, in certain cases, so direct wireless connections that require—that mimic a physical connection, to connect malls and other things in the enterprise space and buildings that are not contiguous or have big parking lots or, in some cases, low-density areas, it might make some sense,” he added. He also said the company has asked the government for the right to experiment with millimeter wave technologies in several markets “so that we can learn how to use those products to our advantage competitively.”

The technology platform “of these small high-capacity cells can work in a myriad of ways, both as line extension devices, as well as in-home devices that don't necessarily require mobility off the property, in-office devices that don't require mobility off property,” he said. “So they don't have to be necessarily developed as a mobile service. So we are going to explore both paths.”

Nokia wants to demonstrate 5G prototype gear at C Spire's headquarters in July.

Nokia’s application to demonstrate 5G at the Englewood location follows similar applications where Nokia included the address of its customer but didn’t name them. Earlier this year, for example, Nokia received authorization to conduct tests in Ridgeland, Mississippi, where C Spire is based. In July, C Spire announced it was the first company to successfully demonstrate a 5G fixed wireless solution in Mississippi using Nokia equipment with a direct connection to its fiber-based commercial television service.

C Spire said the test delivered C Spire Fiber consumer television content, including ultra-high definition resolution video, with speeds up to 2.2 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and ultra-low latency below 1.4 milliseconds over the 5G wireless link.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

5g and unlicensed spectrum

The long fight over LTE networks sharing frequencies with Wi-Fi may be just the first of many battles as device makers and service providers try to make the most of the limited available spectrum. Around the world, regulators and industry are working on how to let different kinds of networks use the same spectrum. The new techniques and policies they use should lead to better mobile performance in some areas, but it’s also likely that wireless performance will fluctuate more as you move around.  LTE-U has grabbed headlines because it involves licensed carriers using some of the channels that consumers depend on for Wi-Fi service, which often is free or runs on users' own routers. Wi-Fi supporters cried foul last year after Qualcomm and some U.S. carriers proposed the technology, and it took until last month for the two sides to reach an apparent peace agreement. LTE-U products could start getting certified soon with a battery of coexistence tests. But this won't be the last time mobile users find the services they rely on forced to coexist with other technologies.

Growing demand for wireless capacity, plus the runaway success of Wi-Fi as an example of a new approach to spectrum that worked, are bringing more players to the table in many cases. Though new technologies make spectrum-sharing more feasible, exactly how these schemes will play out isn’t clear yet. "It’s a very crowded world, and we are adjusting our expectations for how these things are going to work together," said Harold Feld, senior vice president of the U.S. consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, on a recent LTE-U panel discussion. Interference issues used to be relatively simple, Feld said. If one operator held a license, anyone else had to get off the frequency. If the spectrum was unlicensed, every user had to accept interference and not do anything to monopolize the band. LTE-U raised new questions, because even though the 5.8GHz band where it operates is unlicensed and was set aside to allow room for innovation, this wasn’t a question of two small, experimental technologies vying for space. Millions depend on Wi-Fi today, and at least two major U.S. carriers – Verizon and T-Mobile – want to roll out LTE-U to supplement massive cellular networks. Wi-Fi and LTE use different methods to keep order among wireless channels. If unmodified LTE networks were unleashed in an unlicensed band, the effect would be "devastating," said Patrick Welsh, Verizon’s assistant vice president for federal regulatory affairs, during a panel discussion last month. Verizon wanted to use the 5.8GHz band for extra capacity, so it brought together engineers from its equipment suppliers to develop LTE-U, Welsh said. That technology is available for use primarily in the U.S., South Korea, China, and India. To do the same thing, carriers in most other countries had to wait for another technology called LAA (Licensed Assisted Access), which was being standardized by LTE's overseers at the 3GPP and took longer to finish. It uses different coexistence techniques that most Wi-Fi backers think are safer. Some U.S. carriers are planning eventually to use LAA, too.

Meanwhile, vendors and service providers are jockeying for position on several other frequency bands that may host multiple services. The 3.5GHz band: The U.S., Australia, the U.K., and other countries around the world want to open up frequencies in the 3.5GHz band to mobile devices. Just adding this band to the channels available for Wi-Fi wouldn’t work because the exact frequencies available in each country are different, Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall said. In some cases, mobile users of 3.5GHz will have to share the band with existing users, such as the U.S. Department of Defense. In the U.S. case, the military would get first priority in the few areas where it uses the spectrum, service providers could get a new kind of license in some local areas, and other users would get in line behind them. Millimeter-wave bands: Millimeter-wave bands targeted for use with future 5G networks also seem to be bound for complicated sets of uses. In particular, the 50-70GHz frequencies are partly unlicensed and partly “lightly licensed” to incumbent users in some countries, Marshall said.

Unlicensed spectrum, in general, is expected to play a big role in 5G, though exactly how won’t be totally clear for a few years. DSRC band: Regulators in both the U.S. and Europe have grappled with coexistence between Wi-Fi and DSRC (Dedicated Short-Range Communications) systems that use frequencies around 5.9GHz. These include systems for cars to communicate with each other and with nearby objects like tollbooths, though adoption has been limited, especially in the U.S. In-car Wi-Fi systems have been accused of hurting DSRC performance, and in the U.S. there is a drive to force DSRC to share its spectrum with Wi-Fi. What’s missing, at least in the U.S., is a standard way of defining harmful interference between technologies that are bound to overlap with each other because they use the same spectrum, Public Knowledge’s Feld said. There should also be a standard framework for settling fights over shared spectrum so the Federal Communications Commission, or industries the FCC prods to solve their own disputes, don't have to reinvent the wheel every time, he said.

Opening more frequencies for mobile Internet access should be good for users overall, analyst Marshall said. He doesn’t expect performance hits on Wi-Fi from LTE-U, for example. But as consumers increasingly get their mobile access over frequencies shared by numerous technologies, the boost that comes from the extra spectrum may be a fleeting thrill, Marshall said. "You're talking about very, very high capacity if you've got that spectrum available," Marshall said. "If you haven't, you push down to a lower rate."

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

A way to design 5G infrastructure using drones?

Aalto University and Tempere University of Technology are working on how to enable more cost-effective wireless service using drones. Lead researcher Vasilii Semkin of Aalto University said that 3D models taken from drones in urban environments could help people designing radio links, giving the designers a bird’s-eye view of potential coverage.

The researchers say that it might be particularly useful for designing 5G wireless connection, including network planning at millimeter-wave frequencies. “With the technique used by us, the resulting 3D model of the environment is much more detailed, and the technique also makes it possible to carry out the design process in a more cost-efficient way. It is then easier for designers to decide which objects in the environment to be taken into account, and where the base stations should be placed to get the optimum coverage,” Semkin said.

They made their geometrical models using several commercial drones, which could either be controlled from a computer or operate autonomously. The 3D images which the drone captures can then be read by 3D modeling software, allowing mobile companies to view how millimeter-wave frequencies will propagate throughout the given environment.

This could, in turn, help companies reach increasingly stringent standards for radio frequency emissions. University researchers aren’t the only ones using drones to support wireless networks: Verizon has deployed them in venues like stadia and racetracks in order to inspect towers.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Fibre is badly needed to connect 5G base stations

Yesterday’s announcement that Windstream will purchase EarthLink for $1.1 billion – thus gaining EarthLink’s 29,000 route miles of fiber – is just the latest in a series of high-profile, fiber-related telecom mergers and acquisitions. And 5G and wireless network densification sits near the heart of many of these transactions. “Fiber is a critical component of 4G densification and 5G network deployment. Specifically, denser networks will be needed to support the expected rise in mobile data, a dramatically broader array of connected devices, and increased machine-to-machine transactions, all at materially lower latency and at higher quality of service levels. Thus, fiber will be a critical component of next gen network infrastructures,” noted the analysts at Barclays in an evaluation of the recent blockbuster $34 billion purchase of Level 3 by CenturyLink – a transaction that would give CenturyLink an additional 200,000 route miles of fiber. Indeed, the Windstream/EarthLink and CenturyLink/Level 3 tie-ups are just two of several recent major actions on the fiber front. Just last week, Crown Castle said it will acquire FPL FiberNet from NextEra Energy for about $1.5 billion in cash, giving it 11,500 route miles of fiber. Separately, Google announced it would halt its own fiber buildout efforts, news that coincided with the departure of Google Fiber CEO Craig Barratt. And of course, Verizon continues to work to acquire XO Communications, which owns around 33,000 route miles of fiber. What all this news indicates is that putting fiber into the ground is difficult, and that fiber likely will play a critical role in the future of next-generation networks, up and to including 5G. Why is fiber so critical to 5G? Barclays’ analysts offer this explanation: “Mission critical applications running on 5G will tolerate no more than 1 millisecond of latency, meaning traffic can no longer travel from the terminal to the core and back out to another terminal; more traffic has to initiate and terminate within the edge/access network. The speed of light, at which data traffic travels over an optical network, means 1 m/s of latency has a geographical limit of 50-100km. Given this geographic restriction, the caching of content closer to the user will be required. In order to implement this infrastructure, fiber will need to run between each tower with small cells feeding into a base station, consuming a lot of fiber in the process.” Historically, wireless networks enjoyed success in part because they didn’t require much in the way of wired support. After all, one macro cell site could blanket miles and miles of geography with LTE. Today, though, the equation is changing because operators are increasingly looking to densify their wireless networks with the addition of small cells and other technologies, which generally require more fiber connections. Further, newer wireless network designs also may require more fiber: For example, a C-RAN network centralizes the baseband functionality of a cellular base station within the network and then connects the baseband functionality via fiber with the distant radio elements, which are located at the cell site. Tower company Crown Castle has made no secret of its interest in small cells and fiber. In 2014 the company purchased 24/7 Mid-Atlantic and its 800 route miles of fiber, and last year Crown Castle purchased Sunesys, giving it access to 10,000 miles of fiber in major metro markets across the United States. Crown Castle’s recent FiberNet acquisition would give the company another 28,500 route miles of fiber. In Crown Castle’s latest earnings conference call, company executives offered a real-world look at the company’s return on its fiber and small cell investment. According to a Seeking Alpha transcript of his remarks, CEO Jay Brown explained that in 2013, Crown Castle counted 300 “tenant nodes on air” on approximately 100 miles of fiber in Chicago, or approximately 3 tenant nodes per mile of fiber. “Fast forward to today, we have approximately 1,100 nodes on air and under construction on 250 miles of fiber, with the tenant nodes density at approximately 5 tenant nodes per mile. This results in a yield on our investment in Chicago of about 10%,” he said. To be clear though, AT&T and Verizon still command the lion’s share of fiber in the U.S. market. Last year, in a ranking of metro route miles of fiber, AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink took first, second and third, respectively, in fiber ownership. Moreover, it’s important to note that owning fiber isn’t a prerequisite for launching 5G. For example, the analysts at Barclays noted that Verizon has inked wholesale dark fiber agreements with more than a dozen fiber providers in order to access fiber services in areas where the company doesn’t own its own fiber connections. “We agree that as 5G deployments progress, the third party fiber leasing business model should become increasingly more attractive as a means to efficiently and economically increase fiber’s reach and breadth. For those that don't have any wireline assets, it will become all the more important to rely on third party providers outside of their footprint,” the analysts wrote. Additionally, access to fiber connections may become cheaper for some players if the FCC decides to rule on the issue. During its open meeting this month, the FCC is scheduled to vote on “business data services,” or BDS, which is also called special access. Smaller telecom companies like T-Mobile and Sprint have argued that the FCC needs to set rates in the special access market so that fiber owners like AT&T and Verizon can’t place onerous charges on access to fiber and other business-level internet connections. Nonetheless, it’s clear that fiber has become a valuable asset as the wireless industry hurdles toward a 5G future. I expect further fiber-motivated consolidation (potentially involving the likes of Zayo, Lumos Networks, FirstLight Fiber and other smaller players) as Verizon, Comcast, T-Mobile and others work to reinforce their market positions ahead of the rollout of this technology