If industry experts are correct, 5G will hit the market at the very beginning of the next decade.
Despite some uncertainties, 5G is creating buzz among mobile operators and communications service providers (CSP) that want to get in on the ground floor. And while 5G isn’t slated to be finished and commercially deployed until 2020, initial trials should start in 2018. Consequently, smart operators and providers are learning all they can about 5G now to understand how they will need to evolve their backhaul strategies to create more effective and financially viable business models.
As one of the key new services in 5G networks, the Internet of Things (IoT) will influence the number of connected devices that will enter the marketplace. Additionally, the IoT will impact 5G traffic patterns as well as quality of service (QoS) requirements, all of which will also affect backhaul requirements and specifications. The aggregate data demand from the IoT will be very different from the smartphone oriented experience of 3G and 4G. Capacity demands will grow, and more base stations will have to be deployed in order to achieve the quality of service that is essential for the IoT to be successful.
Here are five key trends and characteristics of the underlying 5G networks that pose specific and well-defined challenges to the network infrastructure as IoT expands:
More Capacity per Device
One of the main goals of 5G services is to provide ultra-high capacity per end device, which means operators are going to need to add more spectrum, improve spectrum efficiency or roll out more infrastructure. With the rise in IoT devices, such as autonomous cars and manufacturing networks, the need for increased capacity will be crucial.
More Devices and New Types of Devices
The exponential growth in the number of “standard” devices (for example, smartphones, tablets, computers, smart home devices and wearables) is expected to continue, and the average number of devices per person is expected to increase. In 2014, Strategy Analytics estimated that 12 billion internet-connected devices would be used worldwide by the end of the year — an average of 1.7 devices for every person on the planet. By 2020, they forecast that number to jump to 33 billion, bringing the number of connections per person to more than 4.3 devices.
The mass introduction of the IoT and machine-to-machine services will create a large increase in the number of connected devices, adding non-human controlled devices to the mix and resulting, as forecast by GSMA, in an exponential increase in the total number of connected devices. With the increase of non-human controlled devices, one of the goals of 5G will be to be able to service these additional capacity requirements.
Higher Capacity and Street-Level Deployment
Multiplying the increase in capacity per device by the expected growth in the number of IoT connected devices results in a huge increase in capacity density (the required capacity per a given area). This forecast increase could multiply by 1,000 compared to the capacity density in current 4G/4.5G networks.
The clear effect of the increase is that more capacity per cell site — both at the radio access network (RAN) and at the backhaul layer — will be necessary. However, increasing a site’s capacity by 1,000×is not feasible. Since the forecast move to higher RAN frequencies will also require smaller coverage areas per cell site, the mobile grid will become much denser than it is today. This grid will incorporate the addition of macro cells as well as small cells on poles, towers, rooftops — also mass deployment at the street level, utilizing street furniture and light poles as physical infrastructure.
These issues will present several challenges to wireless transport networks. First, there will be a need for higher capacity wireless backhaul links per cell site. While current wireless backhaul links serve requirements of hundreds of Mbps, future links will be required to support ten Gbps and more. Additionally, denser wireless backhaul links will also be required, due to the condensed cell site grid. This demands better utilization of wireless backhaul spectrum, since frequency reuse will be highly limited as links get closer to each other. Finally, the mass deployment of street level sites will require high capacity non-line-of-sight (NLOS) microwave backhaul links, as well as quickly installed, low footprint, low power consumption equipment.
Mission Critical Applications Require Mission Critical Backhaul
Until recently, many of the services provided over mobile networks have been infotainment-oriented. However, new 5G service types, such as autonomous driving, tactile Internet and many M2M applications, must be served by mission-critical networks. The risks of failure are too great.
“Five nines” availability as well as complete coverage, ultra-low latency and tight security will be standard requirements for public mobile 5G networks and wireless backhaul infrastructure—just as these are required in public safety and utility networks today.
Virtual, Cloud Based Services and Network Architecture Will Change
When 5G arrives, wireless backhaul will work to increase its position as the most flexible and cost-effective backhaul technology for mobile networks, but that status will not be achieved without serious technical advancement.
The changeover to 5G will be a good opportunity for operators to retool their network and service architecture, in order to enjoy the benefits of new cloud architecture. Specifically, there will be major savings in capital expenditure and operating expenses in addition to a very quick time to market for new services and revenue streams.
Using cloud technology, it will also be much easier for network providers to address new challenges. This will be especially important as a larger number of people become more reliant on IoT devices, like connected home security systems, smart appliances, energy meters, game consoles and other applications that are enriching the lives of consumers in markets around the world.
So, what are the technical implications of these five trends for radio frequency and microwave components?
One of the implications is that backhaul systems will have to move to higher frequencies in order to increase capacity and avoid congestion, as the current backhaul frequencies populate access services as well as backhaul. Current common wireless backhaul frequency bands include microwave frequencies, typically 6 to 42 GHz (for short haul communications) as well as millimeter waves—mostly E-Band (70 and 80 GHz).
This transition to higher frequency bands such as W-Band (100 GHz) and D-Band (140 GHz) will require intensive efforts in radio frequency integrated circuit (RFIC) design in addition to the development of new modems. New research regarding wave propagation patterns at these frequencies, as well as interference, will also be essential.
Additionally, the move to higher frequencies will necessitate full system integration, where companies will be able to leverage their ability to make in house chip-sets and bring their products to market much faster.
While 5G can offer game-changing benefits to connected users, the ultimate success of 5G hinges on wireless operators and their technology partners, who together can overcome 5G’s many challenges and build mobile networks for the future. Mobile operators must understand and plan for higher capacity requirements, denser cell site grids, street-level deployments, network virtualization and mission critical applications. Driving wireless transmission to a new era is a must, in order to overcome these 5G challenges.