In an exclusive conversation with Voice&Data, Stephen Hire, Vice President – Marketing, VIAVI Solutions, talks about 5G and how moving to 5G is different from moving to 4G. He also talks about the short and long-term benefits of virtualized mobile networks. Excerpts:
Q. Arrival of 5G and IoT will enable billions of smart devices to connect to mobile networks via narrowband signals, at the same time, mobile networks must continue to support high-bandwidth applications. What will the implications be for telecom operators and how will they maintain the required QoE?
5G provides a system that leverages a variety of technologies depending on the precise needs of the application, particularly as IoT becomes more prevalent. For example, many IoT applications do not need a high data rate but may require very low latency, such as in the case of remotely controlled surgery, whether or not they require instantaneous responsivity these applications must detect and react in real-time. As IoT is adopted by industries such as automotive, manufacturing, consumer electronics and healthcare, the applications for wireless technology will differ dramatically, but the sheer volume will place heavy demands on network capacity and availability.
There is no universal approach to 5G development, as different markets face different circumstances which require different approaches. In the US, for example, operators such as Verizon are focussing on delivering 5G connectivity using point-to-point fixed wireless technology. Meanwhile, operators in other countries, including China and Japan, are focussing on developing 5G in line with the 3GPP new radio (NR) specification for the enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB). Regardless of the technology they use to deploy 5G, operators must set a clear roadmap that has the requirements of the end-user/industry in mind. It must align with the timescales and expectations of the regions they’re operating in.
Q. Why is moving to 5G different from moving to 4G? What are the parameters for supporting this move?
5G is not defined as a single wireless technology like its predecessors. It will comprise a number of different services being delivered to the end user across multiple access technologies and multi-layer networks. 5G will effectively be a dynamic, coherent and flexible technological framework. It is very different from the previous generations of wireless standards.
Taking new 5G applications from the concept phase to prototype, and rollout requires new and sophisticated testing and validation techniques. A new set of test solutions needs to be in place to support the development of 5G, looking at everything from the chipset and the radio antenna to the end-to-end network performance.
Q. What type of intelligence will operators need to plan, test, enable and optimize 5G networks?
5G networks will comprise of multiple vendors covering the RAN, CORE, ancillary and OTT services. In earlier generations such as 3G, operators could push testing back to their vendors because there were few of them. So, a given vendor could usually identify performance bottlenecks or problems. With so many vendors in 5G, it will increasingly fall to the operator to ensure that end to end performance meets their requirements – and diagnose where problems originate.
Apart from troubleshooting, operators must also anticipate network impact of new services. For example, before launching new IoT services, an operator should carry out lab-testing where they simulate the current network load and then add the new services to make sure that both the existing customers and the new target customers receive the QoS they expect.
Q. From an operator’s perspective, please explain the complexities and scale of 5G networks and how they can deal with it?
As operators develop their LTE and 5G networks, comprehensive testing of their RAN, core and mobile edge infrastructures is required. Operators must be able to simulate a huge range of end-user and IoT devices, modelling real-world conditions.
Operators must validate the full range of new 5G features, including Massive Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output (MIMO) beamforming technology, and ultra-reliability, low latency use cases, which require a virtualised lab environment to be tested effectively. They also need to test network performance in new frequency bands in both the mmWave and sub-6GHz spectrum. It is vital that operators continue testing the performance and security of their networks before they are used it in a commercial setting.
Q. What are the short and long-term benefits of virtualized mobile networks?
The vRAN approach replaces baseband units with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology and virtualised software, hosted in a flexible, data centre environment. With less proprietary hardware and lower energy consumption, this approach offers cost- and energy-efficient RAN architecture, which can support current 3G and 4G standards, whilst being easily upgradable to support 5G.
Q. Please elaborate on the solutions VIAVI offers to support Narrowband IoT testing?
VIAVI Solutions’ TM500 can test NB-IoT networks at scale, alongside a rich portfolio of LTE and LTE-A capabilities, so that operators can validate both new and existing networks. When used in combination with TeraVM, it offers a complete end-to-end testing system that gives operators a universal view of how their network is coping under the demands of the IoT. VIAVI offers the only solution on the market that can represent individual and unique IoT devices at scale, and ensure that a network will support the addition and variety of new devices which will make up the IoT of the future. Operators must act now to validate their current network performance. They must ensure that their network testing tools are ready to support tomorrow’s IoT as well as the accompanying data influx.