Rajesh Gangadhar, Head, Wireless Broadband Converged Platforms, Sterlite Technologies, discusses the advantages of converged network system that integrates the wire and wireless together. Excerpts:
Voice&Data: By when do you expect 5G services to get commercially rolled out in India? And what technology preparations do you think operators will focus on for that?
Rajesh Gangadhar: When we say 5G services, we refer to applications and capabilities that are specifically enabled by greater throughput capacity. This capacity is offered by enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and low latency offered by Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC) respectively.
From an Indian context, the focus is on evolving the 4GLTE network to provide ubiquitous coverage as well as radio network capacity to support peak data demand first, while preparing the network for 5G transition. To achieve this, there needs to be a sustained effort to 20x-30x increase in cell density with small cells. At the same time, the backhaul infrastructure needs an upgrade. A sustained effort to fiberise cell towers or use alternative gigabit fixed wireless technologies is necessary. A robust transport layer that delivers gigabit connectivity to the network’s end points (i.e., 4G LTE node Bs or 5G gNodeBs) is critical to the success of 5G.
Voice&Data: Over the next 2 years, faster speed, improving system capacity and efficiency are major reasons driving 5G deployment. What tangible improvements in terms of speed, system capacity and efficiency should we expect
Rajesh Gangadhar: The Indian telecom sector has a strong awareness of the benefits a 5G ecosystem can bring to its consumers. From connecting the unconnected to Internet, to delivering value added OTT services to consumers thereby, enhancing the quality of their lives where they (consumers) live, work and play, the telco operators are striving hard to leverage existing infrastructure with incremental adoption of LTE Advanced (LTE-A) features.
However, to achieve any tangible benefits from these enhancements to LTE, the transport layer in India, which is today a combination of fibre and licensed microwave backhaul for end point connectivity, needs to evolve. We strongly believe that the operators must view their network infrastructure holistically as a converged network of wired and wireless infrastructure. And design the evolution plan to 5G as “one converged network” of fibre as deep into the network as feasible + fixed wireless as an extension of the fibre network + LTE-A/5GNR at network end points. While deep fibre networks form the backbone of 5G, the ecosystem of fixed wireless solutions that work in sub 6GHz, mmWave bands, near infrared Free Space Optics (FSO) and Li-Fi (Light Fidelity) has to mature fast. This will provide GBPS speeds to run video-on demand, streaming, gaming and other entertainment applications.
Voice&Data: Over the next 5 years, addressing new markets and services is expected to be major driver for 5G deployment. What will be the new markets and services that will be first seen?
Rajesh Gangadhar: Historically, the focus of wireless technologies has been to extend wired connectivity services such as voice, and more recently, data to consumers when mobile (or untethered from a wired network). This has been the case since the evolution of wireless standards. But for the first time with 5G, the focus has shifted from offering voice and data services to pure mobility networks to encompassing broader industry verticals such as healthcare, hospitality, education, industrial automation, autonomous cars, etc. Wireless connectivity is moving beyond handheld devices, tablets and laptops to everything that we touch and feel. The term “Internet of Everything” was coined a few years ago and 5G will be the enabler to make that phrase a reality.
Voice&Data: Tech challenges are likely to be big (ultra low latency; fibre connectivity to new cell sites; higher capacity at cell sites; timing & synchronisation requirements etc.) for 5G rollouts. How do you think operators will find a way out?
We are working toward a Converged Network Solutions capability to enable service providers in delivering gigabit connectivity for 5G via converged wired and fixed wireless network solutions
Rajesh Gangadhar: The challenges are many and these affect every operator in a different way, depending on where they are in the technology and network evolution cycle. The wireless technology refresh occurs roughly every 4-5 years from a standards evolution perspective. However, operators are stuck with legacy networks even as they evolve to new ones. These legacy networks cannot be switched off overnight as they carry substantial number of subscribers for many years. As a result, operators have to support multiple radio access technologies and the associated core network concurrently. This puts a tremendous CAPEX and OPEX burden on the operators.
Operators have already begun looking at various means to overcome this and prepare their networks to support scale and diversity of service offerings with 5G including:
i. Virtualisation and disaggregation of network elements
ii. Network slicing to help support the multitude of services envisioned with 5G
iii. Introducing elements of machine learning and AI for autonomous network monitoring, performance management, service assurance and customer care
iv. Multi-access edge compute (MEC) bringing compute and storage to network edge
v. Edge networkenhancements such as massive MIMO& Beamforming, SDR, Cognitive radio, Open RAN
vi. Fibre deep network augmented by alternative fixed wireless solutions
vii. New spectrum acquisition
Each operator has to assess their current situation and evolve their respective networks to a converged architecture.This evolution can increase agility and nimbleness to scale, support multiple radio access technologies concurrently, and offer diverse set of services and capabilities to a broad breadth of customer base.
Voice&Data: STL has been talking of the “Network of Tomorrow”. Please share with us how will the network of tomorrow look like.
Rajesh Gangadhar: The key premise we began with when defining the “network of tomorrow” is the fact that the network end points – be it an evolved form of 4GLTE, 5GNR or Wi-Fi6, will demand gigabit bandwidth or more. And networks of tomorrow will see collaboration, coexistence and cohabitation of:
i. Several licensed and unlicensed radio access technologies
ii. A transport layer which will be a convergence of fibre and fixed wireless technologies
iii. Network intelligence that will include elements of ML and AI to automate several functions of network management
iv. Virtualisation of both wired and wireless network elements
v. Centralised and distributed cloud infrastructure
Network of tomorrow will be converged, connected and mobile. There would be seamless connectivity between fibre and wireless systems which would give the operators best of both worlds.
Voice & Data: STL is offering operators the CLARRITy and iCORE frameworks for choosing and designing the right fixed wireless models, especially with the objective of 5G deployment. How does that framework help?
Rajesh Gangadhar: We’ve discussed previously the immense complexity that the operators have to deal with as they look to evolve from legacy networks to the network of tomorrow. As we look to augment connectivity to network end points with a converged wired (fibre) and fixed wireless technologies, we define CLARRITy as a framework to select the most appropriate fixed wireless technology. This is in terms of cost, whether line of sight is required, link availability or uptime, range, regulatory regime, interference susceptibility, and last but not the least, throughput or yield of the fixed wireless link. The framework is meant to form a decision tree to help identify the best suited fixed wireless technology for a specific deployment scenario.
The iCORE framework is a framework to plan, design and deploy a converged wired and wireless network – from the core infrastructure to the network end points. So, while CLARRITy helps in deciding the complementary technologies critical to the transport layer infrastructure, iCORE on the other hand, is an innovative approach to seamless converged network design.