opinion


Three ways 5G will change everything

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Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Volker Held, Head of 5G Market Development, Nokia, looks forward to all the new opportunities promised by 5G.

With 5G field trials making rapid progress and the latest phase of standardization due to be completed within weeks, the race to be the first to bring 5G to market is heating up.

It’s certainly true first movers gain certain advantages, yet there is also a danger the industry gets overwhelmed by the 5G hype and fails to achieve the technology’s full performance capability. To avoid this fate, today’s 5G roll outs need to be performed with an eye on the long-term, strategic perspective.

Sustainable success for 5G will largely depend on innovation in three areas: connectivity, architecture and silicon. In the last decade, there has been little focus on these aspects.

Today, things are changing and there are signs of a Renaissance in these vital areas. And here’s why.

Rebirth of connectivity

So far, connectivity has been regarded as just a small part of the telecoms value chain, not nearly as important to consumers as content and handsets. Connectivity has been something that only gets attention when it doesn’t work. This is in sharp contrast to the investments and technological complexity required to produce connectivity.

Where connectivity offers most value in 5G is in its ability to meet extreme demands in throughput, reliability, latency and cost.

Who will value superb 5G connectivity? The technology needs to be about far more than just consumers watching funny videos on YouTube at cheaper price plans than today – if this becomes the reality of 5G, the industry would have failed.

The good news is there is real collaboration in progress with leading companies in their industries. These companies are convinced that 5G connectivity will bring significant added value to their business model.

It seems that companies from various industry sectors are forming a broad front. Yet, is this merely the wishful thinking that the telecoms industry indulged in with previous generations? Three exemplary projects out of many in which Nokia is involved show that this not the case:

  • 5G for automotive – new driving experiences, working with BMW
  • 5G for logistics – new processes in complex environments, working with Hamburg Port Authority
  • 5G for Industry 4.0 – new heights in productivity by mobilizing factories, working with Bosch

At the recent Brooklyn 5G Summit, Andreas Müller from Bosch said something remarkable: “Industry 4.0 may become the killer application for 5G.”

Rebirth of open architectures

The new era of 5G connectivity will be enabled by a network architecture that can create dedicated “network slices” that cut across the entire network. Slices are virtual networks tailored to the specific needs of different applications, with all slices running on the same physical network.

This ensures every application gets the quality of service and connectivity it needs, such as assured throughput, peak data rate, coverage, reliability and network delay. The result is a programmable connectivity hub that can support any industrial use, whatever its connectivity requirements.

As well as updating the radio network, the end-to-end transport with SDN control also needs a rejig. Other essentials are a more flexible placement of network functions on a distributed cloud native infrastructure with central data centers and dedicated edge clouds.

The network architecture needs to accommodate all kinds of conflicting application requirements with lead times of minutes and provide the required quality of service level constantly. All the underlying processes need to be automated to operate thousands of slices over the same physical network and scale up on demand.

Network wide automation is one value of the architecture – openness is another, as using open interfaces and open source can further decrease costs This is why Nokia even opens up its AI engines across its 5G Future X architecture, allowing operators to combine radio data with other data such as population and activity to automatically optimize customers’ experiences.

An open architecture approach with full automation can easily cut network total cost of ownership (TCO) by more than 30 percent, establishing the foundation for new digital business models.

Rebirth of silicon

5G solutions need to provide massive computing capacity in various parts of the architecture: antennas, baseband, edge clouds, routers, optics at small footprints and power consumption.

As network capacity is scaled up, we need smaller, more compact hardware and antennas to allow operators to secure suitable sites and make deployment easier.

5G network equipment must offer significantly increased capacity and performance, yet not have a massive impact on the TCO and network practicalities. Additionally, there is an urgent need to reduce the carbon footprint of telecoms networks.

Only silicon can provide the necessary processing power to manage the extreme needs of 5G in a small footprint, while also offering increased energy efficiency.

As well as the impact silicon innovation will have on massive MIMO antenna designs, it will also be mandatory for baseband processing, routers and optical transport.

Accelerated speed of change ahead
5G is almost there, however, the first commercial launches with real handsets is just the start. With connectivity for industries that diversifies beyond enhanced mobile broadband, an open architecture approach and continuous innovation in silicon, the industry is readying for rapid rate of change.

To learn more, meet Nokia at 5G World 2018, taking place in London 12-14 June.

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