Telefónica and Huawei unveil ‘user centric, no cell’ 5G proof of concept

Telefónica and Huawei are hyping a novel 5G RAN architecture that claims to end the fixed cell paradigm and disruption associated with cell handover, but at this stage it remains pretty abstract.

The cunning bit is something to do with associating certain base stations with certain devices and then using Hyper-Cell network architecture to coordinate all this. Thus the device dictates which base stations it uses, not the other way around, thus supposedly eliminating the current cell centric approach. The companies announced the commencement of this work earlier in the year.

To be honest user centric, no cell (UCNC) isn’t an easy concept to get your head around, especially since devices are still going to have to hand over between base stations, presumably. New Radio trends like beamforming are already moving 5G in a device-centric in so much as they use focused, targeted radio transmissions, rather than the current broadcast model.

Here’s the explanation of the concept from the press release, which if nothing else illustrates how elusive it is: UCNC is a novel radio access framework evolved from the classical cell-centric access protocol to a user-centric protocol with hyper-cell abstraction. UCNC can dramatically reduce the over-the-air protocol signaling overhead and the access protocol latency, as well as increase the number of air-interface connection links. 

UCNC also defines the “ECO State” as a new device protocol state for sending short packets directly without the need of over-the-air signaling, thus making users be truly “always connected”. Another key technology is “SCMA-based Grant Free Access”, which can simplify uplink access procedures so as to reduce latency and increase the number of connected devices. According to the results of PoC tests conducted at Telefonica-Huawei 5G joint lab, the number of 5G connections per cell increased by 233%, the signaling overhead decreased by 78%, and the latency decreased by 95% compared with state-of the-art LTE. Telefonica and Huawei will continue with the next phase PoC test with the target to enhance the cell edge spectral efficiency, in order to avoid end-user experience degradation at the cell edges and any service interruption across the network.

Clear enough? Here’s Enrique Blanco, Telefónica Global CTO: “Telefónica collaboration with Huawei on 5G has allowed us to reach disruptive results like the use of User Centric No Cell eliminating handover between cells and reducing interference, which is a significant step towards making 5G a really differential mobile system.

Dr. Tong Wen, Huawei Wireless CTO, who is having a busy week, echoed the sentiment. “We are pleased with our 5G collaboration with Telefónica,” he said. “Our joint achievement on the Proof-of-Concept UCNC for NR RAN and trials for the fiber-like mmWave technology will pave the way from 5G innovation to commercial reality. The novel RAN architecture concept based on the cloud technology will lay the foundation for the future 5G services and applications.”

This does seem like a big deal in the context of 5G New Radio and the general move to the cloud, but neither company indicated next steps or timescales for the funky new tech. They might want to start with finding a simpler way to explain it.

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