As expected, MWC 2018 was a lot about buzzwords 5G, AI, VR, digital transformation, digital identity, smart cities, connected cars, IoT and everything in between.
With 5G non-standalone standards now in place, the conversation is moving away from proof of concept to more ambitious projects, especially the initial fixed wireless access deployments, the growing role of virtualization and automation will play in future networks.
When it comes to wireless infrastructure, the latest numbers from the GSMA intelligence service indicates operator capex levels will continue to decline for the remainder of the decade as 4G rollouts mature, especially in developed countries. There is an increased focus on investment in fiber networks which can backhaul massive amounts of data.
Nokia, Huawei, and Ericsson all claim to be best positioned for 5G and expect largescale deployments in 2019 with the US and China early adopters, followed by Japan and South Korea. Many operators initially plan to deploy 5G networks to resolve capacity issues. Smart cities, smart transportation, industrial applications will follow suit.
But many operators are cash-strapped and cannot support notables increases in CAPEX, especially in light of the still high cost of spectrum.
Facebook-backed Telecom Infra Project (TIP) had its share of announcements including OpenRAN and OpenCellular which are working on new technologies to help operators build faster, more affordable and more resilient networks initially to the 3.8 billion unconnected. Terragraph mmwave project is a multi-node wireless backhaul system designed to bring connectivity to more dense areas.
The NGMN attempted to provide a reality check for 5G and published a new document titled 5X5G:
- 5G will provide communication capabilities far beyond current networks and support a much wider ecosystem with a broad set of use cases and applications
- 5G is evolutionary – with the potential for revolutionary applications
- 5G brings favorable economics through new technologies and appropriate deployment scenarios
- 5G will come soon – by the end of 2018, first commercial 5G equipment will be available
- The work is not done yet: NGMN activities are focusing on key challenges for successful 5G delivery
I also met with Ruckus Wireless which is now an Arris company. They were demonstrating their new CBRS gateway in the home and also announced an IoT suite targeting the hospitality sector initially where Ruckus has a dominant market share. Ruckus believes CBRS will be used in private enterprise environments such as ports and industrial facilities which require little spectrum coordination in the GAA and not much of handset penetration. When asked about how private enterprises are expected to manage the core networks, Ruckus envisions EPC to be sold as a subscription service
As handsets become available and the whole SAS development matures, the neutral host market segment should follow suit. As far as the residential segment goes, Ruckus expects to see continued interest from cable operators to gradually consider using CBRS in areas where they have no wireline footprint as the FCC rules become clearer.
I also had the opportunity to see the SAS demo from Commscope which a complex tool with is quite so many static and dynamic variables to consider. CommScope acquired Comsearch as part of the Andrew acquisition, a company which has been working on spectrum management and engineering for 40 years. This business unit already had a dynamic spectrum solution and has developed a fully capable CBRS SAS (Spectrum Access System) with ESC (Environmental Sensing Capability). This is the central controlling database that assigns specific frequencies and RF power levels to individual CBRS small cells nationwide.
Other small cell vendors with CBRS products on show include Accelleran with both indoor and outdoor units and Chinese vendor Baicells. There are many vendors in the market; Federated Wireless has tested around 4p.
Nokia launched the Flexi Zone MulteFire Multiband Pico BTS, the first MulteFire small cell to widen adoption of private LTE for industries, enterprises, and operators. The Multefire Alliance put up an Open Day Event at MWC 2018 where they updated the press about the progress in their release 1.1 with an initial focus on industrial IoT and enterprise applications. The Multefire Alliance also presented the results of a business case simulation from Wireless 2020 comparing the ROI of deploying Multefire vs. Wi-Fi in a port facility, and you can guess which technology came up as the least expensive…
The Alliance refers to the stripped-down core network and promised to provide additional information soon about what exactly that means.
Wi-Fi wants to stay relevant in the 5G vision and debate. Wi-Fi carries more than half the world’s internet traffic, while for operators with both fixed and mobile network infrastructure, 80% of their traffic travels over Wi-Fi, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.
The WFA is promoting its Vantage program which comprises Agile Multiband and Optimized Connectivity. Based on IEEE k,v,r,u IEEE amendments, Agile Multiband gives Wi-Fi devices the ability to adapt to changing network conditions. User devices can communicate with infrastructure devices to help balance the network load and improve the user experience by intelligently steering to different access points (APs), bands, and channels. A recent example was demonstrated by Qualcomm and Ruckus Wireless, completing a Vantage-based trial on KDDI’s public Wi-Fi network at the Shibuya train station in Tokyo, reporting 10x faster connection speeds and a 30% increase in efficiency.
Home Wi-Fi is also experiencing a lot of activity as it remains an environment plagued by poor wireless performance attributed (often falsely) to Wi-Fi. In any case, a company like German vendor Devolo are working to tackle the problem of mesh Wi-Fi with powerline solutions of their won.
3.5GHz is back from the WiMAX days and seems to be poised as a prime band for 5G applications despite its less favorable propagation characteristics. Massive MIMO is touted to improve spectrum efficiency and network coverage.
As described in my blog The Promises and Challenges of AI for CSPs, there are a number of fledgling AI use cases, ranging from network management to predictive maintenance, but an even more significant number of challenges to AI adoption.
Some CSPs have begun implementing AI solutions in several ways, through the help of AI products and services. Some of these services aim to transition Network Operation Centers (NOCs), where human administrators manage the telecommunications network), to Service Operation Centers (SOCs), where analytics and AI deliver closed-loop automation. Telefónica, for instance, has launched pilot SOCs in several markets.
Other CSPs are using AI in different ways. AT&T, for example, is researching how to use AI algorithms to enable drones to inspect and repair base stations. SK Telecom in South Korea is using machine learning (a common type of AI) to analyze network traffic to detect abnormalities and enhance network operations. Hong Kong telecom PCCW is testing AI-powered tools to forecast growth in network capacity and predict network failures. AI is expected to transform industries from self-driving car to supporting whole industries with robots. AI requires hyper-connectivity, with ultra-high speed and ultra-low latency.
Airspan and Sprint selected as the winner of “Best Mobile Technology Breakthrough” at GLOMO 2018 Awards in recognition of the successful mass deployment of the first all-wireless indoor small cell, the Magic Box, specifically designed to improve network efficiency, increase data speeds and enhance user experience.
Huawei’s CloudAIR Receives GSMA ‘Best Mobile Technology Breakthrough and CTO’s Choice’ Awards as it decouples air interface resources from RATs. in the future, networks will be deployed on multiple frequency bands, accommodate multiple RATs, and power requirements will rise. To accommodate these evolving demands, CloudAIR has introduced power cloudification and refarmed air interface resources, making power-sharing and on-demand allocation possible between different carriers, RATs, frequency bands, and sites.