Race for 5G commercialisation relies on big and small players
The UK government has recently permitted the use of Huawei technology in the nation’s mobile networks (albeit, the radio access network or “non-core”). Without getting caught up in a debate about security, we should focus on what this signifies to the industry; that the UK is serious about 5G, and does not want to limit its options of technology suppliers in the race for 5G commercialisation.
The UK has maintained its focus on 5G development for a number of years. In 2015, the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), which has received considerable government funding, was opened at the University of Surrey. Since then it has supported pioneering research into the benefits of, and the obstacles preventing, the adoption of 5G technology. Supported by consultants, such as our very own Dr Li-Ke Huang and major telcos such as EE, Vodafone and Samsung, 5GIC epitomises the UK’s commitment to 5G.
However, the government’s investment in 5G doesn’t stop there. In March 2018, it announced the winners of a 5G test bed and trials competition, which saw a number of other enterprises, universities and authorities receive grants of between £2 million and £5 million to test 5G applications. In November, almost £7 billion was earmarked by the government to make 5G and fibre roll-out a reality over the next 10 to 15 years. It’s also worth noting that the UK was quick off the mark to auction 5G spectrum, a process which started in March last year.
The UK has clearly demonstrated its continued dedication to becoming a 5G leader. However, last week’s news regarding Huawei was a big wake-up call to technology firms, highlighting the importance of demonstrating their security credentials in order to play a role in the nation’s new next generation networks. Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and ZTE are among the major network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) that will be considered for 5G networks. However, it is very common for the NEMs to white label technology from other technology vendors. The objective for these vendors is to prove to both the NEMs and the mobile operators that their technology can make a difference; and do so quickly, in line with the UK government’s ambitious plans.
Telcos warm to multi-vendor technology
Mobile operators are increasingly open to using network hardware and software from multiple technology providers within their networks – giving them a selection of best in-class solutions. Open initiatives such as openRAN (oRAN) and Telecom Infra Project (TIP) are providing operators with blueprints for the implementation of multi-vendor technology across the network. This approach can lead to improved flexibility, scalability and cost saving for operators, and new opportunities for vendors, big and small.
With the first wave of 5G networks focussed on non-standalone technology – i.e. networks that connect to new 5G radios and the LTE core – there is an opportunity for RAN vendors to showcase their credentials in this first wave of 5G deployments. To do this successfully they must test and validate their technology against a range of real-world 5G applications.
A testing time for 5G vendors
5G technology presents a range of new innovations, from the use of active antennas, to MIMO and 3D beamforming, software defined components, and large carrier bandwidths. However, these innovations also bring new challenges when it comes to verifying the performance of the technology.
Massive MIMO, for example, requires the use of large number of antenna elements which will add a huge amount of complexity for performance testing and validating the radio frequency environment. The purpose of Massive MIMO is to help deliver high data throughput to large number of users. To achieve this requires performance testing under realistic conditions, with large number of end user devices attached to the network. New technology, such as Massive MIMO, must not only be tested in silos, but also run against a set of core network test cases within a loaded network environment.
It is now vital that 5G manufacturers test their technology in a lab before bringing it to market to account for any environmental factors that may affect the performance in a live network. If they can prove that the technology has undergone scrutinous validation at scale with a high number of both 4G and 5G carriers, under real-word conditions without QoE degradation, they will be considered favourably by operators, or the NEMs, in their network plans.
With telcos now moving from testing to field trials, technology vendors of all sizes must quickly look to offer future-proof high performance and differentiated propositions. Validating technology against live 5G applications is an important means of proving that it is primed for today’s networks. As a pioneer in test and measurement equipment and dedicated to the development and monetisation of network services, VIAVI is the ideal partner for technology vendors as they look to enter the 5G network market. VIAVI can help these businesses address challenges now – and do so simply, quickly, and cost-effectively – allowing them to demonstrate that they can make a difference in operator networks as they race towards commercialisation. VIAVI has experience in working with operators and with all the major NEMS around the world, it is best placed to validate an operator’s network from end-to-end ensuring the best performance irrespective of the RAN supplier, and core network components vendors. VIAVI can also ensure that legacy 4G services and KPIs are not compromised, especially with new low complexity devices and enhancements such as the wave of Rel-14+ Cat-M and NB-IOT. This becomes vital as 4/4.5 to 5G interactions grow and network complexity increases.