New Digital Environments: The Structure of 5G

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The 5G network being constructed moves away from the hierarchical structure that 4G typically uses. 5G has the potential to create a more agile, dynamic and decentralised network to deliver a new digital environment all businesses can benefit from.

Interview with Dr. Paul Carter, CEO of independent mobile network benchmarking company Global Wireless Solutions (GWS)

Prior to founding GWS, Carter directed business development and CDMA engineering efforts for LLC, which is the world’s largest independent wireless engineering companies.

Can you briefly outline the main infrastructure components that will support the 5G network?

The main infrastructure components needed to support the new 5G network can be broken down into two primary areas: the core network and the radio access network (RAN). While the core network is the mastermind that manages all of the mobile voice, data and internet connections, the RAN includes the transmission facilities (small cells, towers, masts, etc.) needed to connect mobile users and transmit key data to, from, and across the network. Further, 5G networks will most likely have a dense, distributed arrangement of base stations (sites) to enable a small cell approach; allowing more processing to happen on the edge, enabling more bandwidth and lower latencies, but also introducing new infrastructure requirements.

For example, the higher radio frequencies that will be used by next-generation networks won’t travel as far as lower frequency signals. Therefore, there will be a need for a larger number of sites built in closer proximity to one another to ensure reliable network coverage, as well as a need for more flexibility with mast heights or in using roadside furniture to optimise network architecture than what is currently deployed for existing networks. Small cells make use of millimetre wave (mmWave) technology, which allows for very high rates of data transfer across shorter distances. To enable ubiquitous 5G coverage, we will likely need a widescale deployment of small cells, something that will need to be factored into future urban and rural building projects and incorporated into existing roadside furniture, such as lampposts and street signs.

How are legacy systems being integrated into the new 5G network?

The rollout of 5G and its promise of ultrafast, super-reliable connectivity will not be an instantaneous process, as the full deployment of a standalone wireless network can take years. It will be a gradual shift to 5G that for some time will involve a somewhat symbiotic relationship between 5G and 4G networks; meaning that operators in the near future will still be deploying 4G sites across the UK as well as turning on advanced LTE features.

This development of existing network capabilities also points to the importance of network redundancy, whereby wireless communications devices can fall back on existing networks to ensure continuous availability of coverage in case of an intermittent 5G signal; not to mention that devices may initially use 4G resources when initiating a 5G call or setting up a connection. For this reason, operators must not forget about the importance of continuing to maintain legacy networks in line with their next-generation counterparts.

How should businesses prepare to take full advantage of 5G?

Businesses must be prepared to invest in next-generation networks today to help step-change the status of wireless communications for tomorrow. Businesses now operate in a mobile-driven economy where connectivity is key. An unreliable mobile signal is not merely an annoyance for enterprise customers; instead, a lack of available signal can have damaging consequences to their bottom line. 5G is an exciting prospect for the UK as a whole, and it will be especially important when it comes to improved enterprise applications; from Vo5G to faster data connections to lower latencies, 5G will enable businesses to do more over a wireless connection than ever before.

This means new and improved ways to engage with customers and better promotion and delivery of critical services. Future-thinking businesses know the value and importance of mobility, and it’s, therefore, crucial for operators to continuously test and improve networks based on what matters most to their enterprise customers.

Through extensive focus groups and polling, we have found that business owners and their employees still consider voice calling to be the most important function delivered by their mobile experience. This points to the need for greater quality and availability of VoLTE and VoWiFi coverage today and the progression of these networks alongside realising ambitions for Vo5G, as well as things like video streaming and file transfers.

What are the main challenges delivering the 5G infrastructure that is in development?

One of the key challenges to delivering on the current development of 5G and realising the potential of the network lies in the outdated restrictions which govern the placement and provision of mobile network technologies.

Both national and local authorities must look to lessen regulations on things like signal mast height and location and help make roadside furniture and public structures (street signs, lampposts, buildings, etc.) available for use to enable operators to deploy a 5G network that will take advantage of all the new features.

Similarly, public and private entities must also consider how they can help make the widescale provisioning of small cells a cheaper and more expeditious process, as well as looking at the best ways to co-operate on both the funding and deployment of the technology itself.

The message we have consistently received loud and clear from customers is that they want to know which network they can rely on to keep them connected at home or work, to keep them in touch with friends and family and to provide them with access to content.

Our performance test data of existing networks already shows that all operators currently provide mobile internet quick enough to stream a video from Netflix – the real issue for 5G is not simply about increasing that speed, but about which network will let people call, text, browse the internet, and stream content without disruption and in areas where service is expected. Looking at reliability scoring metrics is important because, when asked to consider the five most important criteria in selecting an operator, GWS found that UK consumers are twice as likely to choose reliability instead of network speed.

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