5G: A look ahead

Kevin Linehan
15 Aug 2016

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CommScope’s fundamental viewpoint about 5G is that it will be a “network of networks” —a convergence of wireline and wireless with deep fiber penetration in both to support the variety of 5G use cases. The road to 5G begins with the evolution of wireless networks to the two meanings of C-RAN: initially, Centralized RAN, which brings with it operating expenditure and capital expenditure savings, and then true Cloud RAN. The C-RAN architecture enables virtualization and brings computing capabilities closer to “the edge.” Virtualization engenders optimization and provides capacity elasticity, meaning a better user experience with more efficiency and throughput capacity and lower latency.

Making all of this possible will be more cell sites in a denser wireless network. Network densification will include more small cells supporting areas with high user demand. Bringing power and backhaul to these sites, after the initial obstacle of acquiring them, will remain the main challenges of densification. Stadiums and large enterprise buildings will emerge as the first test beds and microcosms of the 5G network.

Cell densification adds more complexity to wireless networks by increasing the instance of cell borders, border interference and handovers. Technologies such as cell virtualization that allocate spectrum intelligently and dynamically will be needed to deliver the full benefits of densification.

Cell virtualization extends the concept of virtualization beyond the core network and onto the airwaves. Inside buildings, cell virtualization will enable MNOs to manage multiple radio points within the footprint of a single cell. The result is the elimination of inter-cell interference while providing high capacity. C-RAN-enabled cell virtualization also gives operators the ability to re-use spectrum many times over, enabling more dynamic and efficient use of a scarce and costly resource: spectrum. Some have said that cell virtualization could become the fundamental basis of how mobility is done in the future.

When we talk about 5G being a network of networks, one of those networks is LTE. Today’s evolved LTE network is going to be a cornerstone in 5G’s network of networks. LTE will be the workhorse of the wireless industry for many years to come. We’re going to see incremental improvements in LTE capabilities on the way to 5G, and 4G, 5G and Wi-Fi will all coexist—along with some earlier wireless air-interfaces depending on the region. MNOs will use slices of different networks to address different applications and provide connectivity resources to them.

Like the journeys to 3G and 4G, the quality of the RF path will be critical in the arrival of 5G. The level of noise and interference in a wireless network strongly determines the data throughput. To this end, operators must focus on ensuring a clean RF path as they densify, virtualize and optimize their networks. The bridge to 5G will include the evolution of LTE, and 5G will only succeed in applications where it can offer significant advantages over LTE. However, there is an entire industry endeavoring to make that happen.

Kevin Linehan (pictured) is vice president in the office of Chief Technology Officer for CommScope

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