With 4G deployments in high gear, the mobile industry has set its sights on 5G, although there are a number of different definitions of what exactly “5G” is across the mobile sector. However, there are some common themes to be found, starting with the network itself.
That may sound obvious, but remember that one reason 5G definitions vary is because it’s generally seen not as a literal generational upgrade of the 4G network, but more as an ecosystem of technologies that will take the mobile broadband experience to the next level.
However, whatever other technologies play a role, the mobile network remains the core of 5G. That will of course include new elements such as small cells to create heterogeneous networks (hetnets) that can maximize spectrum usage more efficiently in dense heavy-usage areas.
Wi-Fi in heterogeneous networks
5G radio access
But it also includes the existing macro networks as well. Put another way, 5G will be a mix of the old and the new, which is why it’s important that operators take an integrated, multilayer approach to their small-cell strategies as they move towards 5G to ensure that the macro network is an integral part of that hetnet.
To understand why the macro network still matters, it pays to look at the trends driving mobile broadband data usage over the next five years, says Christian Hedelin, VP and Head of Strategy at Ericsson’s radio business unit.
“According to our Mobility Report, we’re projecting 8x growth in smartphone traffic between 2014 and 2020, with 55% of traffic be driven by video, although with HD and 4K coming into play, those numbers could be even higher,” Hedelin says. “From 2015 to 2020 we’ll see 440 Exabytes of mobile video traffic worldwide.”
That’s putting incredible pressure on networks to be able to support video at the quality levels customers are already demanding, he adds. “If you want to deliver 1080p video at acceptable quality, you need close to 10 Mbps. And when you multiply that by how many hours a week people spend watching video, you can see that the speed requirement will actually be much higher.”
The good news is that LTE is more than capable of supporting those requirements, and at greater efficiencies and lower power consumption than HSPA. The catch is that in APAC, while LTE will be available in all regions by 2020, the majority of users will still be on HSPA or even 2G networks.
“It’s going to be a multi-standard world for some time,” Hedelin says. “It will be a mix where you have 2G, 3G and 4G standards working together on multiple bands, to include things like refarming and carrier aggregation, which could also include LAA [License Assisted Access] where you use unlicensed Wi-Fi bands for LTE.”