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5G – more than yet another generation of mobile?

Much has been talked about 5G with views ranging from ‘it’s just a go-faster 4G’ to ‘it’s the whole of the future of networking’. We are now at a stage where 5G concepts are much clearer; technologies have been developed, testbeds are up and running and trials are starting, says Tim Wright, Director of Technology at the ITP ITP (Institute of Telecommunications Professionals).

Operators are now in a position to make plans - indeed, several operators have announced dates for the launch of some servicesover5G. But yet many people remain unsure about the aspirations for 5G. What does it means for users? Where is its monetisation? What are its timescales and, importantly, what is the reality versus the hype?

This was at the heart of ITP’s recent seminar, which included expert speakers from BT, Cisco, the 5GUK Advisory Board and Nokia.

Andy Sutton, from the Chief Architects Office in BT, outlined the 5G network architecture in terms of its functional blocks. The architecture has been based on an understanding of use cases that demand, for example, low latency, emergency services, high upstream bandwidth, stadium crowds, and so on. The exact implementation of the functions will depend on the use cases – for example low latency services will require certain functionality very close to the edge. However, this should not imply a different network implementation since many of the functions will be virtualised and implemented on standard x86 compute platforms. Several architectural options exist reflecting the evolution to 5G and the fact that the early-day instantiations of 5G will rely heavily upon 4G, particularly the 4G core network. Novel antenna design, namely massive multiple-input and multiple-output antennas, will deliver adaptive beam shaping necessary for the throughput and capacity.

Bhupinder Singh from Cisco described the concepts of network slicing, particularly from a transport perspective. Network slicing is probably the most important concept of 5G as it is the way in which security, QoS, bandwidth and so on. 3Gand 4G networks embody the concept of slicing in the form of VPNs – effectively to create separation for the different types of services. With 5G, this is taken a stage further in that, in addition to hard slicing (for example using wavelengths or MPLS), soft slicing will be used throughout the access and core. There could be hundreds of slices at a time, each needing to be rapidly created, modified and then deleted under orchestration control. Effectively what this enables is a very flexible, agile network capable of supporting the whole range of use cases.

Mansoor Hanif of the 5GUk Advisory Board described how the business cases for 5G rely upon network slicing. It enables a single investment in a single platform to bring in all sorts of new revenues. The challenge will be to monetise those investments by apportioning the costs to the

multiple services that can be supported. Mansoor also described some of the trials and testbeds including the Worcestershire trial, the Bristol trial and the work at the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has earmarked funding for trials and testbeds such that they are open to all, very flexible to access and use and are consortia-based. The testbeds have been particularly aimed at start-up software companies.

Paul Adams, Marketing Director Nokia, in a presentation entitled Cynicism Truth and Layered Realities, stressed that 5G is totally different, it is not a platform just to sell more handsets. Whereas 4G is all about mobile broadband, 5G is much more inclusive in that it has been driven by use cases leading to a multi-service capability. Paul played a short video of the showcase in Bristol which was a world- first in terms of exposing the public to the potential of 5G. He stressed that interest in 5G across the industry is accelerating and the technology is becoming real. Docomo have announced commercial launch in 2020 and other providers are working to similar timescales.

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