October 16, 2018

4 Steps That Can Be Taken Today to Ensure a 5G Future

Service providers should remember that lessons from 4G can make their 5G roll outs more effective.

In the run-up to Mobile World Congress Americas, and now in the immediate aftermath, 5G has dominated the headlines. Verizon recently announced that it had turned up its first residential broadband customers using its 5G TF technology, and indicated that it has plans to migrate customers to the 3GPP standardized version (5G NR) in the near-term. Meanwhile, in the U.S. alone, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have also indicated that they are working towards 5G NR deployments in 2019.  While the hype surrounding this activity is palpable, the industry might be overlooking the fundamental role that 4G/LTE networks will play in paving the way for stand-alone 5G networks.

Consider the following. As initial 5G NR roll-outs occur, they will rely heavily on 4G/LTE networks. In fact, nearly all initial 5G roll-outs will be of the Non Stand Alone (NSA) variety, meaning that even where 5G NR is deployed, most deployments will initially rely on 4G/LTE evolved packet core networks rather than 5G next-generation core networks (i.e. EPC vs. 5G NGC).

This means that even after operators will claim to have 5G deployed, there will remain a great deal of work to be done before the full-fledged vision for 5G networks can be realized. The good news is that this does not mean that operators will have to wait to begin delivering 5G-type services.

A few things that operators can do today to help facilitate broader 5G roll-outs include:

  • Moving forward with plans to re-architect central offices in support of Multi-access edge compute (MEC) deployments to support ultra-low latency IoT-driven use cases such as factory automation.
  • Deploying 4G/LTE small cells to enable dense pockets of enhanced in-building mobile broadband coverage to support applications like ubiquitous enterprise connectivity, AR/VR sessions, or building automation solutions. 
  • Taking initial steps to implement network slicing in a 4G/LTE environment to support service differentiation within the same spectrum band.
  • Leveraging NB-IoT or Cat-M1 in a 4G/LTE network to support massive numbers of low-power IoT connections.

Naturally, 4G/LTE networks must ultimately give way to full-fledged 5G networks in order to support a myriad of services and applications in the Industry 4.0 era at scale. Case in point, in order to meet requirements for ultra-dense enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) applications, ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) IoT applications, and massive numbers of low-power IoT connections, service providers will need the ability to decouple access types from transport links to cloud and/or mobile core networks.

However, widespread demand for pervasive eMBB, URLLC and massive IoT-fueled applications will not materialize overnight. Indeed, until initial deployments are undertaken, proven out, and the services are delivered reliably over a period of time, widespread demand almost certainly will not materialize. This is why recent announcements such as Verizon’s pilot 5G roll-out plan is important; not necessarily because it signals a cut-over to 5G, but because it helps to demonstrate how current networks might serve as the long-term evolution path.


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