A digital transformation, enabled by mobility, cloud and broadband, is taking place in almost every industry, disrupting and making us rethink our ways of working. With the dawn of the 5G era, new use cases for the technology are emer­ging as consumers and enterprises set to work on identifying processes and channels that will boost the efficiency of their lives and their businesses.

Compared with the previous generations of wireless communications technology, including 4G, the rationale for 5G development is to expand the broadband capability of mobile networks, and to provide specific capabilities not only for consumers but also for various industries and society at large, hence unleashing the po­ten­tial of the internet of things (IoT).

5G use cases

The 5G use cases can be classified in terms of requirements for three essential types of communication with vastly different objectives: massive machine type communication (mMTC), critical MTC (cMTC) and extreme or enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB).

mMTC: Also known as massive IoT, mMTC is designed to provide wide area coverage and deep penetration for hundreds of thousands of devices per square kilometre of coverage. An additional objective of mMTC is to provide ubiquitous connectivity with relatively low software and hardware complexity, and low-energy operation. The use cases that fall into this service category include the monitoring and automation of buildings and infrastructure, smart agriculture, logistics, tracking and fleet management.

cMTC: In this type of application, monitoring and control operations occur in real time, end-to-end latency requirements are very low (at millisecond levels) and the need for reliability is huge. The performance objectives of cMTC are applicable to workflows such as the automation of en­er­gy distribution in a smart grid, in in-dus­­trial pro­cess control and in sensor net­wor­­king, where there are stringent requirements in terms of reliability and low latency at the application layer. These are sometimes referred to as ultra-reliable low latency communications requirements.

Careful attention needs to be paid to security aspects in the case of both mMTC and cMTC. While higher network and device complexity are more readily acceptable in critical communication, mMTC has to address cybersecurity assurance with low-complexity devices. A hierarchical app­roach to the network is necessary to progressively improve security so that end-to-end security assurance can be guaranteed.

eMBB: Apart from providing both extre­me high data rate and low latency communications, eMBB offers extreme coverage, well beyond that provided by 4G. Con­nectivity and bandwidth are more uniform over the coverage area, and performance degrades gradually as the number of users increases.

Network evolution towards 5G

The 5G system will require major changes in the implementation and deployment of networking infrastructure, based on software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV). The main domains of the 5G system are wireless access, transport, cloud, applications and management including orchestration.

A look at how these will evolve for the operationalisation of a full-fledged 5G system…

Wireless access: One key component of 5G radio access is an innovative air interface called new radio (NR), which is designed primarily for new spectrum bands. In industry and academia, it is widely accepted that the success of 5G will depend on a diversity of spectrum assets that span low, medium and high spectrum bands. Emphasis has generally been placed on high spectrum bands such as millimeter wave bands, although many stakeholders are also of the view that low bands below 6 GHz will be the key to providing the necessary coverage and bandwidth. Long term evolution (LTE) will of course continue to evolve, including advancements such as LTE-machine-to-machine (LTE-M) and narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT), and will be an important part of the overall 5G wireless access solution. NR is expected to migrate to bands below 6 GHz in the near term, eventually occupying existing mobile bands below 3 GHz.

A high level of interworking between LTE evolution and new radio access technologies is needed to ensure that 5G functionality can be introduced smoothly and over a long transition period. Such interworking will need to include the support for dual-connectivity where, for example, a device maintains simultaneous connectivity to a dense high frequency layer providing very high data rates, as well as to an overlaid lower frequency LTE layer that provides ubiquitous connectivity.

It is important to note that even though new radio access technologies such as NR will require a new radio bearer, NR and LTE will be fully integrated from a system perspective so NR can both be added as a stand-alone system or as a natural evolution of the existing wide area LTE networks.

Transport: The transport domain deals with connectivity between remote sites and equipment/devices. Backhaul involves both ends of the transmission network. For example, backhaul networks are used to con­­nect a base station (BS) to an access net­­work or a central office. Meanwhile, fro­nt­­­­haul is a term used when the BS antennas are connected to a remote integrated radio frequency (RF) unit, or to a centrally located baseband (BB) unit. In addition to providing bulk connectivity for the operator’s mobile network fronthaul and backhaul, the transport domain may offer different types of customer-facing connectivity services, such as a Layer 2 or Layer 3 virtual private network. 5G RAN technology puts new requ­ire­­ments on the bandwidth and lat­ency of transport networks. Conse­quent­ly, a high degree of automation and coordination within and across network domains will be required.

Cloud: Network functions as well as other types of applications in 5G will be deployed as virtualised software instances running in data centres. This pattern of deployment, which has been characterised as cloud deployed SDN/NFV, simplifies scaling and management of network infrastructure such as deep packet inspection engines and firewalls. SDN is about the separation of the network control traffic (control plane) and the user-specific traffic (data plane). SDN is based on the centralisation of configuration and control, while ensuring a simple, data plane architecture. On the other hand, NFV is about virtualising network functions and the functions that can run on a range of standard hardware.

Network applications: Network appli­cations such as evolved packet core, voice over LTE (VoLTE), and future 5G core network functions will be cloud- enabled. This means they will have the ability to execute in the SDN/NFV cloud environment. Consequently, these applications will have the advantage of being automatically scalable as well as flexible in terms of where in the network they can be deployed (centrally, distributed or a combination of the two). For example, the complete core network can be deployed in a local server in a factory to support exceptionally short response times. At the same time, it should be possible to support the factory with communication services from a centrally placed VoLTE installation.

Management: The network management of entities in 5G systems should be able to automate and orchestrate a range of lifecycle management processes, and be ca­p­able of coordinating complex dynamic sys­tems of applications, cloud and access resources.

Network management in 5G systems requires the deployment of virtual network functions in cloud data centres. In cloud-deployed systems, orchestration is needed to arrange and coordinate automated tasks and allocated resources through centralised management.

Finally, it should be noted that analysis and security are essential parts of 5G network management. Security and privacy in 5G networks will be characterised by new trust and service delivery models, an evolved threat landscape and increased privacy concerns. In particular, 5G networks will have to manage the following key pillars: security assurance, identity management, radio network security, flexible and scalable security architecture, energy efficient security and cloud security.

Conclusion

5G systems have a significant role to play not just in the evolution of communications but in the evolution of businesses and society as a whole. 5G will build on and extend the public network, making it viable for any type of application. Conse­qu­ently, 5G will be a major enabler of IoT and a networked society.

As a natural evolution of current network architecture, broken up into building blocks through access, transport, cloud (including SDN and NFV), network applications and management (including or­ches­tration and automation), 5G systems will provide a higher level of abstraction that will simplify the management. 5G architecture will not only be cost efficient to operate, but will also have agile and flexible mechanisms in place for the swift introduction of services. These properties are imperative for enabling new business models that can rapidly generate new revenue opportunities. For this reason, 5G systems will be built in the form of programmable platforms that can provide functionality on an “as-a-service” basis.

The 5G transformation has already started with NB-IoT, NFV and manageme­nt automation. It is an incremental pro­cess, enhancing the current network in a step-by-step fashion. As the process un­folds, global partnerships will prove ess­en­tial for enabling a cross-industry engagement in defining and building the 5G system.

Based on a white paper by Ericsson,
“5G Systems: Enabling the transformation of industry and society”