The past one year has witnessed significant activity in the 5G space. Many global operators have already rolled out commercial 5G networks. These roll-outs have been supported by telecom equipment vendors that work in tandem with operators to build robust and scalable 5G networks. As India prepares to make the giant leap towards 5G, vendors are actively engaged with operators to make the transition a swift and smooth one. In a recent conference organised by tele.net, representatives of key equipment vendors discussed the emerging 5G ecosystem, use cases and network specifications as well as India’s 5G readiness. Edited excerpts…
Key use cases
Near term, focus will be on enhanced mobile broadband use cases such as fixed wireless, hotspots and remote connectivity. Long term, 5G will enable very low-latency use cases like connected cars and robotic surgery with internet of things (IoT) enablement.
Various players in the ecosystem including vendors, telcos, system integrators, startups, open source organisations, consortiums and alliances are working on stitching together an optimised multi-layered architecture. Virtualisation and softwarisation of network, in such scenario, is becoming very complex. Further, disaggregation and openness of radio access network (RAN) and fixed network/ programmable fiber convergence, also requires high-end integration/deployment skills. The role of system integrators with deeper expertise in all layers, including converged Access, in a multi-technology, multi-vendor/open environment is becoming very important.
Relationship between Wi-Fi and 5G
Wi-Fi and 5G networks are the best allies and have a very symbiotic relationship. In the coming years, there will be a change in the way people are going to communicate. If you are in a closed space, Wi-Fi will play an important role, especially Wi-Fi 6. However, if you are in a factory, where the area is huge, 5G and especially millimetre waves will play an important role. The key point is how they fit together to ensure that there is ubiquitous connectivity. So, this is a symbiotic relationship.
3GPP roadmap evolution and adoption of use cases
Various high bandwidth applications like 4K/3D videos on CCTV or drone surveillance, AR/VR applications on devices with integrated 5G are already available today with R15. R16 is just out and R17 is expected by mid-next year. This will further accelerate adoption of use cases that involve machine to machine communication and ultra-low latency applications.
India’s 5G readiness
I think 5G is not only about mobile broadband. It is about creating a new economic value and a new technical reason for networks to exist in the future. 5G is about new business possibilities and an open end-to-end ecosystem that will secure people.
5G is something, which is not in trial, but is now tested and available. Luckily, India has the potential of using harmonised spectrum. So, the same equipment used in building networks in the US, Japan, Korea, Australia and many other countries can be easily adapted in India. From a deployment and availability point of view, we are manufacturing 5G today in our Chennai factory in India. India is not buying 5G, but we are exporting it to the rest of the world.
Regarding India’s 5G readiness, I would say we are not the first movers, but if we take the right decisions now, we will be at par with a large portion of the world including some of the mature markets in Europe, in terms of adopting 5G. We should not waste any more time and deploy 5G as soon as possible.
Foundations for 5G use cases
5G is all about low latency, high bandwidth and massive machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. In 5G networks, we are talking about less than milliseconds of latency, greater than 10 Gbps speed and billions of devices connected via M2M communications. 5G also brings efficiency, intelligence and ability to use much more of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), which means that servicing of the network and fixing of problems have to be reduced to a downtime of not more than a few minutes. Further, we need a deployment time of hours, rather than days that we have right now, because it should be all plug-and-play. We should have device density of a million devices per square kilometre (km) and mobility in the range of 500 km per hour. These are the foundations for 5G use cases.
Correlation between 5G and IoT
There is no correlation between 5G and IoT. IoT is already available. It began in Europe on 2G networks with smart meters working on 2G. It has evolved since then. However, in India we do not have much adoption.
We, at Nokia, have installed a captive 4G network at our factory in Chennai. We have deployed an IoT solution for Industry 4.0 by partnering with Airtel. In that factory, about 1,500 km of LAN-WAN (local area network-wide area network) cable has been taken out and almost four or five production lines are running without any physical cabling. Everything is happening on a 4G network. However, 5G will create further efficiencies and increase productivity by enabling AI, ML and robotics.
Features of backbone network
The 5G backbone will not be physically separate from a 4G backbone. Instead, it is an evolution of the 4G backbone. To make end-to-end 5G happen, there is a need to evolve every part of the network, including the transmission layer and the connectivity layer. To some extent, GPON (gigabit passive optical network) can be seen as a backbone for 5G, as it can carry the transport network. However, you cannot completely get rid of fibre when it comes to 5G.
The integration of 5G networks is done by system integrators. Nokia has an integrated portfolio, which facilitates 5G deployment from the core to radio, transport and even provides deployment services. However, there are complementing things that system integrators or complementing partners can bring in. For instance, we will not be able to build all the use cases for 5G and integrate them into an overall network. We can only build an end-to-end network. We cannot build an ecosystem. From that perspective, partners are extremely important. I do not think 5G will work very well without having multiple partners who work on complementing things.
Open source networks
Open source networks can offer opportunities to vendors as well. Nokia was among the first vendors to become a party to the open RAN (O-RAN) ecosystem. We realised that this is a reality and you cannot shy away from reality. O-RAN offers an opportunity for everybody to coexist. Since traditional vendors have an incumbency, we need to take care of the existing network, which is deployed on a large scale all over the world across operators. Our responsibility is to try and make sure that the new architecture is a complementing one, which builds on top of what is already existing.
Radhey Shyam Sarda
If we see from a global market perspective, 5G is already commercial. By the end of last year, globally 61 plus 5G networks were commercialised and there were 10 million plus users. By the end of 2020, the projection is to have 170 plus 5G commercial networks globally and the 5G subscriber count will exceed 240 million.
In the Indian context, there are ways to deploy 5G and NSA (non-standalone architecture), which has been the architecture of initial choice for global operators, where the LTE network itself serves as the anchor and 5G can be deployed on demand. This makes the deployment easy. Having said that, India lacks a few key components of 5G such as spectrum, power, towers and fibre. Looking at the spectrum perspective, the amount of spectrum that is available is less and more spectrum will be required in the future. Further, when you deploy 5G on an existing tower, it will require additional power, space, twin load-bearing capacity, etc. I believe that our tower infrastructure partners are already aware of this and are working on the same. Moreover, fibre is very important, given that fibre to the last-mile penetration in India is less. So, we also need to look at a complementary approach such as fibre plus E-band spectrum. That is how we can quickly deploy 5G. We also need to find more sites, primarily, street furniture type of infrastructure, which can be used as a poll site or small cell site. I believe that as the spectrum auction will happen sometime next year, we will be ready to deploy 5G in India. I believe that 5G deployment in India can happen starting from 2021.
Key use cases in India
If we look at the Indian market, fixed wireless access and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) will continue to be among the initial use cases. With 5G, fixed wireless access is not going to be limited to the household and will expand to enterprises. Currently, the total wireline connectivity in the country is only 20 million. The wireline fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity will probably be 1.5 million-2 million. I believe that 5G fixed wireless access, combined with FTTH, can play a big role in achieving the National Digital Communication Policy targets of household broadband penetration of 50 per cent by 2022. From the enterprise perspective, the number of MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) is huge. There is a big scope for enabling fixed wireless access for these entities as this will be the first step to digitise them.
In terms of eMBB (enhanced mobile broadband), there is a readily available ecosystem. For example, 5G smartphones are already available in India. Looking at the price point, we can envisage that by early 2021, 5G smartphone price point in the country will come down to the entry level of around $150 plus. This is going to be one of the key motivators. Further, data usage per user per month is already 12 GB in India. We expect that with 5G coming, the data usage per user will increase to 30 GB-35 GB. This is a key driver from the perspective of consumption and revenue.
The next step is B2B use cases and the low-hanging ones could be campus monitoring. Further, there would be vertical industry use cases, that will require collaboration across various verticals. However, the ecosystem needs to be built, which will take time. But we need to start now, given that we have a long way to go with respect to having 5G in all the different vertical domains such as mining, smart agriculture, etc.
Similarity between small cell and 5G network
The entire small cell network can be looked at in three layers – the network or macro layer, middle layer or the pole site layer, which primarily consists outdoor small cells, and the in-building layer where indoor solutions will be deployed.
Similarly, the 5G network will be a three-layer network. There will be a macro layer, which will give us ubiquitous coverage primarily focused on outdoor coverage and outdoor-to-indoor coverage as well. But, wherever there is a need for more focused coverage and capacity, we will have to deploy outdoor as well as indoor small cells.
Role of cloud-enabled infrastructure
The 5G network is going to be quite different from 4G networks. While 4G focused on voice and data use cases, 5G is going to focus on diverse use cases. It will focus on eMBB kind of use cases, which will have diverse requirements and will all need to be serviced in the same network. In order to service such a network, the network architecture needs to be very flexible. It needs to be based on multi-access edge computing and support network slicing. To support these features, the network has to be cloudified to a great extent and should be programmable. So, I believe cloud-based architecture will play a big role in 5G networks