Paving a Path to the Promise of 5G

2019 IT Prediction Series #1: Tomorrow’s high-speed wireless networks will accelerate today’s network transformation

In my article “Are You Ready for 5G?”, I explore how the fifth generation of mobile/wireless architecture comes with tall promises of transforming the world with its advances in greater global cellular network speed, scalability and security. In our prediction on where the 5G journey will take us, I’ll discuss how businesses can pave a path to make the most out of its amazing advances in high-speed networking.

Enabling up to 1 million connections per kilometer at very low power, 5G networks are expected to far surpass 4G networks in optimizing applications such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), next-generation high definition video and fixed wireless access. 5G’s extremely fast bandwidth (100 Mbps), ultra-low latency (as low as 1 millisecond) also makes mission-critical control possible, opening the door for new applications that demand absolute reliability, such as in health care, energy or autonomous transportation.

Cisco estimates that 5G connections will grow more than 1,000 percent, from 2.3 million in 2020 to over 25 million in 2021, mainly with edge devices, and is expected to drive very high traffic volumes — 4.7 times more than the average 4G connection by 2021.  5G solutions are anticipated to appear on the scene in late-2019 to early-2020 from vendors including AT&T, NTT Docomo, Sprint USA, Telstra, T-Mobile and Verizon. However, businesses will need to plan well in advance of this coming digital disruption for the major network transformation required to integrate these ultra-fast wireless connections.

First, some things you’ll want to know about 5G adoption

There are some gating factors for 5G enterprise adoption, including:

  • Gaining regulatory standards approval: The primary 5G standards bodies involved in these processes are the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the International Telecommunication Union.
  • Completing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 28 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum licensing availability/auctioning: The FCC will begin the auction of 28 GHz spectrum on Nov. 14, 2018. Another auction for spectrum in the 24 GHz band will immediately follow. The FCC hopes to sell 6,000 licenses for the airwaves.
  • Ratifying the 5G air-interface: This consists of building blocks and configuration mechanisms — adaptive waveform, adaptive protocols, adaptive frame structure, adaptive coding, and modulation family and adaptive multiple access schemes — to accommodate the future wide variety of user services, spectrum bands and traffic levels.
  • Advancing carrier return on investment (ROI) strategies: Enabling mobile carriers to offset the necessary expenditures associated with new infrastructure transformations and deployments that precede the monetization of their 5G investments.
  • Accelerating cost effective access: Balancing the benefits of providing high-speed access with the cost of rolling out fiber optic broadband networks, especially in remote rural areas.

Once these issues are sorted out by the industry at large, then it is full speed ahead, but not without the business network transformation required to fully utilized and monetize 5G capabilities and benefits.

Network transformation, endless opportunities

5G is not just about faster data connections and consumer internet services, it is the key to endless possibilities for digital transformation especially in an IoT- and AI-connected world. The real value of 5G and the reason we are seeing such heavy investment in building these networks – what Moor Insights & Strategy anticipates will be up to $326 billion in IT hardware spending by 2025 – is to help businesses and consumers unlock new, currently unattainable capabilities.

However, fiber-like speeds and the ability to handle very low-latency applications won’t come easily. Enterprises and service providers alike will need to re-architect and rebuild existing mobile networks, which is a huge undertaking. To make up for the high radio density required for 5G, operators are looking to optimize costs through the use of open-source commodity networking hardware and the virtualization of the wireless networking stack. This requires a different architecture solved by cloud radio networks (C-RANs), or the powering of several radios through pools of virtualized network software.

For 5G applications to work, network operators will need to massively deploy C-RANs, small-cell technology and mobile edge compute (MEC) in extremely high densities at the edge, close to where their users are consuming services. This will include some remote areas of the world, such as the Australian outback, where numerous mines and equipment with wireless sensors need to be continuously monitored and managed remotely.

Also, on the 5G horizon is millimeter wave technology, which is the band of spectrum between 30 Ghz and 300 Ghz. Researchers are currently testing 5G wireless broadband technology on the millimeter wave spectrum to be used in a broad range of products and services, such as high speed, point-to-point wireless local area networks and broadband access. In telecommunications, millimeter wave is used for a variety of services on mobile and wireless networks, as it allows for higher data rates up to 10 Gbps.

We anticipate massive investments in 2019 as existing cellular building infrastructures (e.g., 4G densification, etc.) are revamped and new edge infrastructures for hosting 5G networks are built. We also foresee a lot of innovation in disaggregated open-source commodity networking hardware and virtual wireless networking stacks for cost optimization.

Interconnect to harness the power of 5G

Establishing these high-density deployments at the edge can be easier on an interconnection platform like Platform Equinix®, which spans 52 global markets. Interconnection — the private traffic exchange between businesses — is the fastest, most secure, highest-bandwidth, lowest-latency connectivity there is. Such an agile, vendor-neutral interconnection platform also enables direct and secure access to network, cloud, SaaS and content provider ecosystems, along with access to numerous big data and real-time analytics services, which will be critical to handling the massive amounts of data 5G networks will be delivering to businesses.

We understand how the 5G revolution is going to take our global customers’ IT infrastructures to the next level of performance, scalability and security, opening up a path for applications and use cases that they’ve yet to even imagine. With advance planning and solid network transformation strategies that employ Interconnection Oriented Architecture® (IOA®) best practices, we’ll be ready for whatever 5G brings us.

You can read more about deploying various networks of all speeds at the edge by reading the IOA Network Blueprint.

Be sure to check out our other Predictions 2019 blog posts:

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