Gearing for the next generation

The 5G network race has picked up further momentum with the first 5G NR standard reaching completion. Experts brainstorm on the road ahead- possibilities and problem areas
5G, 5g in the middle east, DU, 5G IN UAE, UAE telecoms, Cisco, Juniper networks, Infinet Wireless, EQUINIX, Strategy&, 5G trials, Spectrum, Bandwidth, Data growth, Internet speed, IoT, 5g use cases


CommsMEA: With the first 5G NR standard in place, what can we look forward to in terms of 5G development in the coming few months?

Marwan BinShakar, du: We are currently working with our partners to operate field trials in select areas in the UAE, which started in Q1 2018, in preparation for our eventual commercial roll-out – subject to the readiness of terminals, availability of chipsets and equipment from vendors.

Andrey Koynov, InfiNet Wireless: Both, big vendors and startups have been developing their 5G products for years with the idea to take the lead once the standard will be in place. However, the standard clears the way to the commercialisation of the 5G vision as well as to the pilot deployments, etc.

CommsMEA: How would you describe the readiness of the MEA operators in terms of 5G?

BinShakar, du: No entity can say that it is 5G ready - 5G is not a big bang and needs to be implemented in phases starting in 2019. As 5G is still in initial trial stages, it is our responsibility to introduce MEA operators to this service and help them understand how to use it to their advantage. Therefore, we need to be realistic when it comes to the date of the first commercial launch.

Hani Zein, Strategy&:  GCC operators continue to lead other MEA operators in adopting the latest mobile communications technologies. Driven by aggressive digitisation aspirations, fibre network expansion has been a priority that attracted significant government investment over the years and established the infrastructure foundation to best benefit from 5G.

Needless to say, spectrum availability remains a critical factor which regulators started to assess with efforts to free up or redistribute required spectrum bands (among services using high frequencies like satellite) and align targeted spectrum.

Koynov, InfiNet Wireless:  In my discussions with several MEA operators, I noted that they are in the process of revising their spectrum utilisation strategy focusing on 3.x GHz bands. Those who are running commercial WiMAX or proprietary fixed wireless networks are looking for options to vacate a part, or the whole allocation for 5 GHz while many others are contending for the spectrum, either through auctions or via acquiring the smaller companies holding the licenses.

There is an ongoing debate whether or not mm-wave bands such as 28 GHz will play a significant role in delivering the 5G promises. A number of the largest vendors are pushing hard for making mm-wave spectrum the centre point of the 5G. But at the same time, EMEA regulators are rather reluctant to accept mm-wave bands for 5G and many operators from all over the world are expressing their concerns that infrastructure costs will skyrocket, while coverage will not be efficient, especially in outdoor-to-indoor scenarios.

CommsMEA: In your opinion, which use cases of 5G would be most popular in the MEA market?

BinShakar, du: Consumers are demanding more video-centric technology and 40% of MENA Nationals watch online videos daily. With this in mind, I believe that video will be the most popular 5G use case. In addition to this, there is going to be a massive increase for on-demand video as opposed to the linear television we have today. 4K video is also emergent which will then lead to 8K, increasing demand for frequency.

Furthermore, 5G will be the key enabler of futuristic technologies such as M2M communications, IoT and Smart City, and our field trials in 2018 will hone our network capabilities to absorb the anticipated massive data flow, and offer an unparalleled user experience of network speeds exceeding 1Gbps to deliver unique uses and applications.

Zein, Strategy&: In the short to medium term, enhanced mobile broadband use cases (including VR, AR, fixed wireless access and others) are closest to popularity for several reasons.

The 3GPP specification of 5G (release 15) that is due to be frozen in June 2018 focuses on the enhanced mobile broadband use case while machine type communications and ultra-reliable use cases are planned for the subsequent specification (release 16) that is due in 2020. Venturing into substantial pre-standardisation investments has proven to be too risky for the region’s operators historically.

Ali Amer, Cisco: With 5G, many industries in the MEA region to find new ways to leverage technology, ranging from connected cars, home and office security and automation, smart metering and utilities, maintenance, building automation, automotive, healthcare and consumer electronics.

Forward thinking companies are looking to expand business opportunities across enterprise verticals. 5G, in short, will not be just about enhancing the user experience, it will also be about enhancing how businesses can use the mobile network to boost their competitiveness.

Koynov, InfiNet Wireless: The crux of this whole development is to provide multi-gigabit capacity and cut the latency down. Thus, any kind of service which LTE was not enough for will have another opportunity to reach its users while they are on the go. As such, mobile internet access, at the speeds much faster than those achievable using LTE, will be the biggest use case.

Jeroen Schlosser, Equinix: We believe retail and industrial will be the first industries to take advantage of the IoT, a key consequence of the 5G. Retail, with increasing mobile wireless products such as smartphones, wearables and home assistants, and the supply chain logistics that bring them to market, is leveraging the IoT to gain valuable customer insights, introduce new products and ensure customer satisfaction.

And the industrial industry, with its connected turbine engines, power plants and vehicles, leverages the IoT to ensure greater efficiencies and safety in the production, running and maintenance of these things.

We think health care and financial services are up next, once these industries can better ensure the needed levels of privacy and security. Another important industry on the cusp of massive transformation that will be enabled by the IoT is vehicular/transportation.

Jim Benson, Juniper Networks: The 5G “triangle” shows the main use cases for 5G as enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-low latency communications and massive IoT adoption. The MEA market has industry sectors that would benefit from all three of those 5G use cases.

CommsMEA: What’s your 5G agenda for 2018?

BinShakar, du: We are already in the trial stages but overall our strategy is virtualisation, cloudification and orchestration. du is an integral part of the several innovative streams led by the UAE TRA towards the next generation mobile network (mainly the 5G network) and we will be working together this year to ensure trials are carried out successfully.

Amer, Cisco: In 2017, Cisco unveiled a 3-phase plan for our customers’ 5G success, which included assess and build foundation, launch new 5G services and advance to 5G standards (once ratified). We will continue working closely with service providers to help them gain the most out of the digital transformation and 5G.

CommsMEA: How much would your company invest in 5G this year?

BinShakar, du: We will continue to invest in specific hotspot areas as part of our 5G journey.

CommsMEA: As we move closer to the 5G standards, which are the obstacles you see on the way that would need to be handled in order to leverage the complete potential of 5G?

BinShakar, du: In order for us to leverage 5G successfully in the UAE, we need to understand what our customers want when it comes to 5G. First of all, for consumers, their requirements include increased bandwidth because they are moving from voice-centric to video-centric. This requires 200bit per second of throughput; therefore, requiring quick connections and responses for thousands of devices to be connected to the infrastructure.

Homes, on the other hand, require a high capacity for more things to be connected. Homes also require more mobility because too many wires in the home are an obstacle, whereas wireless offers more freedom - this also goes for offices.

Based on these three angles (people, machines and homes), operators like ourselves need to build a network that meets the diversified requirements of demanding consumers. Higher quality of service and lower costs are also prominent demands of consumers today. Therefore, we need to keep all of these aspects in mind when it comes to designing the infrastructure and development of our 5G network.

Furthermore, with our network becoming more advanced, security is a major concern for operators to protect their customers’ information and safety. For example, we will provide the connectivity for smart vehicles and we need to ensure that this security is “embedded within the connectivity” that we are offering, which is something we have committed to from day one.

Zein, Strategy&: Challenges that stand in the way of realising the complete potential of 5G are twofold. On one hand there is still some uncertainty regarding the most commercially viable use cases with very little large scale success stories to refer to. Mobile broadband demand from current handsets can be accommodated by 4G and 4.5G technologies. Use cases that require ultra-reliability or massive IoT connectivity are still hard to predict.

On the other hand, there are several readiness elements to address; standards are expected to continue to change till 2020, core network capacity need to evolve to accommodate the increase in broadband and performance requirements, dependence on millimeter wave technology reliability and spectrum availability/ alignment.

Amer, Cisco: To meet the challenges of delivering the 5G experience, service providers have no choice but to relook at how their networks will be capable of meeting these growing demands. The reality is that the present-day networking technologies, frameworks and architectures are insufficient to cope with the demands of tomorrow’s digitally connected 5G world.

Service providers have two choices- Invest extensively into adding more connectivity infrastructure to keep up with the ever-increasing demands for capacity or find ways to accelerate, manage and optimise additional data, bandwidth and traffic through the existing infrastructures. At least two options can provide a salvation for the service providers of today. These include segment routing and dense wavelength-division multiplexing.

According to GSMA, a setback for service providers in the adoption of 5G mobile technology, will be the continuous drop in the average revenue per user, as the roll out happens. This will happen due to the wide spread usage of mesh-based, low power, wide area networks to support IoT.

The other challenges besides monetisation and spectrum allocation surrounding 5G commercial deployments are device availability, air-interface ratification and test data development.

Andrey Koynov, InfiNet Wireless: 5G relies entirely on the new spectrum, not on overlapping/sharing the frequencies already being used by GSM, 3G or LTE technologies. There are many frequency bands between 3 and 90 GHz being looked at in order to achieve the performance targets. However, the two bands which are in the key focus of this research, i.e. 3.5-4.2 GHz and 27-31 GHz have already been utilised by service providers for fixed terrestrial and satellite connectivity all across EMEA. So, freeing-up the required frequency resource will involve a lot of spectrum harmonisation and re-farming work.

Even if the 5G spectrum has been vacated, deploying the new infrastructure will require yet another massive investment. And it is not only about installing new equipment on the existing towers. The radio waves at 3.5 GHz, not even talking about 28 GHz, have sufficiently lower penetration from outside into the glass-and-concrete structures common in the Middle East’s biggest cities. To tackle this problem, besides the other measures, it is being proposed to increase the density of the infrastructure physical placement and install so-called “small cells” every few hundred meters or so. Some of the operators express doubts that it might be cost-prohibitive as they are not only looking at installation and equipment expenses, but also additional costs associated with backhauls, operations and maintenance costs.

Schlosser, Equinix: 5G will make even more room for all the internet-connected devices in our day-to-day life, further strengthening the IoT trend. However, to prepare and keep up with this trend, businesses would need to do is develop a data architecture for collecting, storing and processing all the IoT data – either in on-premises equipment, in the cloud, or both. It would be then necessary to interconnect all sources of data (IoT and other) using high throughput, low-latency connections for a faster response time in receiving, processing and analysing the data.

Benson, Juniper Networks: First, 5G, like LTE-A, achieves higher throughput with more coordination between base stations in the radio layer. To deliver LTE-A, and 5G, the IP networks need to be upgraded to support Phase timing, something that Juniper’s products can already address, as well as the dense 10G/100G capacity uplift needed for 5G.

Secondly, low latency applications require edge computing. 3GPP does not specify edge computing, this is done by ETSI ISG MEC, within which Juniper is active. Operators need to examine their networks and allow for the re-engineering of the pre-aggregation sites to deliver edge computing capability, automated with SDN/NFV for operational efficiency, if low latency applications, such as those needed by the automotive industry are to be delivered.

CommsMEA: How long would be the wait for the commercialisation of 5G?

BinShakar, du: The first 5G standard will be confirmed in Q1 2018 and will be followed by the first commercial launch by the end of 2018. Eventually, we expect the network to be fully rolled out in the following five years.

We cannot wait until the technology is available and then simply switch it on – we need to prepare for it from today, and at du we have put together a roadmap including the different steps necessary towards 5G including massive MIMO, news site deployment models, LTE evolution, NFV/SDN and network slicing etc.

Zein, Strategy&: Most operators are following a phased approach towards 5G, mainly driven by the extensive set of potential use cases and their potential for success. In early phases, some focused use cases might be applied for certain corporate applications or large scale events. That said, large scale commercialisation wouldn’t be realised until the support ecosystem of services and devices matures which is encouraged by the stability of standards.

For LTE, the timeline for commercialisation of devices was almost 12 months after freezing a release. As such, the expectation is that the large scale commercialisation of 5G would start post 2020.

Amer, Cisco: Commercial deployments for 5G are expected to launch in 2020 and to be available in every major global mobile market by 2021.

Koynov, InfiNet Wireless: In my opinion, it will probably start in a couple of years from now and most of the roll-outs will take place in next three to five years.

CommsMEA: What would be the biggest breakthrough of 5G in your opinion?

BinShakar, du: I believe that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will be one of the main apps of the 5G era. The technology of 5G will be revolutionary as 4G started with 150Mbps speed per second and then it was enhanced to 300Mbps and it will keep evolving closer to 1Gbps by 2019.

However, 5G will start from 1GB per second and will go up to 5GB in phase 1 and then evolve even further in later stages. 5G will accomplish super high speed, low latency communication and massive machine-to-machine type communication in the UAE.

The 5G world will be super-connected, with homes, cars and other gadgets all syncing together.

Zein, Strategy&: 5G is expected to provide a breakthrough in digital experience. Not only would 5G fast track the adoption of digitisation of existing services as other technologies, but 5G would facilitate the introduction of new digital services that were not possible through current technologies the likes of new in-vehicle infotainment features, remote health care and others.

Koynov, InfiNet Wireless: Diversity in a sense of the spectrum utilisation and new applications would be the biggest breakthrough.

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