5G Networks: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities

05-Oct-2021 03:50 PM 5G

5G technology represents the next generation in the evolution of mobile communication standards for connecting devices, machines, businesses and people. Over the last two years, we have witnessed 5G technology deployments happening in a few developed markets around the globe. Developing countries, including India, are currently conducting 5G pilot trials before embarking on nation-wide deployments. Even though initial rollouts are primarily for delivering traditional mobile applications, 5G’s unique combination of ultra-low latency, carrier-class reliability, high scalability and ubiquitous coverage has the potential to drive a quantum jump in innovation across multiple vertical industries in the years to come.  

5G: From Humans to Things

5G delivers faster download and upload speeds as compared to previous technology generations. In fact, 5G will allow us to stream high-resolution videos without any jitter. Although initial 5G deployments are centered around use cases such as fixed wireless access (FWA) and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), the technology is designed to support novel use cases in other sectors such as manufacturing (Industrial IoT), automotive (V2X), logistics (platooning, drones) etc. These applications could either be instantiated as “network slices” or realized through dedicated private networks. The main features of 5G networks that make it an ideal fit for these emerging applications are:   

Ultra-low Latency:  5G supports concepts like multiple numerology (sub carrier frequencies), mini slots which helps to reduce physical link latency to address time- sensitive use cases. 
Carrier-class Reliability and QoS: 5G supports introduces new elements such as EN-DC and MR-DC where multiple physical layer connections can be aggregated to provide a more reliable air interface pipe to the users. It also enables creation of end-to-end slices with committed SLA requirements for end-users.
Easy Scalability and Ubiquitous coverage:  5G will be able to support more than a lakh connected devices per sq. km compared to 2-3 thousands per sq. km. under 4G/LTE. This is possible through 5G HetNet. 5G also supports the use of unlicensed spectrum in addition to licensed spectrum for backhaul as well as access.

Challenges for 5G deployment in India

5G is expected to have a transformative impact on the Indian economy. According to a steering committee chaired by Arogyaswami Paulraj, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University, the estimated cumulative impact of 5G on the Indian economy could touch the $1 trillion mark by 2035. In addition to providing ubiquitous connectivity, 5G can transform education, healthcare, agriculture in rural areas and build smart connected cities. There is a strong effort from India’s telecom standards organization (TSDSI) to implement eMBB in rural areas which if incentivized will enhance and improve mobile broadband connectivity in villages. The homegrown 5Gi standard developed by TSDSI holds great potential to enhance rural broadband connectivity using a new modulation scheme based on π/2-BPSK with spectral shaping. Private operators are planning several 5G trials in urban areas in the next 12 months to evaluate different use cases.  5G with massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) technology and advanced beamforming will help people in high-rise buildings to get high-speed connections, a major concern with LTE networks today. 

Multiple aspects need to be considered before deploying 5G networks. One key focus area will be finding high ROI (return on investment) applications that can be quickly launched by using a 5G underlay over existing 4G networks. Another aspect will be to minimize operational expenditure in 5G by reducing power consumption on account of higher MIMO, RU inventory challenges due to multi-band support, and increase in CU/DU space requirements due to larger bandwidth and user processing. Telecom operators (telcos) will have to do a judicious planning to ensure area traffic density is met without blowing up the network cost.  These commercial factors are critical for 5G’s success in low ARPU (average revenue per user) geographies. While building a new 5G network, operators also want to ensure that the network is future-proof. Telcos will have to figure out a means to migrate from the EPC/NSA mode to 5GC/SA mode. The end-to-end 5G design should have the ability to slice RAN, transport and core together for specific use cases. Positioning is another aspect that can provide a promising new revenue source for telcos where the positional information is more granular than existing mechanisms based on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). Governments across the globe may mandate the positioning aspects for improving emergency service delivery. Positioning requires an efficient network timing distribution mechanism spanning both RAN and transport. Timing based on GNSS may not always be feasible for small cells and may require timing distribution over PON backhaul.

Integrated Transport and RAN: 5G Panacea

5G will increase the capacity needs in both urban and rural areas. Telcos will need to modernize their network to provide high-performing 5G transport and RAN solutions with limited capital expenditure, unparalleled scalability and flexible network slicing features. At Tejas Networks, our focus is on building products that can enable a flexible and converged 5G network infrastructure consisting of optical transport and LTE/5G RAN. Our innovative Software-defined Hardware™ approach provides a unique convergence of multiple technologies in the same product: IP/MPLS for macro backhaul, xPON for small cell backhaul and 4G/5G for a reliable RAN. This industry-leading product in turn significantly reduces capital and operating expenditure for telecom operators. It also addresses the other two aspects of network slicing and positioning and is an ideal fit for upcoming 5G networks in India.

Ready for 5G and Beyond

India currently has almost all the pieces required to complete the 5G jigsaw puzzle. Indian system integrators, network equipment vendors, network infrastructure vendors and technology companies are developing new 5G use cases, systems and stacks to ensure that India has the capability to support end-to-end 5G deployment locally as well as across the globe.  As 5G evolves to 5G-Advanced and eventually to 6G by 2030, the country will have made significant advances in frontier technology areas such as Terahertz (THz) communications and Visible Light communications (VLC) and emerged as a global leader in telecommunications.

"The author, Jishnu A, is Principal Architect, CTO Office at Tejas Networks. This article was published in Communications Today."