The road to 5G – leaving no stone unturned

No sooner are European operators breathing a sigh of relief after finding their groove with LTE deployment, 5G starts looming large on the horizon.

Guest author

August 4, 2016

5 Min Read
The road to 5G – leaving no stone unturned periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Kashif Hussain, CellAdvisor Solutions Marketing at Viavi Solutions looks at 5G, and how operators can learn from past mistakes to get the network fit for purpose.

No sooner are European operators breathing a sigh of relief after finding their groove with LTE deployment, 5G starts looming large on the horizon. Recently Lord Adonis, the head of the National Infrastructure Council in Britain, said the country faced an ‘enormous challenge’ in preparing for the introduction of new 5G networks. I would argue it’s not just the UK that needs to think carefully about next generation networks, whatever 5G finally evolves into. This is a European-wide issue for operators.

The consensus is the deployment of 4G could have been handled better. Where Europe led the world around the ‘2G era’, it has unquestionably fallen behind North America and arguably Asia. The reasons for this are numerous. Operators will argue competition is fiercer in Europe, regulation is tighter, and as a result, cash to support major investments is less readily available. Regardless of what the main reason is, the fact remains that Europe has to get the deployment of 5G right.

Meeting spiralling expectations

Adding to the workload for operators, the European Union is already piling on the pressure to deliver a next generation network. In a briefing paper released earlier this year, the EU forecast 5G will need to increase wireless capacity by 1,000 times, connect 20 billion people-oriented devices, connect one trillion objects in the Internet of Things, and make a 90% energy consumption saving. That’s no small task.

Within that context and because of the desire to put right what went wrong for 4G, every aspect of future networks are now being scrutinised. If operators are going to deliver what consumers, businesses and governments are expecting, and deliver it without crippling costs and delays, then critical parts of the network infrastructure must be placed under a microscope and examined.

Fibre to the antenna: cost efficiencies, leaner processes and QoE improvements

One of the main areas for inspection is the network infrastructure operators adopt, notably the installations that require continual care and attention. Already we are seeing fibre to the antenna cell sites make their presence felt – they have proven hugely popular in the U.S. These new installations fundamentally change the base station model. Instead of a component approach where an antenna is connected to a base band unit via coaxial connection, this new breed of cell sites uses a distributed architecture approach. Putting in place a remote radio head, they use a fibre feed to sync with the base band unit.

The older base stations using the coaxial connection always experienced a degradation of signal and maintaining and testing them is a costly exercise. These new cell sites start to tackle that problem and offer operators a range of advantages current installations can’t. The main benefit is the time it now takes to run a series of tests. The volume of the testing that can take place is far higher with testing via a fibre connection. If there is a fault in the fibre, it can now be detected to within centimetres of where the fault lies. This makes the process of stripping out the problem much easier to manage and fix. This all means the amount of time and therefore cost that needs to be dedicated to one site can be dramatically reduced. It makes the entire process far leaner than it has been in the past.

One of the other added bonuses of using a fibre connection is that dirty fibre can be identified faster. Dirty fibre is where particles end up on the fibre optic connector endfaces and start to hamper performance. In a study going as far back as 2001, a survey found contaminated fibre end-faces were the leading cause of fibre link failure, representing 85 per cent of failures. With traditional base station configurations and testing protocols, identifying and solving the issue can be difficult. Finding a way to employ a systematic proactive inspection of the fibre can help to prevent service degradation, but currently this would require a massive investment of time and resource to maintain.

It’s another conundrum for operators. They know they need to carry out this maintenance, but justifying the overall investment is difficult. It’s why more often than not, operators end up performing reactive rather than proactive performance testing on base stations.

An important piece of the 5G jigsaw

Network infrastructure is an enormous part of the self-analysis operators face on the path to 5G. Doing a deep dive into every area of network management will be key to keeping costs down as operators start putting the pieces of the 5G jigsaw together.

Unless new approaches, new ways of working, new models for deployment, and different technology is adopted, it could be disastrous for European operators. Repeat the mistakes of the previous generation and the pressure is going to be ratcheted up to new levels. Whilst the expectation will be sky-high as ever, the reality will inevitably fall short. However, it is not all doom and gloom. If the right technology is introduced, operators will have far more control over their networks. Continual issues like dirty fibre can be combatted more easily. Instead of always being on the back foot and reacting to faults, operators can begin to be proactive and start to harness the information available to them.

The trick for operators now is to take a measured approach, shrewdly select the components that are going to make up the next generation of infrastructure, and demand that each of these cogs in the larger wheel delivers more bang for its buck. By doing so, operators will be able to sidestep the growing pains experienced with 4G and have more control over networks they are operating.

Kashif-Hussain-150x150.jpgKashif Hussain is the CellAdvisor Solutions Marketing Manager at Viavi Solutions (formerly JDSU) for the wireless business unit. He has more than 20 years of wireless industry experience. Kashif’s expertise in RF, DAS, HetNets, and LTE comes from developing, managing, supporting, marketing and consulting on major mobile communications projects. Kashif’s industry experience also includes various senior roles at MobileNet, Tektronix Communications, Ericsson and Nortel. He has also authored patent for wireless products.


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