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What are the biggest challenges for 5G radio access networks?


The process of defining the next generation of wireless networks is now well underway and the development of 5G technologies have been stepped up a gear by network providers around the globe. But what is the current state of play and what will be the biggest challenges for 5G radio access networks to succeed in their ambition?

Standardisation

Each generation of wireless networks follow a set of universal standards that are set out to ensure that new technologies are produced in a safe and reliable way, but that they also have governmental backing and support.

However, many would argue that the most important thing that the next set of wireless standards addresses is interoperability; the ability for differently manufactured devices to work together.

With a huge range of products from a mix of different industries set to become connected, operators will need to define and manage many new commercial arrangements and pricing structures that ensure support across the board. In many cases, this could include the need for rival operators to come together and look at network sharing services.

Spectrum Availability

As the global vision for 5G begins to be debated, researched and tested (before eventually being standardised), one of the key things that will need to be assessed is the network and spectrum requirements for it to be made possible.

Limited spectrum availability is a big issue in the development of 5G. The bandwidths requirements of 5G mean higher frequency spectrum will be fundamental in delivering high speed, high quality connectivity.

It is widely accepted that 5G will require spectrum in bands higher than 28GHz – also known as millimetre wave. That’s because the physical properties of these higher frequency waves mean the capacity and potential bandwidth is far greater, however, the maximum distance of the wave is far shorter than waves of much lower frequency.

The 28GHz band is considered as the only band that can distribute ultra-wide bandwidth with over 800MHz to two to three mobile network providers, allowing them to provide ultra-fast mobile network with more than 20Gbps which is one of the conditions of 5G technologies.

A key difference29/03/17 between 5G and earlier generations of mobile technology is that the focus of research is on finding the best techniques to improve spectrum utilisation, rather than on improving the spectrum efficiency. In other words, the bits per hertz per unit area, rather than just bits per hertz.

Proposed tech to improve spectrum availability includes:

  • Massive MIMO
  • Super-dense meshed cells
  • Macro-assisted small cells (‘phantom cells’)

Transport Network Capacity

5G is set to provide access to information and sharing of data anywhere and at any time to anyone and anything. This will give rise to a truly ‘Networked Society’. However, as 5G radio-access technologies develop, transport networks will need to adapt to a new and challenging network landscape.

Because the expectations for 5G include support for a massive range of services such as IoT (internet of things), industrial applications and highly scalable video-distribution, a new radio access model will need to be developed to manage all of this.

The level of flexibility that is required in the transport network is dependent on how the 5G radio is deployed and it will need to be able to reach very high levels of capacity.

Some of the technologies that are currently being developed and evolved to tackle this significant increase in capacity requirements include:

  • Small cells
  • MU MIMO (multi-user MIMO)
  • Beamforming

A long road ahead

These are just a few challenges as we move forward in the development of 5G and there will be problems that haven’t yet been realised. These will need to be solved before we begin to experience the true benefits of the next generation of wireless networks. But, as with all technologies, without facing challenges and the working hard together to solve those challenges, we wouldn’t have driven the innovations that make up so much of today’s telecoms network infrastructure.

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