The Battle for 5G Moves Indoors

Automation could make it possible to dynamically change the network so it can adapt to the differing volumes of traffic and demand, across different locations.

Meeting the needs with automation

One of the problems of delivering coverage and capacity for buildings and complexes is that demand can change drastically. For dense urban environments, hot spots and indoor networks, there is a need to cater for peak usage. This is crucial in sports and entertainment stadiums, where usage may go from zero to 80,000 people very quickly—all on their phones trying to send pictures and videos at the same time.  A stadium of this size can generate higher levels of traffic than a city of a million people during major events. Yet it can also stand empty 90 percent of the time.  

In offices and shopping malls, data traffic will also have significant peaks and troughs in different locations at varying times. While networks currently have to be planned to cater for maximum fixed demand, anytime, anywhere, automation could make it possible to dynamically change the network so it can adapt to the differing volumes of traffic and demand, across different locations. And it’s not just people with their mobile devices. Networks will also have to adapt to demands from connected machines, systems and IoT devices to communicate.

This is where the introduction of AI-led automation, managed in the cloud, will come into its own. It will be possible to use the same tools, algorithms and network analysis used to plan and design wireless networks to monitor network traffic—and deliver a level of automation to provide optimized configurations in minutes.  

Networks doing it for the planet

A vital spin-off from this move to dynamic, self-optimizing networks is the reduction of power consumption. We estimate that in the future, 5G networks may consume up to 10 to 20 percent of the electricity supply in major cities around the world. In these increasingly climate-aware times, this is an important factor to consider. By changing the antenna tilt, power output and frequencies dynamically, cellular networks should automatically be able to adapt to the lowest level of use and therefore the least amount of energy consumption.

And there are other ways 5G can help save energy. One example is that networks could be designed to control Internet-connected thermostats on radiators by identifying people in a room and resetting the heat settings accordingly.

Openness, interoperability and spectrum liberation

2020 will also be the year of increasing interoperability and openness, led by the O-RAN Alliance. The alliance was created to evolve radio access networks and drive the move towards open interfaces, which is rapidly gaining more support and traction. Open interfaces are essential to reduce network deployment costs, enable multi-vendor deployments, stimulate innovation and enable smaller vendors and operators to be part of the growing new 5G ecosystem.

As well as increasing competition and reducing the dominance of the major equipment vendors, open RAN will encourage greater sharing of network infrastructure and equipment, which will in turn mean greater flexibility and reduced costs. The move is currently being driven by the major operators, but it will benefit the whole industry, along with the acceleration of 5G deployment. At the TIP (Telecom Infra Project) Summit in 2019, Vodafone announced it is putting its entire European footprint, comprising 100,000 mobile sites, up for a possible redesign based on O-RAN technology.

Another open and collaborative initiative expected to grow over the next 12 months is the coming together of operators to deliver both 4G and 5G in rural areas based on shared RAN agreements.  Meanwhile, regulators will also play a part in the liberation of more unlicensed spectrum and encourage more AI-enabled collaboration initiatives along with dynamic access and spectrum use.

While people have different views on the future of the cellular and wireless networking industry, the next few years and the decade ahead will certainly have a major impact on how we work and live our lives. It will provide the platform for technology innovation as we rely on an increasingly fully-connected, intelligent world—both indoors and out.


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