Arun Bansal, head of Ericsson’s Radio business unit, set the tone at London’s 5G World conference today, with a keynote address entitled ‘5G moves out of the labs and into the neighborhood’. His theme was echoed time and again by operators and vendors – with less than four years until initial deployments, it is time to start thinking urgently about the practical realities of 5G, and give the platform a route out of the labs.
Even more importantly, since most operators will not be joining SK Telecom in deploying in 2018, there needs to be a pragmatic series of steps to ensure that current 4G expansion has a smooth migration path to 5G, whenever the time is right for the individual carrier. Another 5G World speaker, NTT Docomo’s VP of 5G, Takehiro Nakamura, said that his company will require at least a decade of 4G evolution, with tight integration between the two technologies as well as others in unlicensed spectrum.
These are the requirements addressed by the Small Cell Forum’s Release 7, also launched on Wednesday. It provides a technical and commercial blueprint for deploying HetNets and SON (self-optimizing networks) now, while also ensuring a migration path to 5G as those standards evolve.
“The mobile industry is awash with 5G predictions and roadmaps, but what operators need urgently is a clear and pragmatic process to enhance their current platforms, and prepare the groundwork for the next generation,” said the Forum’s chair, Alan Law.
Of course, not all the technology elements are known yet, but they are becoming clearer – the day before the show opened, the 3GPP laid out its timetable of key steps, on the way to freezing the first wave of 5G standards in 2018. And it is widely accepted that the 5G network will be heavily focused on small cells – the next generation of services will demand even greater levels of densification and efficiency than current HetNets are targeting.
One of the most discussed aspects of 5G is the use of millimeter wave spectrum, whose combination of low range and high capacity will only work well with small cells. The 3GPP said its first standards would include those for bands above 6 GHz (some had expected those specifications to wait for a second wave), and many of the speakers in London talked about the need to harness dense deployments in high frequencies, to have any hope of meeting the capacity demands of the next decade.
Nakamura warned that decisions on new 5G spectrum need to be taken this year to support the early adopters like Docomo, and pointed in particular to 28 GHz (which is being targeted for 5G in the US), but also to 3.4 GHz-3.8 GHz, part of which is already being used for 4G small cells.
The ability to use multiple sources of licensed and unlicensed spectrum in 4G, with a sufficiently flexible architecture to adapt to others in future, is one key topic addressed in Release 7’s extensive list of documents. These provide technical and commercial guidelines and best practice, adding up to a complete blueprint for HetNet deployment. The Forum’s description of a HetNet applies equally well to 4G or 5G – a “multi-x environment – multi-technology, multi-domain, multi-spectrum, multi-operator and multi-vendor”.
As 5G does start to become real, with small cells at its heart, the Forum’s members will be an invaluable source of knowledge for the wider industry – over 14m small cells have been deployed to date and roll-out is accelerating with enterprise and urban densification. These, in turn, introduce new approaches, such as virtualization, Mobile Edge Computing and neutral host platforms, which are addressed in Release 7 and will be key elements of 5G.
You can download all the documents contained in Release 7 for free here>>