Fragmentation will only be averted if many alliances find common ground
The success of the mobile industry has been built on global standards, and these will be even more vital to the economics of 5G because of the huge numbers of elements involved. Many millions of small cells, and billions of devices, will need to interoperate to support rising mobile usage and a variety of new use cases. This will involve the work of many industry groups and standards bodies, and many of these will be cooperating to accelerate progress, at Small Cell Forum’s first ever Partners’ Day, in Atlanta, Georgia on July 26.
The Forum has a key role to play in ensuring that tomorrow’s dense networks are open to every kind of device, and that operators can integrate cells from any supplier. It has a strong track record here – it has initiated or contributed to several standards, including the Iuh and FAPI interfaces, which allow small cells and controllers from different suppliers to work together.
But as small cells become part of the mobile network mainstream, they will need to interwork with a far wider variety of equipment and devices, and to do this within emerging architectures, including virtualized RANs or cloud-based technologies like Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC).
That means SCF’s remit is expanding into areas where other organizations are already doing valuable work. To address the challenges in the most timely fashion, and keep pace with the operators’ urgent demand for new platforms, it makes sense for all these groups to cooperate on a shared, wide-ranging and harmonized approach to standards, which will avoid overlapping efforts.
Modern standards are being initiated in many different ways – by traditional standards bodies, represented here by 3GPP and ETSI’s MEC ISG; and by open source efforts, such as ONAP and ETSI NFV. The Partners’ Day will kick off an expanded framework for cooperation, building on the work SCF has been doing for many years with a wide range of important groups
Specific topics during this session will include standards support for densification, led by 3GPP; and cloud & edge computing, with ETSI MEC; while ETSI NFV will focus on plugfests for interoperability testing, especially in SON, and on the challenges of open source testing.
Forum members will get a unique opportunity to hear these organizations provide updates on their progress and roadmaps towards full interoperability in a world of dense HetNets and new virtualized architectures – one in which any technology deployed now must also provide forwards compatibility with 5G.
There will be in-depth discussions to identify shared priorities and to agree on areas of shared effort, in order to avoid fragmentation of standards and smooth the path to a harmonized architecture for small cells and the whole network.
Among the specific topics will be ensuring interoperability in virtualized, cloud and edge computing environments; as well as a deep focus on self-optimizing networks (SON), which will be essential to make dense HetNets automated and flexible, but will also need to interoperate across every area of the RAN.
And a diversity of industry alliances will ensure that the work reflects the interests and priorities of as many stakeholders as possible. Also taking part in the the Atlanta event will be CBRS Alliance, CTIA, GSMA, NGMN, TIA and xRAN.
The ideas and conclusions from the Partners’ Day will be taken up, on the following day, by SCF’s workgroups, and fed into the enriched work program for 2017-18. In particular, the discussions around standards will be highly valuable for informing the work of the Technology and IOP workgroups, as they work on the specifications and the plugfests which will turn the vision of a harmonized HetNet framework into a practical reality for every operator.