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Advancing Wireless Network Connectivity for 5G

The yet-to-be-standardized 5G wireless technology has many hopes and promises associated with it, including delivering up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) of throughput per user—a data rate more than 10-times faster than 4G/LTE networks. Being able to deliver such major gains in network speed is just part of the 5G vision. The Internet of Things concept envisions a massive amount of machines—parking meters, vending machines and other devices—connecting wirelessly to the cloud to improve their capabilities. Autonomous driving and virtual reality applications also fill out the 5G vision. Like all of the ‘Gs’ that have preceded it, an essential step to defining and rolling out 5G will be ensuring that it can accommodate mobile broadband growth, i.e. the amount of wireless traffic that continues to increase.

 How to achieve all these ambitious goals has yet to be determined. It is being worked out in 5G labs, trials and consortiums around the globe, such as the  Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research, or PAWR, in the U.S. CommScope is proud to be a partner in the US Ignite community, contributing our wireless network solutions and expertise to the group’s 5G test beds. These platforms will enable the testing and developing of advanced wireless technology ideas for future innovations in 5G and beyond.

 If 5G is really going to deliver super-fast speeds, wireless networks will require more base stations in a given area—increasing the density of the network itself. Such “densification,” as it is known in the industry, adds complexity to the network because it increases the number of cell borders, where interference becomes a problem and handoffs introduce the possibility of dropped connections. In a 5G world, networks will need to depend on intelligent, automatic allocation of wireless spectrum to maintain quality as well as speed. Mobile network operators (MNOs) will need to virtualize much of their 5G infrastructure to effectively manage spectrum—and efficiently manage costs.

 Several solutions and practices already exist to make this migration practical, including centralized radio access networks, which will be the precursor to cloud radio access networks (both known as C-RAN). Centralized RAN involves moving baseband processing units (BBUs) from cell sites to a central location serving a wide area via fronthaul. This practice not only reduces the amount of equipment at the cell site, but also lowers latency. In the coming evolution to cloud radio access networks, many BBU functions will be offloaded to commercial servers, essentially virtualizing parts of the radio and greatly simplifying network management.

 Network function virtualization (NFV) guides the development of new core network architectures that will simplify the rollout of new services. Cell virtualization extends the concept of virtualization beyond the core network to much of the RAN. Inside buildings, cell virtualization will enable MNOs to manage multiple radio points within the footprint of a single cell, boosting capacity and eliminating inter-cell interference. C-RAN-enabled cell virtualization also gives operators the ability to greatly increase spectrum reuse—hence, boosting overall efficiency.

 To service Internet of Things (IoT) use cases for 5G such as augmented driving and the tactile Internet, cloud-computing capabilities are needed at the edge of the mobile network. Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) architecture is being integrated into the 5G vision. MEC involves many smaller data centers distributed closer to the cell sites, forming an edge cloud where intelligence can be placed closer to devices and machines. MNOs will need the ability to turn up data centers in a short amount of time with high-density, high-speed solutions that are easy to install and quick to deploy.

 As always, MNOs need to design and deploy network equipment for optimal performance. On a general level, this means increased efficiency throughout the converged network—from spectrum efficiency to implementation of virtualized load-balancing, and from space-efficient small cells to energy-efficient backhaul. Achieving the 5G vision is going to take a lot of work, but CommScope looks forward to sorting it out with the US Ignite community.

About the Author

Kevin Linehan, Vice President, Office of Chief Technology Officer

 Kevin Linehan is vice president in the office of Chief Technology Officer for CommScope. Kevin’s responsibilities include the monitoring of industry trends, technologies and standards as they relate to wireless technology and product development. Kevin is also responsible for the scouting, evaluation and introduction of emerging antenna systems technologies through collaborative innovation and strategic alliances.

 Prior to assuming a strategic role at CommScope, his responsibilities have included management and design positions for base station antennas, terrestrial microwave antennas and earth station antennas.

 He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where he was a research assistant in the Electromagnetics Research Laboratory. He holds six patents for antenna design in the United States.