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Is 5G on a train to nowhere?

Just this week, I was on a train from Frankfurt to Nuremburg in Germany attempting in vain to get some work done. The issue I had is that, as there was no Wi-Fi available on-board, I was having to rely on the mobile phone network to remain connected. My frustration grew as my phone constantly flittered between 4G, 3G and 2G, causing emails not to sync correctly and an increasing amount of important messages becoming stuck in my outbox, as well as troubles with web browsing.   

What this experience all too frustratingly illustrated is that the industry has yet to fully implement a working and stable 4G experience for users, which begs the question: shouldn’t operators ensure 4G works sufficiently before turning their attention to the much mooted 5G?

Data heavy applications

Truth is, that the evolution through 2G to 4G has prompted rapidly increasing use of services and applications that are data heavy, and the industry has struggled to keep apace. Many other data-intensive applications – both consumer-oriented and business-to-business – are also on the verge of emerging. Examples include virtual and augmented reality, 3D and ultra-HD video.   

The telecoms industry is at an early stage in the development of 5G, yet there is already a lot of talk about 5G being the next big thing in the telco world. Media commentators and industry experts alike are making bold predictions about how the move to 5G is necessary to facilitate the explosive increase in demand for wireless broadband services needing faster, higher-capacity networks that can deliver video and other content-rich services. As is the fact that 5G can support the vast number of Internet of Things (IoT) networks due to the conception that it allows a greater volume of connections than current 4G networks. This is certainly a key driving factor; after all, Gartner estimates that the amount of connected IoT devices will reach 26 billion by 2020.   

Looking to the future

The European Union has promised that by 2020 every European city, town and village will be connected with free wireless internet and will fully deploy 5G networks by 2025. The expectation is that 5G will increase bandwidth and download speeds, with trials currently being held to see what can be delivered to handsets. However, these trials show what can be achieved in the perfect scenario and never truly reflect what can happen in reality.   

It is important for the industry to be cautious. Whilst 5G is theoretically 40 times faster than the hypothetical limit of 4G, for it to fulfil its claims it will take a great deal of upgraded infrastructure, not least of which to the masts themselves. This is because 5G needs to run in a rough line-of-sight, so in built up, heavily populated areas, experts are suggesting that masts will be required every 100 metres or so. 

A change in diameter

As and when 5G makes its arrival, operators will need to ensure they have an effective Stream Control Transmission Protocol (SCTP) solution in place for Diameter signalling. As implementations begin to roll out, the growth of Diameter will continue to accelerate so the need for a good transport layer should be a priority for operators. If operators aren’t prepared they could face not being able to carry the huge levels of traffic required by the host application to any and all of its possible destinations.   

The solution they adopt should be specifically designed to meet the demands of today’s LTE networks, IoT, M2M and tomorrow’s 5G networks. Authentication chunks designated in RFC 4895 secure SCTP-based associations from packet injection, hijacking or accidental disconnection. Operators will require this to secure millions of simultaneous associations in order to meet the challenges posed to the network by malicious intent. Capacity must also be front of mind and operators should implement an SCTP solution that supports the tens of thousands of simultaneous associations that 5G will bring, for maximum connectivity, as well as secure authentication.    

There’s a lot of talk about 5G networks being heterogeneous networks, in that they will involve multiple nodes and a unified air interface tailored to the needs of specific applications. A major feature of 5G will be network slicing. Dynamic network slicing will enable the design, deployment, customisation, and optimisation of different network slices running on a common network infrastructure. It will leverage innovations in cloud mobile access and the core, as well as capitalising on the capabilities of software-defined networking (SDN), network function virtualisation (NFV), end-to-end orchestration, network applications, and analytics. 

Is the hype justified?

We have all experienced issues with the current 3G and 4G networks. The industry hasn’t fully utilised the technology yet, so the move to 5G isn’t necessarily going to be a smooth as some might think. It is, therefore, vital that service providers have the right tools in place for 5G to be successfully implemented. If we’re to believe that every European town, city and village will deploy 5G networks by 2025, then operators will have their work cut out to provide a high level of service that end users to have come to expect in recent years.

Robin Kent, director of European operations at Adax (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/Toria

Robin Kent is the Director of European Operations at Adax Europe Ltd.