PARTNER FEATURE: 5G is set to open a range of new opportunities for operators, enabling them to build businesses beyond the core voice and data propositions offered today. But in order to do this, the way that networks are built will need to change, to deliver different capabilities for different applications with different requirements, quickly and easily.

Networks need to become more application-centric. The challenge is how to construct infrastructure that can enable a whole catalogue of use cases, without making it so complicated that introducing and operating new services becomes time-consuming and expensive.

At Global Mobile Broadband Forum 2017 in London, Edward Deng, president of Huawei Wireless Solution, said operators will need to build their networks around three key attributes: powerful network capabilities, an agile and flexible architecture, and intelligent network management.

Network attributes
Next generation mobile networks will need powerful capabilities around coverage, capacity and latency, in order to meet the different requirements of specific applications. For example, while applications in areas such as healthcare, entertainment and manufacturing will require low latency, applications in agriculture will require broad coverage of high-quality networks – and some, such as automotive, will require both.

“The extreme user experience and new industrial applications require more powerful network capabilities and must have more dimensions. From 4G to 4.5G to 5G, multi-dimensional network capabilities must keep improving to support increasing service requirements,” Deng said.

Huawei is addressing this using its 5G Era SingleRAN, building on its existing abilities to support different network technologies such as 2G, 3G and 4G using a single platform. “5G Era SingleRAN can maximise the value of existing networks and promote a smooth evolution to 5G,” he continued.

Next up is an agile architecture. “Today, you ask a mobile operator if they will want to launch voice over LTE, how many days preparation they will need. They may say ‘I need a half year or one year’ to make sure from marketing to network planning to service or customer experience delivery, all the teams, end to end, will be ready. That kind of period cannot really facilitate future applications,” Deng said.

“Networks must be flexible and agile enough to support diversity, and at the same time shorten time to market to help operators seize business opportunities,” he observed.

At last year’s Global Mobile Broadband Forum in Tokyo, Huawei debuted its Mobile Cloud portfolio, including CloudEdge, CloudAIR and CloudRAN. “Mobile Cloud can maximise the value of operator assets to enable efficient resource utilisation, on-demand deployment and agile service provisioning. This solution allows operators to build mobile networks for all industries,” Deng said.

More than 120 commercial contracts have already been signed for CloudEdge, with deployment in 30 networks already, and CloudRAN has gone through tests with several top-tier operators ready for full commercial deployment next year – in line with the start of 5G rollouts.

CloudAIR 2.0 improves spectrum sharing efficiency, with LTE and 5G NR able to share spectrum in both time and frequency domains, to offer more flexibility and enable a higher proportion of resource sharing. Huawei expects that next year, more than 100 operators will be using the technology.

“Moving from refarming mode to sharing mode is a milestone in the mobile industry,” Deng said.

Third is intelligent network management. Due to the complexity of next-generation mobile networks, traditional methods and tools will struggle to meet new business requirements. Increased operating costs will increase the total cost of ownership of infrastructure, making it more difficult to generate a return-on-investment at a point when business models are still not set in stone.

Deng touted the concept of “wireless intelligence” to enable automatic and smart network operations and management, to improve performance and enable new capabilities.

With networks running hundreds of different applications, with a whole set of requirements associated with each, management becomes a real challenge. And because many new services will come with tight margins, cost control will be an important issue. As a result, simplifying and automating operations as much as possible will be critical for operators to succeed in the 5G world.

Machine learning and big data will be used to underpin this. “We believe wireless intelligence is an enabling technology, to enable network efficiency, to improve network performance,” Deng said.

Using machine learning, networks will be able to automatically select the best configuration to meet performance requirements and improve user experience, based on real-time and historic data. Networks will be able to understand real scenarios more accurately, and network resources can be used more efficiently.

Automated and simple operation is also key to enabling the widespread deployment of small cells, through self-configuration and self-awareness. Massive MIMO, another core 5G component, also comes with configuration headaches, and Huawei has already worked with SoftBank on an adaptive solution which can select the best parameters from nearly 300 options to achieve dynamic coverage based on user distribution and scenario.

“Our understanding of wireless intelligence is just starting. But we will step-up R&D investment to bring more innovation to our customers. I believe this intelligent brain will make our wireless networks smarter, more flexible, agile and efficient, and it will far exceed our expectations of the future,” Deng said.

As much as a new approach to mobile networks is needed to deliver on the promise of 5G, so is the ability to work with a wide range of customers from a number of industries in order to meet their specific needs. This is another reason having an agile architecture will be important: to enable third parties to bring their solutions to the mobile platform.

“A few years ago, when our customer mobile operators tried to make a decision on their supplier, they only looked into the capability of the product. We very much believe that for the coming years, when they choose their 5G partners, they also need to look into the capability of a vendor to have some kind of ecosystem, or the capability to work together with them to build the ecosystem,” Peter Zhou, CMO of Huawei’s wireless network product line, added.

Huawei is addressing this through its Wireless X Lab initiative, which is intended to bring together operators, technology providers and vertical industry players to jointly explore future use cases for mobile applications.

“We are looking at the mobile broadband industry not only from a technology perspective, but also from a business leadership point of view. We want to be open and work together with our customers and also the members of the industry to reshape the world,” he continued.

An example given was work with drone manufacturers, to ensure there is an interface between drones and the mobile network. At Global Mobile Broadband Forum, Huawei announced the Digital Sky Initiative, intended to drive development of drone applications and enable the low-airspace digitised economy via enhanced low airspace network coverage.

Wireless X Labs is also working in markets including telemedicine and smart manufacturing.