What Happens along the Road to 5G?

Impact to Network Architecture and Systems may begin with 4G Optimization, HetNets and MEC

What Happens along the Road to 5G ?

Fifth Generation (5G) is anticipated to impact many aspects of telecom Network Architecture and Systems.  There are many things to consider along the road to 5G including 4G Optimization and supporting technologies such as HetNets and MEC.

4G Technology Optimization

The vision for 5G is always-on, high-bandwidth, low latency, and massive networks in terms of number of antennas and other infrastructure.  However, there is still much to be done with 4G technologies as they will persist and add value to carriers and end-users for many years to come, even after 5G is fully operational commercially in the post 2020 timeframe.


Along the Road to 5G

Infrastructure, handset, and content vendors are working diligently to  ensure that 4G investment.  For example, Nokia has efforts underway to make improvements to improve uplink capabilities by combining multiple bands. This will let carriers reach uplink speeds up to 150Mbps, which will substantially help certain services such as Cloud-based back-up and end-user video upload/sharing.

Heterogeneous Networks

Heterogeneous Networks (HetNets) represent a decoupling of both control plane and user plane.  It is a mobile network created and operated based on a combination of Macro Cells, various different types of Small Cells, and a set of supporting hardware and software applications to make them seamlessly work together in unison to provide a true mobile broadband experience for the subscribers.

It is widely recognized that HetNets will be critical to the success of 5G.  There are roughly 200K cells in the United States currently.  Deployment of improved antenna technologies and enhancements to signal processing will not be enough for necessary 5G coverage.

The number of cells will need to increase by an order of magnitude to effectively support fifth generation cellular.  Mind Commerce anticipates many innovative approaches including the use of aerial drones or UAV for coverage.   By way of example, Nokia’s F-Cell is an experimental LTE small cell deployment.

However, must cells will be terrestrial in nature, so there will be a need for innovative business arrangements with both municipalities and business owners for placement of antennas on various structures so as electrical/light poles, signs, billboards, road and railway infrastructure.

Mobile Edge Computing

Another major innovation area for 5G will be in the area of Mobile Edge Computing (MEC), which represents technologies and solutions that enable edge infrastructure to run in an isolated environment from the network as a whole, facilitating access to local resources and data on a real-time basis.

In addition to the capacity benefits of processing at the edge, MEC will also enable context-based services and those that leverage Telecom Presence and Location.  This will be important for a variety of applications, services, and capabilities including real-time data processing and edge analytics necessary for optimizing IoT Data Management and Analytics.

Other areas that will benefit from MEC include mobile-to-cloud (and vice versa) apps of all types as a centralized cloud infrastructure is optimized for storage/archiving and non-real-time applications whereas the edge is reserved for real-time processing.  Obvious beneficiaries include video applications of all types.  The employment of Big Data technologies and real-time analytics will be important for solutions ranging from law enforcement, homeland security, and other Public Safety Technology areas.

While 5G is poised to provide substantial capacity gains, MEC is anticipated to deliver significant usable capability gains as processing is moved to the edge of wireless networks.

MEC reduces wasted capacity as it enables networks to transfer only the data that is required to centralized resources (cloud-based or otherwise) and also not rely on those same centralized resources for decision making.  Providing usable capacity is important in its own right, and clearly pre-5G networks will benefit from MEC as well.


Roadmap to 5G: Evolution of 4G, 5G Architecture, Network Strategy and Planning investigates the evolution of wireless networks towards 5G including architecture, network strategy, and planning.

The report evaluates R&D efforts from major infrastructure providers including the so called fractional versions of 4G such as 4.5G, 4.5G Pro, and 4.9G.

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