Why 5G is more than a wireless upgrade

Friday, March 23, 2018

While 5G sounds great on paper with enhanced capacity, opening up many new opportunities, somebody has to pay for that. For that reason coming up with use cases for 5G has become a priority.

However, for telecommunications networking equipment and software supplier Ciena, the use cases will come by themselves as network capacity is upgraded. What is important for operators will be the ability to quickly adapt their networks to suit those new cases and increased traffic, when it comes.

For more on 5G, BNamericas spoke to Brian Lavallée, senior director of portfolio marketing for Ciena's Packet and Submarine networking solutions.

BNamericas5G is coming but there is a lot of talk in the industry about the chicken or egg syndrome, that we need to see the uses and an indication of return on investment first to justify the investment in 5G.

Lavallée: Use cases are key as a lot of investment will be required to sustain it. We see 5G as a destination but at the moment we are focusing more on the journey. The vast majority of subscribers in the next 4-5 years will be on 4G networks. 5G will be deployed in certain locations where 4G performance doesn't or can't handle the use case. The two technologies will coexist for the next 5-10 years. Our strategy is to provide the wireline solution that connects 2G, 3G, 4G mobile networks together over a common, smarter, wireline network.

Regarding the use cases, the apps will come. If you give software developers 10 times less latency and 10 times more bandwidth, they'll find ways to monetize this. It's not up to the operators to find the use cases, the free market will find them.

Twenty years ago you couldn't have imagined what you can do today with your cellphone. We don't know what we don't know. But we know that every time we give people better performance and more bandwidth, they consume it. I don't think that will change.

BNamericas: What are the advantages of 5G?

Lavallée: The big difference with 5G is not so much the bandwidth but the latency, 5-10 times less latency. That opens up a whole new bunch of applications: connected cars, remote robotics. New apps that today you cannot do.

BNamericas: How close are we to 5G?

Lavallée: The new radio standard was approved in November. This is the kick off of the arms race. It is the pivotal moment in the industry. No longer are we talking hype and marketing and 4.5G, it is 5G now. It is standard based wireless communication.

The other part is the use cases, how do you justify 5G. Some use cases can be done over the 4G network with LTE-A and LTE-A Pro enhancements. As capacity goes up to 2-3Gbps, 4G will still be sufficient for many use cases that were originally touted for 5G.

BNamericas: One thinks of 5G as a wireless technology, but fiber and other backhaul will be key.

Lavallée: Our tagline is 5G is more than a wireless upgrade. People forget that once you hit the radio you jump onto a fiber network. And typically if you're on a smartphone, you're streaming video or some content or application, and that is coming out of a data center. That is the packet optical networks we make.

BNamericas: 5G will also give operators much more control over their networks to adapt quickly to unforeseen, or planned, traffic hikes as well as segregate their networks. What is Ciena offering to help operators prepare their infrastructure for 5G?

Lavallée: With 5G we start to talk about the programmability of the underlying network; network intelligence, analytics and basically listening to your network. The network will know best what is going on with itself and provide actionable insights. For instance, if part of the network starts to show errors it may suggest rerouting traffic to a safer path. The network will have the intelligence to predict failures before they occur.

If you think of a traffic analogy on a highway, some highways are jammed to the max while some side roads are completely empty. Networks work like that as well. You have some links running at 90% and 30% of your network has almost nothing running on it. So through network intelligence you can make more efficient use of your networks, a bit like the Waze traffic app.

This also means you don't have to buy as much network capacity because you're using what you have in a smarter way.

The other advantage is scalability. The old 4G network was designed for humans, for smartphones. 5G will be designed for billions of things. Nobody really knows how big it will be.

Networks are getting bigger and more complex. The only way you can manage all that complexity is by having a smarter network and automating some of the tasks.

We give operators the option to automate as much as they want from something small and mundane as turning on a service to automating the whole network.

While today, telcos offload a lot of mobile traffic onto Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi is not very mobile. I think that if MNOs can get the cost of data plans down, Wi-Fi will eventually disappear.

About Brian Lavallée

Brian Lavallée is the senior director of portfolio marketing with global responsibility for Ciena's Packet and Submarine networking solutions. Lavallée has over 20 years of telecommunications experience with past roles in product line management, systems engineering, research & development, and manufacturing. During his career, he has worked in various areas of optical networking including access, metro, regional, long-haul and submarine networks. He holds a bachelor of electrical engineering degree from Concordia University and an MBA in marketing from McGill University, both located in Montréal, Canada.