Never before in the history of wireless that as ambitious a program as 5G was put in place. The scope of requirements far exceeds anything that came before it. Moreover, 5G comes at a time when mobile network operators are facing their toughest challenges as their financial performance demonstrates. Consolidation in the ecosystem is wide-spread at the semiconductor and equipment manufacturer level, while regulatory power is still holding in the face of greater carrier consolidation. 4G technology, LTE and its evolution, have proved hugely successful and still has much stamina to carry the industry for years to come. For such an ambitious technology as 5G to come at such a time begs the question: how to get to 5G? Continue reading
The 3GPP recently agreed to accelerated timelines 5G standard definition to bring in a new radio system in both non-standalone (LTE EPC core) and standalone (next generation core) architectures within Release 15 targeting June 2018 for completion of specifications.In the meantime, the ‘more mature’ version of 5G will come in Release 16 in conjunction with ITU specification for IMT-2020.
The accelerated standardization timeline pulls up the standalone deployment scenario (new radio and next-generation core) into Release 15. It answers to the pressure from a few network operators, especially those in US, Japan and Korea, to get on with 5G specifications whereas European operators are more inclined for letting the process takes its course. Moreover, the new timelines aims to prevent divergence and fragmentation of 5G at this early stage. For example, Verizon released its requirements for 5G last month (see http://www.5gtf.org/).
Considering the scope of targets set for 5G, fragmentation is a major risk that can only be compounded by the mandate of standard bodies such as 3GPP which specifies ‘what to do’ leaving much on ‘how to do’ subject to vendor implementation. 5G runs a risk of being a complex network of many parts that is only optimized within a certain vendor’s sphere leaving much desired in terms of interoperability and multi-vendor sourcing. It also runs the risk of having many interpretations of what 5G is. This is ironic since LTE managed to present a unified global technology and achieve rapid wide-scale adoption. On the other hand, 5G promises to defragment the market with different implementations of technology. From that sense, it would be more appropriate to refer to 5G as a framework for wireless networks than a technology. Taking this a step further, it may well be the last ‘G’!
Small cells have existed and been talked about for about a decade now. The technology and market went through different phases tracking 3G, LTE and now 5G technologies. Yet, the deployment of small cells has been timid and numbers fall below expectations. The fundamental thesis behind small cells is that demand for capacity exceeds supply. The market speculated that small cells is the solution to close this gap. But in fact, this thesis has several flaws. Continue reading
Three events were held this past week that provided an opportunity to get a midterm pulse of the telecom industry: the MWC-Shanghai, 5G World and WBA Congress. Having attended the last two, I wanted to summarize a few observations:
* The vision for 5G is converging; industry is aligning along common themes. A few leading operators are racing to claim 5G capability for different reasons and interests. The absence of standards coupled with vendors’ urgent need for 5G, will lead to market confusion which will climax in the next two years as the olympics in Japan and Korea approach and companies and countries race to claim firsts. Expect to be inundated with terms such as ‘5G-Lite’, ‘pre-5G’, ‘5G-Phase1’, ‘pre-certified 5G’, ‘5G-ready’, etc. Continue reading
Browse through industry literature or conference proceedings and trade shows, and you’ll be inundated with talk about 5G. On the other hand little is to be found on “4.5G”, or technically speaking, LTE Release 12 and 13 branded as LTE-Advanced Pro [which incidentally I find to be a bad choice of terms that I prefer to use 4.5G even as I don’t like the nomenclature!]. Why is there little to discuss on 4.5 G and much to talk about on 5G? What does this tells us about 4.5G and 5G? And, is there something between the lines that we can read? Continue reading
There are over a dozen LPWA technologies contending to provide connectivity for some of the billions of connected devices as projected by market analysts. How they all compare with each other is a hot topic in the race to markets. We recently published detailed analysis benchmarking these technologies in terms of capacity, range, throughput, power consumption and other characteristics*. In the process we developed a graphic for two parameters – range and throughput. Both are important parameters, but in the context of IoT, they are not the only parameters that need to be considered. Nevertheless, it is worth outlining some important aspects of this graphic. Continue reading
Imagine a wireless service provider can provide service anywhere there’s Internet connectivity at the click of a button. All they need is a small remote radio connected to the Internet. The baseband modems no longer reside at cell sites, but are hosted in data centers where powerful commercial servers execute all the functions of todays base station baseband units. The remote radios can even be self-deployed by the mobile subscribers. The service provider would have full control of the service features which can be configurable on the fly. Sounds like science fiction to some, but this is what virtualization of the radio access network aims to achieve.
No wonder then that the term Cloud RAN which meant centralization and virtualization of baseband became an overused term to denote all types of architectures. We live in the world of Anything as a Service (XaaS). Which investors would put money now in a hardware company? Continue reading
The outcome of the IoT connectivity standard battle which is in full swing today will hinge on a number of factors. One critical factor is the application of the technology. Applications vary in requirements as well as in barriers of entry. While IoT promises huge economic potential at a macro-economic level, it is a major challenge for any entity, be it investor or service provider, to assess where to place its investments and focus. Such dynamics are fully evident today at different levels: competition between LPWA and 3GPP IoT standards, and the competition within each camp, for example, between backers of NB-IoT and LTE Cat-m1. So, if applications are so critical, what are some of the leading ones and where one needs to look? Continue reading
Beyond the hype of Smart Cities lies a number of challenges that have made the realization of smart cities a slow and arduous process. Some of the top challenges in my experience are the following:
1- Budget: cities operate on very tight budgets. The budget allocated to information technology is a relatively small part of the overall budget. This gates smart city activities a municipality can engage even before considering any other factor. Continue reading
Many industry associations emerged on the scene within the last 8 – 18 months reflecting both the heightened interest in the general IoT space and the need for interoperability in a fragmented market. These alliances can be categorized broadly into two groups: industry collaboration alliances and technology alliances focused on ensuring interoperability among devices. For the home automation space, alliances and organizations have recently formed with the direct purpose of enabling interoperability of connected home devices. We review these below in addition to listing adjacent alliances that have influence on this market. Continue reading
While people may debate what 5G will be, there are a few key facts that cannot be changed. These facts will shape what 5G will be. Based on this we expect that new winners will emerge who can capitalize on new trends through innovating new solutions. Therefore, aside from the hype that dominates 5G talk, the key is to peel the layers that shroud the fundamentals. Over the last three years of researching the potential for Cloud RAN (C-RAN), I saw all the traits of a disruptive technology lurking in the background (2014, 2015). But with 5G, I think this can all change, and C-RAN will bolt to the foreground in more than one way. Continue reading
Over a year ago, SK Telecom invested in SigFox in a round that raised €100 m from a consortium of investors that included Telefonica and NTT Docomo. This week, SKT announces that it will build a LoRa network at a cost of more than $84 m over two years. In the meantime, SKT is working with Ericsson to evaluate the potential of LTE Cat-m2, the new designation for Narrowband-IoT (NB-Iot), which is the latest of a series of LTE-based standards for IoT connectivity. This is only one example among many of a mobile service provider taking a multi-pronged approach to address IoT connectivity. The moves by many MNOs in this space raise many questions, such as: Why are MNOs making multiple investments in IoT? What is the business opportunity? Are MNOs serious about LPWANs? Is this interest based on hype or is there a real business to be had? Continue reading
MWC16 was a great venue to check the pulse of developments in IoT connectivity. We summarized part of our observations which we shared and published (link). It caused many follow ups by colleagues and friends who voiced a wide range of opinions that I thought some further color would be useful.
To start, the main challenge in IoT is applications. The challenge is not technology which exists. Rather, the issue is in making the business case for IoT to arrive at a functional solution. That cycle is long and expensive. When we drill deeper into many IoT activities, the question becomes “who will pay for this service.” Technology can lower the cost, but there are many elements that are not technology related which gate the process. Continue reading
The 2016 edition of MWC had two key themes: 5G and IoT. Both themes are positioned as potential revenue drivers for MNOs, but they are diametrically opposed propositions. These themes enforce the status of the MNOs as connectivity providers. Connectivity is a (necessary) commodity; 5G and IoT will take time to unfold as bounded by the requirements of investments and market development. But behind the limelight, the Internet giants and OTTs continue to lead the evolution towards network virtualization, while leveraging their inherent cloud and big data advantages, and as such, driving towards major market disruption. New business models are now possible that may render the MNOs to spectrum holders as service delivery is achieved through multiple channels with the cellular network being one of many such channels. Continue reading
Smart home startups took $454 million in investor funding in 2014, an increase of 57% over 2013. Among the largest deals in the space over the past six months include a $38MM Series B from Bessemer Venture Partners, Comcast Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures to August (smart locks) and a $31.8 million Series B to connected home software platform Zonoff from investors including Grotech Ventures and Valhalla Partners.