India is the fastest-growing internet market in the world. Skyrocketing user demand for cloud-based services, video, and mobile broadband and the volume of devices and data exploding is driving a need for faster and more resilient networks. With the government planning to roll out 5G by 2020, network operators in India are under pressure to build next generation networks to support the digital evolution in India.
With 5G coming, featuring data rates as high as 100 times faster than what’s currently available with 4G LTE, the wireline infrastructure that connects end-users (humans and machines) to accessed content residing in data centers, must be ready to support upwards of 1000 times more data flowing across it. To help network operators in India prepare, here are three key areas within the wireline network that will need to be upgraded and modernized to support 5G:
Fronthaul is part of the network connecting multiple Remote Radio Heads (RRH) to Centralized Baseband Units (BBU), where the baseband processing takes place. Traditionally, BBUs processing signals were located at the base of macro cell towers, connected to the radio heads on top of the towers by copper cables. These copper connections continue to be replaced by fiber because it is lighter, more power efficient, less expensive, more secure, and more resilient to the elements. Fiber also supports far longer distances and much higher transmission rates, giving network operators in India the ability to centralize multiple geographically separated baseband units from multiple towers into a single physical location in a configuration referred to as Centralized Radio Access Network, or C-RAN for short.
5G promises to make available to the end-user a massive amount of bandwidth that will need to be aggregated and transported across wireline networks. On the Radio Access Network (RAN) side, a 20MHz 5G MIMO antenna array can generate upwards of 64 Gb/s of data, a massive increase in fronthaul traffic. On the backhaul side, a model of 5G specifications can assume that 75 percent of users/sites will get 500 Mb/s, 20 percent at 1 Gb/s, and 5 percent at 10 Gb/s. This will create an order of magnitude increase in backhaul traffic generated that will need to be aggregated and delivered to the wireline network. All that bandwidth increases in both the fronthaul and backhaul network will be passed along to the metro, regional, and long haul networks all the way back to the data centers. The answer to this issue is fiber and lots of it.
Many of the use cases for 5G will all use the network in very different ways. For example, streaming high-definition video over mobile broadband, mission-critical telemedicine applications, or low capacity and periodic access from an IoT device will all have their own requirements in terms of speed, latency, availability, packet loss, and more. Network operators will want to support all these types of applications on a common infrastructure for a variety of reasons related to economies of scale, security, simplicity, and reliability. Each will require distinct Service Level Agreements (SLAs), and each will need to be orchestrated from end-to-end. Providing different network attributes to different applications require network operators to perform what’s known as network slicing. That makes the network splicing a key enabler for creating new and valuable network services. The move to 5G will not be a simple network upgrade. In fact, the Department of Transportation anticipates that India will make large investments (estimated at USD 100 billion) over the next 5-7 years to create nationwide 5G infrastructure. It is a long journey with a high-performance wireline network as the critical component to commercial success for both 4G strategies and the evolution toward 5G. By considering fronthaul, scalability, and network slicing, network operators will be able to get their networks ready to unleash the full potential of 5G.