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MWC 2018: 5G collaboration dominates agenda at annual mobile fair

At Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona, 5G mobile networks were the talk of the show, and a number of operators announced new collaborations around the emerging network standard with their technology partners

Mobile network operators (MNOs) from around the world converged on Barcelona at the end of February for the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade fair, which now attracts around 100,000 visitors over four days.

With early 5G mobile networking standards now established, and trials of new technology to support the next generation of mobile networks ongoing, many operators used MWC 2018 as an opportunity to take their first steps towards 5G – which is expected to be fully commercialised in the early 2020s – by announcing collaborations with technology suppliers.

Italian operator TIM and the US arm of German provider T-Mobile have both enlisted Sweden’s Ericsson to run their 5G transformation projects.

In TIM’s case, Ericsson will be supporting its DigiTIM digitisation project, with which the MNO hopes to optimise customer experience and increase operational efficiency through network functions virtualisation (NFV) and automation ahead of the launch of 5G services in Italy.

Ericsson will be supplying TIM with its virtual radio access network (vRAN) technology to turn its network into a flexible cloud platform to enable service management and automation in the service of process automation and cost cutting.

The duo will also be working on self-organising network (SON) solutions that TIM is already using to automate services such as 4G voice-over-long term evolution (VoLTE) for its users.

“The virtualisation and automation of the access network, of which TIM is a pioneer, starting from 4.5G represents a key evolutionary challenge in the smooth migration path towards 5G, which is much more than just a set of new network technologies,” said TIM chief technology officer Giovanni Ferigo.

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“Digitalisation drives the need for flexibility and operational efficiency to enable expanded service models while maintaining performance to ensure the sustainability of future investments. RAN transformation will guarantee, also, security by design and openness, modularity and programmability that enable automation.”

The two firms have already successfully deployed a vRAN testbed in Turin in northern Italy, said Ericsson EVP and head of business area networks, Fredrik Jejdling.

“The evolution towards 5G through the virtualisation, automation and digitalisation of radio access networks is not just a talking point but an action point. We are working closely with TIM to turn this city deployment into a nationwide deployment,” he said.

In the US, T-Mobile will be using Ericsson to roll-out a multi-band 5G network using 600MHz and millimetre wave in the 28GHz and 39GHz spectrum, using products from Ericsson’s enhanced 5G Platform portfolio, based on the recently-ratified 5G New Radio (5GNR) standard. In common with many other US operators, T-Mobile has claimed it will start to roll out a commercial 5G network in 2018, although most observers contend such a network will not really be 5G, merely a stepping stone along the way.

Whatever it is called, T-Mobile will roll out 5GNR Ran software and 5GNR baseband technology in the cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York towards the end of 2018.

“When we built our LTE network, we had the future and our customers top of mind. 5G will be no different. T-Mobile will be the first to give customers the truly transformative, nationwide 5G network they deserve,” said T-Mobile chief technology officer Neville Ray.

5G around the world

China Mobile used MWC to demonstrate the world’s first interoperability data testing (IoDT) based on 5GNR standards, and the first sub-6Hz 5G field trial, working with mobile chipset giant Qualcomm and network hardware supplier ZTE.

The tests saw ZTE’s sub-6GHz 5GNR air-interface pre-commercial base stations interworking with Qualcomm’s 5GNR air-interface prototype terminals to demonstrate a peak rate of up to 1.4Gbps and sub-0.05 millisecond latency. China Mobile said this was a vital milestone for large-scale pre-commercialisation efforts.

China Mobile and ZTE had previously worked together on a 3.5GHz 5G field trial in Guangzhou, demonstrating a solution made up of 5G core network equipment, base stations and UEs. Commissioned in June last year, they also showed of the first sub-6GHz pre-commercial site, achieving speeds of 2Gbps.

ZTE has also launched a series of 5G ready products for operators to start working with, covering areas such as core cloud networking and radio access.

Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Telecom Company (STC) also made its way to the halls of the vast Fira conference centre on the outskirts of Barcelona, showcasing the work it is doing with Cisco to develop a future 5G network and transform itself into a digital service provider to support the Saudi’ government’s 2030 Vision and National Transformation Plan.

Memorandum of understanding

At MWC, STC chief operating officer Nasser Al-Nasser signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Cisco’s Middle East global service provider sales managing director, Ali Amer, to work together on the transformation of its architecture to provision advanced network services and differentiate its offering in its home market.

“We are excited about the next phase of our evolution, which will pave the way for massive innovation and give rise to a new breed of services that benefit the Saudi economy,” said Al-Nasser.

“Our new 5G network architecture will enable us to make the next leap forward by delivering inclusive broadband that transforms how people use technology in their daily lives. We look forward to working closely with Cisco to develop a future-ready network that delivers advanced capabilities to help us address increasing customer demands and new service trends.”

STC believes a smooth transition from 4G to 5G is fundamental to its vision as it plans to build out solutions in areas such as smart cities and internet of things (IoT) services. Automation and NFV from Cisco will play a crucial role in this strategy, making it easier and cheaper to build a more agile and easily scalable network in support of these use cases.

“As businesses increasingly digitise, mobile carriers will need the speed, low latency, reliability and dynamic provisioning capabilities that 5G networks are expected to deliver,” said Cisco’s Amer.

“Our collaboration with STC will enable their network infrastructure to evolve into the new era of digitisation by taking advantage of the 5G momentum.”

Among the work the partners will be undertaking include addressing the security needs of the 5G era, developing a new threat intelligence framework to underpin STC’s event prevention, detection and mitigation efforts.

Network slicing

Finally, Huawei and Spain’s Telefónica jointly demonstrated the world’s first 5G network slicing-based interactive virtual reality (VR) solution, with visitors to its booth able to test out an immersive VR environment with applications in diverse areas, such as education, entertainment, health, gaming, industrial design and more.

The demo employed a pre-commercial end-to-end 5G network, including access, core, transport and terminals, to show how network slicing can allow operators to offer diverse and higher quality on-demand services with high bandwidth and low latency.

Network slicing is likely to emerge as a key underpinning of 5G mobile networks because it will let MNO’s perform on-demand isolation of network resources on the shared physical infrastructure, offering differentiated and quality-guaranteed private mobile services for enterprises.

Huawei’s network slicing offering incorporates a service-oriented architecture, network function modularisation, and control- and user-plane separation.

“5G technological development has entered a new stage. Telefónica and Huawei will continue to step up innovation in both technologies and applications. The 5G Joint Innovation Lab is a great platform for in-depth cooperation on 5G end-to-end network architecture and slicing. These combined efforts will serve as a solid foundation for 5G’s commercial launch,” said Telefónica's global chief technology innovation officer, Enrique Blanco.

“The digital transformation of the entire industry is accelerating,” said Edward Deng, president of Huawei’s wireless network product line. “The development of 5G network slicing technologies and applications will promote integration between industries and create new business models.”

“Huawei is committed to developing and innovating 5G E2E network slicing technologies. We are also keen to work with operators and third-party players from vertical industries to embrace the new era of 5G,” he said.

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