Pre-standard 5G fixed wireless deployments can be leveraged to add mobility

Ongoing fiber deployments can be leveraged to build increasingly dense wireless networks at the macro level as well as in support of massive small cell roll outs. Operators have shown an early interest in pre-standard 5G fixed wireless access. These fixed sites, being tested now, are connected to fiber and could easily be upgraded to support 5G mobility services once the technical specification is finalized. This level of convergence tracks closely with the centralization of base station equipment. The animating principle is leverage that access to fiber and power to the greatest extent possible. That’s one aspect of network convergence

“Practically,” Ray Butler of CommScope said, “that refers to delivery of services–residential, business and  wireless services–over a common fiber network. On the mobility end of it, we’re seeing a lot of interest, and people starting to explore how you converge a site to support fixed  wireless and mobility. How do you leverage that investment for both mobility and fixed? Those are kind of the ripe areas we see a lot of work being done on and a lot of potential opportunity. As the industry evolves to centralized RAN and cloud RAN with network function virtualization, we see an opportunity for both capex and opex savings.”

Derek Peterson, chief technology officer of Boingo Wireless, explained the longer-view on convergence of infrastructure from the perspective of a neutral host provider. “When we talk today about neutral host systems, I’m building a neutral network that allows many different people to connect onto. That’s what we try to do. If we can share fronthaul, backhaul, cabling, switches, that’s a win. We need an infrastructure for everyone.”

He gave the example of a shared roadway. “We want to be able to have all that share the same so that way the truck is not impeding the speed race car or whatever it might be. Now we’re moving to things like digital RAN or cloud RAN where you’re now able to share even more. The only parts that’s different in your road is your driveway, your gateway to identification. It reduces cost and it reduces maintenance. That’s where we’re going.”

Bill Cune of Corning, reiterating the importance of deep fiber, elaborated on the trend toward C-RAN where “The C could be cloud or centralized or coordinated. All of those things make the network work a lot better. To do that, fiber has got to go to more places, but it also has to have an architecture back to a centralized location that connects or hundreds or dozens of these sites in a given radius. That is some new. We’re in the very early stages of building out a fiber network that will really densify and enable the advanced features of 4G and 5G. All of this applies to indoor and out.”

Monica Paolini, president of telecom advisory and consulting firm Senza Fili, pointed out that converged, distributed networks also require an embrace of mobile edge computing to animate a variety of applications. “MEC is more than a tool to lower latency. It is an enabler for services that are specific to a location but are served over multiple access networks, both fixed and mobile. In this context, MEC is a powerful driver that accelerates the convergence of fixed and mobile networks. Mobile edge computing clearly relies on network virtualization. Initially, virtualization efforts were focused on moving everything to a centralized location – the data center, the cloud – to get cost savings and have everything in one place, which is attractive. With mobile edge computing, the trend is in the opposite direction. There are some things that do not work sufficiently well in a centralized location. There are advantages to moving processing and storage to the edge.”

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