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5G Will Remarkably Rollout in 2 Waves. Here’s Why Engineers Should Care

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Intel’s Mike Fitton knows 5G. Here are a few tantalizing bits.

Both 5G and 6G will stress the network’s capability to deliver increasing performance within very constrained power envelopes. Mike Fitton, VP, Data Platforms Group & GM, Network Business Division, Intel, will explore how these demands will drive the dual requirements of scalability and programmability at the upcoming DesignCon keynote.

Design News: How is the roll-out of 5G progressing? Why should engineers care?

Mike Fitton: 5G roll-out is happening in 2 waves. In the first wave of 5G roll-out/deployments, we see CoSP rapidly shifting towards 5G New Radio (NR) for Mobile Broadband (MBB). While in the second wave of 5G roll-out/deployments, there appears to be new CapEx spending in Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), IoT & new vertical opportunities encompassed by Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications and Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC). To reach the full promise of 5G, the connectivity, speed, and intelligence, the network infrastructure must be transformed into a cloud-native architecture.

All engineers should be interested in these developments, whether they are immediately involved in telecoms or not.  A transformed 5G network will enable revolutionary services as technologies come together — from the rise of AI to the emergence of the edge to a tsunami of Internet of Things data.  Imagine the ability to network previously connected devices – this will enable information sharing and machine learning in areas as disparate as Autonomous Driving, Industrial applications in Smart Factory and Smart City infrastructure.   If you have a pulse and are engaged in technology, the potential of 5G should be near the top of your interest list.

Design News: How will the CSPs make money from 5G?

Mike Fitton: Cloud Service Providers will make money from 5G by unlocking additional value for their business customers from selling solutions & services that embrace 5G’s game-changing capabilities.

CSPs will help create, automate, and monetize emerging 5G services and experiment with potential new products and markets without having customers incur the time and cost of a large IT project. 

The emergence of vertically targeted and private networks could revolutionize how adjacent businesses operate (e.g., industrial, government, medical, etc.) and how CSPs support them. 

We as an industry need to work together to deliver the underlying tools & ecosystem to transform the network and build out the edge. Everyone has a role to play. Consider how Cloud Service Providers (CSP) extend their Cloud presence to the Edge through their unique initiatives and create a smooth “cloud-to-edge” developer experience.

Communication Service Providers (CoSP) actively invest to ensure their network meets low latency and high bandwidth services. They are also investing in building out their edge besides just the network from these locations. Network and edge transformation is truly a massive opportunity, and it’s going to take an entire ecosystem and value chain to deliver the promise.   

Design News: Some have said that 5G programmability will be critical to its success. Do you agree? What is meant by programmability in this sense? 

Mike Fitton: 5G is rapidly moving between different deployment models (macro, small cell, and distributed), different frequency bands, and different services (e.g., URLLC and mMTC).  Having a fixed implementation just isn’t an option if we are going to develop all of these other systems, and intelligent design reuse and programmability are crucial to solving this, in my opinion

5G promises many disruptive functionalities, one of which is exposing network layers, enabling new levels of programmability in telecom core networks.

Programmability in 5G Core networks allows providers to open up telecom network capabilities and services to support new deployments and specific vertical markets with targeted quality of service. This, in turn, enables third-party developers to create new use cases that don’t exist today.

My view is that we, as technologists, are notoriously bad at predicting what will be the technology intercept point for most people (or maybe it is just me), or to put it in another way, what will be the next “killer app.”  Consider the humble text message; it was initially not a user-targeted feature, primarily used for network notifications and often not even user-accessible.  Since the first text message was sent in 1992 (saying “Merry Christmas” if you are interested), we have gone from the situation where the average subscriber sent a text or two a month in the mid-90s to billions a day in the present day.  What does this tell us?  To my mind, this informs us that if we can’t be sure what the networks of the future will be used for, we had better build sufficient flexibility to address these new usage models.  This flexibility will give us much feature velocity but needs to be end-to-end and encompass hardware programmability as well as software programmability

Design News: Any other questions you’d like to address?

Mike Fitton: Another point I would like to make is about the simultaneous convergence and disaggregation we see, which I appreciate sounds counter-intuitive.  Consider that network functionality is becoming moving from a traditional (somewhat rigid) structure too much more mutable.  Radio Access network functions can be centralized with a concept like virtualized Radio Access Network (or vRAN). Still, we also see more functions migrating into the radio unit to improve efficiency.  Network functions are now being deployed in a virtualized approach on general-purpose processors rather than in dedicated appliances, as we saw historically.

Moreover, compute is happening at both the core and the network edge to minimize latency for time-sensitive applications.  What does this mean for us as engineers?  The convergence of compute and communication plus migration of network functions will continue to stress our ability to deliver increasing performance within constrained power envelopes and keep innovation at a premium!

And don’t forget the many exhibitors demonstrating the latest communication equipment. Or the 5G technical talk at the co-located Drive World + ESC event: 5G’s Future Impact on CV2X

To register for DesignCon, please click here.

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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