By Robin Kent, director of European operations at Adax
Recently, I was on a train attempting in vain to get some work done. The issue I had is that, as there was no Wi-Fi available on-board, I was having to rely on the mobile phone network to remain connected. My frustration grew as my phone constantly flittered between 4G, 3G and 2G, causing emails not to sync correctly and troubles with web browsing.
What this experience all too frustratingly illustrated is that the industry has yet to fully implement a working and stable 4G experience for users, which begs the question: in 2017 shouldn’t operators ensure 4G works sufficiently before turning their attention to the much mooted 5G?
Data heavy applications
The truth is that the evolution through 2G to 4G has prompted rapidly increasing use of services and applications that are data heavy, and moving into 2017 the industry has struggled to keep apace. The telecoms industry is at an early stage in the development of 5G, yet there is already a lot of talk about 5G being the next big thing in the telco world.
Media commentators and industry experts alike are making bold predictions about how the move to 5G is necessary to facilitate the explosive increase in demand for wireless broadband services needing faster, higher capacity networks that can deliver video and other content-rich services. As is the fact that 5G can support the vast number of Internet of Things (IoT) networks due to the conception that it allows a greater volume of connections than current 4G networks. This is certainly a key driving factor; after all, Gartner estimates that the amount of connected IoT devices will reach 26 billion by 2020.
However, when it comes to IoT, network capacity will still be a major issue for operators regardless of the take off and realisation of 5G. For the phenomenon to be a true success, operators must be prepared to maintain enough capacity in the core network, and more importantly, manage the connections to it without creating bottlenecks.
Typically, GPRS tunnelling protocol (GTP) solutions have been able to handle up to 25,000 to 30,000 packet data protocol (PDP) contexts per application, but operators now need to be looking towards coping with one million, approximately a 33-fold increase, in light of the expected rush to be connected. By foreseeing this huge surge, operators can prepare appropriately rather than waiting for it turn up unexpectedly at their door.
In 2017, operators need to consider a GTP solution that enables traffic capacity to be increased by accelerating data paths and removing bottlenecks, which in turn, accelerates the GTP tunnels and packet filtering. This results in higher performance and vastly improves quality of experience for the end user.
Operators should also be prepared for the varying levels of service requirements across different applications. It’s when device numbers are massive that problems will arise; both the signalling and data plane throughput is high and latency tolerance is low, that they will need a good GTP solution in the core. Coupled with 5G, M2M devices in the age of IoT should benefit from stronger, more reliable connectivity but operators need to ensure they get the basics right first.
Looking to the future
The European Union has promised that by 2020 every European city, town and village will be connected with free wireless internet and will fully deploy 5G networks by 2025. The expectation is that 5G will increase bandwidth and download speeds, with trials currently being held to see what can be delivered to handsets. However, these trials show what can be achieved in the perfect scenario and never truly reflect what can happen in reality.
It is important for the industry to be cautious this year. Whilst 5G is theoretically 40 times faster than the hypothetical limit of 4G, for it to fulfil its claims it will take a great deal of upgraded infrastructure, not least of which to the masts themselves. This is because 5G needs to run in a rough line-of-sight, so in built up, heavily populated areas, experts are suggesting that masts will be required every 100 metres or so.
As and when 5G makes its arrival, operators will need to ensure they have an effective stream control transmission protocol (SCTP) solution in place for diameter signalling. As implementations begin to roll out, the growth of diameter will continue to accelerate so the need for a good transport layer should be a priority for operators. If operators aren’t prepared they could face not being able to carry the huge levels of traffic required by the host application to any and all of its possible destinations.
Is the hype justified?
The solution they adopt should be specifically designed to meet the demands of today’s LTE networks, IoT, machine to machine (M2M) and tomorrow’s 5G networks. Authentication chunks designated in RFC 4895 secure SCTP-based associations from packet injection, hijacking or accidental disconnection. Operators will require this to secure millions of simultaneous associations in order to meet the challenges posed to the network by malicious intent.
Capacity must also be front of mind and operators should implement an SCTP solution that supports the tens of thousands of simultaneous associations that 5G will bring, for maximum connectivity, as well as secure authentication.
There’s a lot of talk about 5G networks being heterogeneous networks, in that they will involve multiple nodes and a unified air interface tailored to the needs of specific applications. A major feature of 5G will be network slicing. Dynamic network slicing will enable the design, deployment, customisation, and optimisation of different network slices running on a common network infrastructure. It will leverage innovations in cloud mobile access and the core, as well as capitalising on the capabilities of software-defined networking (SDN), network function virtualisation (NFV), end to end orchestration, network applications, and analytics.
We have all experienced issues with the current 3G and 4G networks. The industry hasn’t fully utilised the technology yet, so the move to 5G isn’t necessarily going to be a smooth as some might think. It is, therefore, vital that service providers have the right tools in place for 5G to be successfully implemented.
If we’re to believe that every European town, city and village will deploy 5G networks by 2025, then operators will have their work cut out to provide a high level of service that end users to have come to expect in recent years.
Adax offers high performance, modular, scalable and very flexible products including SIGTRAN-SS7 Signalling Gateways, LTE-EPC and vEPC, DPI, Security, SCTP and GTP acceleration solutions for Legacy TDM networks to LTE.