5G is paving the way for the next generation of Internet of Things (IoT) innovation. Highly anticipated technologies including autonomous vehicles, delivery drones, smart factories and VR/AR are on the path to becoming a reality as 5G networks proliferate around the world, ushering in a new age of ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency connectivity.
In multiple countries, governments and telecommunications companies are investing large sums into projects and partnerships aimed at speeding the delivery of a new 5G world. As they go down this road, however, network operators are running into all kinds of increasingly specific, complex requirements across all aspects of their access networks (including RANs). Simultaneously, the market for RAN solutions has also become more disaggregated and open, furthering choice for buyers but creating other issues around interoperability and system performance.
In this blog, we examine how 5G and the IoT are affecting access networks and creating one overarching challenge for operators: finding the glue that can bring all the different components of their networks together, in harmony.
The Future of IoT
Today’s mainstream IoT technologies primarily reside in our homes and places of work, with short- to medium-range requirements that rely on a WiFi connection powered by a fiber cable network. However, the IoT applications driven by 5G will have longer ranges and ultra-low latency requirements. “5G has a theoretical latency of less than one millisecond in later releases, as opposed to 20 to 40 milliseconds typical in current generation Wi-Fi deployments,” explains Bill Menezes, senior principal analyst at Gartner.
While consumers are looking forward to 5G’s support of high-definition streaming, virtual reality and augmented reality, it’s the business world that will benefit the most from the new wave of IoT use cases. For example, businesses ranging from automotive and manufacturing to construction and natural resources will be able to leverage 5G to improve supply chain management with sensors. This will enable streamlined process and asset tracking that translates into cost savings, improved customer experience and much more. Similarly, manufacturers will be empowered to take the next step toward smart factories, leveraging AI and robotics to create autonomous assembly lines, resulting in reduced waste and improved productivity among a long list of benefits.
In another use case, governments around the world will be able to improve public safety with the support of 5G to power a host of applications across municipalities. In January 2021, the UK government invested $28 million into nine projects trialing new ways of using 5G networks. From 5G-powered cargo ports to driverless taxis, robotics, and the use of IoT sensors to monitor construction projects, the government is focused on using these new technologies for more than the ability to download a movie faster than ever before. In the words of Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, it’s about powering economies and “…help[ing] businesses bounce back from the pandemic.”
Most interestingly, five of the nine projects the UK government has invested in are leveraging open RAN architectures. While this certainly provides tangible benefits for network operators, it can also make the journey to creating an optimal RAN solution more complex.
ACCESS NETWORKS HAVE NEVER BEEN THIS EXCITING…AND COMPLEX
5G, open RAN, & CPRI
In a previous blog, we talked about open RAN and what it means for network operators. To recap briefly, open RAN is the latest in a series of initiatives to break vendor-lock by opening the hardware, software and interfaces of the RAN to Commercial Off the Shelf
(COTS) equipment and vendor-neutral software. Having more choice enables MSOs, MNOs and other network engineers to build truly custom RAN solutions and speed time to deployment. Increased vendor competition can also potentially lead to better price points for network architects.
Here is the challenge: integrating new hardware and software from different vendors into existing network architectures can get complex, quickly. In fact, many operators, in our experience, struggle with ensuring interoperability between all the different components of their RAN buildouts. In some cases, optical transceivers – the vital connections that make a network run – are treated almost like an afterthought. In the new world of open RAN, it is important to remember that the market is made up of specialists. While the MSO/MNOs are specialists in operating networks, other vendors are experts at building radios, servers, software applications and optical transceivers.
What sets one specialist apart from another is not just the knowledge they have around their own product, but the expertise they can offer in helping clients integrate it with other equipment. Here at Precision OT, we have specialized for years in manufacturing optical transceivers and other network components. However, as a team of engineers, we do more than merely build equipment. It is our expertise and ability to customize our products to suit our partners’ exact specifications around interoperability that is our real differentiator.
For example, we have deep-seated expertise in wireless fronthaul networks involving the Common Public Radio Interface (CPRI), which transmits data from RRUs to BBUs. As we wrote in a previous blog, CPRI protocol speeds used to range from 600Mb/s to 10Gb/s, similar to the 1G, 2.5G and 10G data rates of WDM optics. We noted that this similarity enabled these protocols to be supported over WDM, allowing this technology to be added to fronthaul networks. Now, with advancements in open RAN architectures and an industry shift toward greater bandwidths, an increasing number of network operators are turning to 25G-enhanced CPRI (eCPRI). Integral to upcoming 5G networks, eCPRI splits up the baseband functions to support higher bandwidths on fewer fibers. Importantly, it is an open interface, which aligns well with open RAN specifications.
All these technological advancements add levels of complexity to the network. Finding a partner with years of expertise in delivering and integrating wireless fronthaul products will be key to deploying 5G RANs successfully and minimizing the risk of errors and downtime.
400G and the 40 Kilometer Sweet Spot
Another result of the shift to 5G networks that can support the future of IoT is the need for access networks to support higher bandwidths than before. We’ve discussed the attractiveness of 400G networks at length in a past blog article, noting that one of 400G’s biggest value propositions is that it offers better potential to accommodate subsequent jumps to 800G and beyond, making it an investment in the competitiveness of optical networks. By leveraging 400G transceivers, carriers, MSOs, data center operators and other service providers can future-proof their infrastructure for all 5G demands – and more.
This investment, however, has the potential to be a costly endeavor, which is why carriers and network operators are looking to dual-rate optical transceivers and tunable topics to minimize costs, while upgrading their networks for the increasing requirements of 5G. With 400G in the backhaul and 100G in the fronthaul, DWDM has become a key component for network operators to do more with existing fiber, with the latest innovations in 100G DWDM offering up to 4 TBPS capacity.
CHARTING YOUR PATH FORWARD
In short, transceivers and related optical networking equipment are integral pieces of the access networks that will power the future world of 5G and the IoT. Understandably, MSOs, MNOs and other network operators are under increasing pressure to prepare their access networks for the future. Whether they are procuring parts for a 5G RAN or looking to take the next step toward 400G, choosing the right transceivers and related active/passive optical components is the key to having a network that runs optimally. The only way to do this is to find a partner that can design, test and help integrate the truly custom solutions today’s network operators require.
For operators around the world, Precision OT is that partner. And we would love to help make your journey into the future as efficient and precise as possible. If you would like to learn more about us, reach out and we’d be happy to get to know you.