|Syniverse will be at Mobile World Congress 2018 and looks forward to meeting with customers, business partners and industry colleagues at the show. Visit the Syniverse pavilion at Stand 2G11 in Hall 2, and go to the Syniverse event page for more information about Mobile World Congress activities.
2018 will likely see the mobile industry take its biggest steps yet in rolling out 5G. Recently, 3GPP, or 3rd Generation Partnership Project, the key organization for 5G standardization, ratified the industry’s first set of 5G standards, called the 5G-NR (New Radio) Non-Standalone specifications. These include the baseline features, functionality, and services that will pave the way for commercial deployment of 5G networks and services in the near future. The progress with this standards definition work within 3GPP and the progress with the large body of collaborative research between industry groups, standards developing organizations, and academic institutions into the capabilities and use cases for 5G will go a long way in bringing 5G into sharper focus this year.
But one of the next big steps with 5G will continue to be completing the buildout of 4G LTE networks. As LTE continues to evolve in parallel, the current view is that it will constitute an integral part of the official 5G designation. To this end, the latest 5G-NR (Phase-1) Non-Standalone standards define the continued use of LTE as a central part of the 5G-NR that will use the current LTE core network connectivity. In addition, several 5G deployment scenarios are based on the integration of LTE or enhanced LTE (eLTE). Also, to ensure a homogeneous implementation, LTE has been standardized for the 5G-NR to work with 4G SAE Core as well as for the 4G LTE radio to work with the new 5G Core.
Again, what all this means for the industry is that 4G LTE networks will continue to play a significant role in the migration to 5G. Additionally, there is wide recognition that 5G-NR network deployments will have to rely on LTE networks to provide coverage and service continuity for many years to come. It’s therefore crucial that the industry continues to place emphasis on the rollout of LTE and specifically on several critical factors that will determine the success of 5G integration.
Where We Are Now
The first step in this is understanding where we are with LTE deployment now and what major challenges remain. According to a Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) report from January, there are currently 651 commercial LTE networks in 202 countries (of which about one-third of have been upgraded to LTE-Advanced networks). With 848 operators investing in LTE, including pre-commitment trials, the GSMA expects this number of LTE operators to continue to increase and reach more than 3.6 billion LTE connections (excluding M2M) and cover 75 percent of the world’s population by 2020. Therefore, with LTE deployments becoming mainstream, this will pave the way for operators to introduce 5G through a choice of migration paths.
Yet, to continue this progress, operators face a number of technology and business challenges as they navigate through the surge in LTE deployment. As a result, the next phase of LTE growth will depend on how smoothly operators are able to work through these complexities, and specifically how they address five factors that will be vital in shaping the success of 5G in the near future.
Five Critical Factors for 5G Market Introduction
Based on my recent work with 5G, I’ve identified five factors that I see as playing a crucial part in the market adoption of 5G:
- Ensuring 5G NR and LTE co-existence – As operators start to deploy 5G NR, they will likely leverage their existing LTE coverage alongside 5G NR in the short to medium term through 5G NR and LTE co-existence options and LTE-NR Dual Connectivity. This will allow operators to maximize the ROI on their LTE investment. For this reason, operators need to develop a clear strategy for this to ensure 5G-LTE interworking.
- Maximizing interconnection footprint – Operators that have deployed LTE must continue to focus on establishing reach to a maximum number of LTE networks to offer the widest coverage for their users. IPX has emerged as a fundamental network backbone for LTE, VoLTE, and next-generation services, and IPX will therefore play a critical role in allowing operators to efficiently achieve this global reach. The IPX model allows a single-connection approach that simplifies testing and deployment while consolidating a large number of connections worldwide. For this reason, it’s highly recommended that operators include IPX at the core of their strategy in not just building out their LTE networks, but also laying a strong foundation for future 5G rollouts, which will require several hybrid interconnection scenarios for both Non-Standalone 5G NR and Standalone 5G NR deployments.
- Extending interconnection to other vertical markets – As 5G unleashes its potential for different vertical markets, IPX hubs will play a crucial role in ensuring both transport-level and service-level interconnection for not just the legacy and existing communication services, but also for interconnection of various vertical markets in the mobile domain. This will also necessitate that IPX hubs embrace new business models and practices that are more in tune with non-telecom industries.
- Ensuring roaming interoperability – Enabling ubiquitous LTE roaming has presented significant challenges to operators, because it requires the comprehensive testing of a number of critical roaming processes. Specifically, the complex areas involved in the implementation of LTE roaming that operators should carefully address include Diameter signaling infrastructure, roaming via PGW or GGSN (Gateway GPRS Support Node) to legacy systems, wholesale clearing and settlement processes, exchange of TAP records, and value-added services, just to name a few. This will also go a long way in ensuring a smooth migration to 5G later, with the introduction of several options, scenarios, and business models that will have to be supported in 5G.
- Implementing VoLTE effectively – Voice and SMS communication has been the next frontier for LTE network deployments, and the introduction of IMS-based VoLTE service has now been gathering some momentum. At present, over 134 networks in over 60 countries are now estimated to have launched commercial VoLTE services, according to the latest Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) report. But enabling VoLTE poses several challenges. Operators must manage the intricate process of converting voice calls into internet traffic so the same airwaves can be used for voice or data. One of the most crucial challenges involves a roaming marketplace that is fragmented into markets with no LTE service, markets with both LTE and legacy 3G and 2G services, and markets with only LTE service. As a result, operators must have a strategy in place for these roaming situations co-existing, since getting this right will be imperative for integrating more complex, 5G-based voice technologies later.
As mobile traffic continues to explode and new technologies like the internet of things drive massive numbers of mobile devices online, 5G growth will soon take off to meet the demands for increased capacity and better connectivity. The GSMA forecasts that the number of 5G connections globally will reach 1.2 billion by 2025, accounting for around 14 percent of total connections, excluding M2M, and operators in more than 40 markets have now announced plans to launch 5G.
With these trends, placing emphasis in the short term on 5G and LTE co-existence, interconnection strategy, roaming interoperability, and VoLTE implementation is critical for operators to pave the way for 5G in 2018 and beyond. Undoubtedly, 5G brings enormous challenges and expectations for the mobile industry, but it also offers a significant opportunity for the industry to cement its position and underline its value proposition in a much larger and diverse ecosystem transformed by 5G.
As Senior Strategy Director and Head of Industry Standards at Syniverse, Pradeep Bhardwaj serves as a senior technology adviser overseeing strategic initiatives to advance the adoption of leading-edge technologies and standards, such as 5G, the internet of things, mobile edge computing, LTE, and VoLTE. Pradeep joined Syniverse in 2005 and has built a career that encompasses more than 26 years of experience with mobile operators and telecommunication companies in the areas of GSM, fixed-line, international, wholesale, international roaming, messaging, signaling, satellite, data, and IP communications. Pradeep’s emphasis is on technology strategy, industry standards, systems engineering, and architecture. Among the leadership roles he has held in the industry, he served as the chairman of the GSMA Hubbing Provider Interworking Group from its inception to its end. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.