Wireless testers reveal shape of the network to come

Virtualized networks, small cells, LTE-U and lots of millimeter-wave capability are the waves of the future network, according to the wireless testing companies that help shape them.

Virtualized networks, small cells, LTE-U and lots of millimeter-wave capability are the components of the future network, according to the wireless testing companies that help shape them.

With demand apparently insatiable, wireless carriers are on the hunt for more bandwidth – which they could find in parts of the spectrum far, far above what’s currently used, according to Andreas Roessler, North American technology manager for testing equipment manufacturer Rohde and Schwartz.

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“The Ericssons, the Nokias, the Alcatel-Lucents, they’re already researching all that, and every one of them has their own sweet spot in frequency,” he said.

Samsung, for example, likes the 28GHz band because there are few license restrictions in its home country of South Korea. But others prefer higher frequencies in the E band – between 60GHz and 90GHz – since those frequencies are light-licensed worldwide, and 28GHz interferes with other services, particularly in Europe.

The wider the frequency band available to a company, the better the throughput – Roessler noted that Verizon’s LTE channel is only 10MHz, which has an effect on the maximum data rate, and there are much wider bands available farther up the scale.

At those frequencies, propagation distances are relatively low – users will have to be relatively close to access points. But, Roessler said, that also means that throughput can be much higher, approaching gigabit speeds.

Even with the construction of small cell networks – extensive networks of smaller access points designed to ensure users are physically close enough to use these higher frequencies – lower-frequency LTE isn’t going away. For wide-area coverage, it’s the only thing that works.

“5G will be an overlay to LTE and LTE advanced. LTE will not go away, will not be replaced by 5G – they’re complementary,” Roessler said.

The carriers are making more changes than that, noted Krishnakanth Korlepara, a senior business correspondent at another manufacturer of wireless testing equipment, Anritsu.

In addition to the business end of the network changing, U.S. telecoms are also modifying their internal networks to take advantage of new technology. AT&T, for example, launched its Domain 2.0 initiative, designed to move the company onto a cloud-based, virtualized model, using whitebox hardware.

“There is no dependency upon a particular vendor to offer proprietary devices,” he said. “The entire network is virtualized, giving them operational savings of up to 40-50%.”

But even with such large-scale changes, newer technology offers the possibility of tight integration between key networking components and the types of monitoring systems that Anritsu and others make.

“It’s about providing spectrum assurance in the same solution, and integrating with third-party products for IoT visibility, all coming in one solution,” Korlepara said.

Moreover, both Korlepara and Roessler agreed that LTE-U technology – Qualcomm’s proposed frequency-sharing standard that uses 5GHz frequencies to help offload traffic – is going to work the way it should, contrary to the warnings of consumer advocates and Wi-Fi focused companies like Google and Broadcom.

“If you look at the utilization of the 5GHz spectrum … you can tell it’s not so much utilized like the Wi-Fi community thinks it is,” Roessler said. “I believe there will be enough room for both to exist.”

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