International 5G News Stories

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General

Will integrated sensing be a 6G winner or loser?

InterDigital is in the cat-bird’s seat when it comes to 6G thanks to the company’s early research and innovation on wireless tech, work with academic partners and its money-generating patents and licensing for it intellectual property (IP).

While InterDigital may be working hard on 6G tech, so far the wireless industry has shown very little enthusiasm for that next “G,” which is not surprising, considering operators are still facing challenges monetizing their 5G networks — 5G network slicing anyone? Indeed, we’ve all lived through the hype of 5G and the subsequent trough of disillusionment.

But what comes after disillusionment? The next big thing. Is that 6G? Perhaps so, according to Milind Kulkarni, VP and head of wireless at InterDigital. He told Fierce that there are three things that will be new in 6G that were not part of 5G.

The first should be of no surprise to anyone — it’s artificial intelligence (AI).

“Today in 5G, most of the AI has been implemented in the devices or base stations to improve efficiencies, but it’s not standardized. There is some AI in applications, but between the stacks of the radio network and the core network, there is not much AI used.” Kulkarni said, That will change with 6G.

6G will also address satellite communications directly to handsets, and it will also add sensing capabilities. 6G sensing will be “a lot more accurate than current methods in 5G,” he noted.

InterDigital was instrumental in getting Integrated Sensing and Communications (ISAC) — which combines wireless communications with RF sensing — included as part of 3GPP Release 19. ISAC will enable new position-based use cases where wireless networks will be able to sense various objects.

Kulkarni explained that there are a lot of sensors in devices, but they aren’t connected with the wireless network in an integral way.

“Let’s say you have an autonomous vehicle; it has lidars and cameras and distance sensors. But all of that sensory input is not in the network. By bringing that capability in the network you’re able to create a situation that fosters augmented reality. You could think about a car as a device that will connect to the 6G network,” he said.

However, analyst Joe Madden threw cold water on the idea of integrated sensing in his October column for Fierce Wireless.

“Using the 6G radio signal to detect position is interesting to engineers, as they imagine use cases where robots are steered by the network itself. It’s a nerdy thrill to get a ‘two-fer,’ with the radio serving two purposes,” he wrote.

The 5G disillusionment

At last year’s MWC 2023 there wasn’t much interest in 6G, and some people even questioned if we need it at all for the near future. Again, operators are currently struggling to recoup their capital investments in 5G. 

But Kulkarni thinks that mindset is shifting because operators still have never-ending pressure to come up with new ideas and ways to sell their services. “That’s something integrated sensing will do,” he said. “And AI will do that and also make the network more efficient and reduce energy.”

Doug Castor, head of wireless research at InterDigital, said 6G is not just about the new things like AI, integrated sensing and satellite connectivity. It’s also a necessary evolution of 5G. And it will include things such as making MIMO more efficient, thus saving costs for operators.

3GPP and ITU

So, when can we expect 6G to show its face? The next 3GPP Release 19 will provide a bridge to 6G. But Release 19 has just started, and each release takes about 18 months before it’s published. That means in approximately mid-2025, the 3GPP will start working on Release 20, which will be the first release dedicated to 6G.

While the 3GPP leads the release process, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) also has a responsibility. The worldwide telecom group specifies what uses cases must be supported in each release and acts as a representative for all the countries that will be affected by the wireless standards.

“It’s tied to spectrum regulation, and that’s an important role for ITU,” said Kulkarni.

Right now, the spectrum conversation is around a new band called FR 3, which covers the range from 7 GHz in the upper mid-band to 24 GHz, which is borderline mmWave. 

“Many countries have different availability within that range,” said Kulkarni. “How do you make sure there is a single standard or single frequency we could make available worldwide?”

He said people are focusing on the 12-14 GHz spectrum as a possible band that could be used worldwide for 6G.

General

Artemis stages pCell demo with Boldyn in Times Square

Like the song says, if “I can make it here, I can make it anywhere,” and that’s kind of how the founder of Artemis Networks feels after a successful Times Square proof-of-concept for pCell, the technology he spent years developing.

Artemis CEO Steve Perlman said they can now show that the technology has been fully vetted by Boldyn, a reputable infrastructure company that specializes in neutral host solutions and possesses the capability of deploying throughout New York City and beyond.

pCell was announced on February 14, 2014, in New York, so it took about 10 years and one week before they could announce it was fully deployed in Times Square. Testing took place over the course of several months, showing the radios are rugged enough to withstand a New York winter, with “no hitches,” he said.

The Times Square test involved 128 Pixel unlocked phones and 20 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum borrowed from Dish Network, which agreed to let Artemis and Boldyn use it under a Special Temporary Authorization (STA) granted by the FCC. Artemis’ technology is “frequency agile,” Perlman said. The test delivered speeds of 700 Mbps.

The logistics are notable given the location. They stacked previously used Pixel 5 phones on tripods and hired people to stand next to them to essentially guard them and prevent them from being stolen.

The Artemis pCell vRAN consists of six cell-free radio head sites connected through fiber to three servers in a Boldyn edge data center. It took Boldyn less than one hour to install each Artemis radio head site, including connectivity to Boldyn’s NYC fiber backbone network.

(Artemis) 

Boldyn Networks combined six companies under one name last year: BAI Communications, Mobilitie, Transit Wireless, ZenFi Networks, Signal Point Systems and Vilicom. It has access to the type of infrastructure in New York City that would allow for a broader deployment.

Artemis is the vendor in this situation and Perlman said Boldyn is talking with potential private network customers and mobile operators. The technology is neutral host, so it is designed to work with any mobile carrier.

General

What will be the big news at MWC 2024?

The biggest event in the telecoms calendar kicks off in Barcelona next week, so we’ve asked some industry execs, analysts and journos what they expect to be the biggest themes of MWC 2024.

Monetizing APIs – Andrew Brown-Practice Lead-IoT, Omdia

We expect to hear more about the GSMA Open Gateway, a framework of Application Programmable Interfaces (APIs) designed to provide universal access to operator networks for developers and hyperscalers. With shrinking margins in connectivity there is a significant opportunity in telcos exposing APIs for easier developer integration into IoT projects, showcasing a range of approaches from simpler to deeper integration.

The ability of an operator to build and control the APIs that link developers’ and hyperscalers’ new applications with their networks will be pivotal to further monetizing the IoT opportunity. While the business models for monetizing APIs are still emerging, operators could earn returns by charging customers, developers, and hyperscalers for access. Fees could be based on different parameters such as usage, time, or device, while developers and hyperscalers could be charged a fee and potentially a share of their revenues.

Programmable networks – Scott Bicheno, Editorial Director, Telecoms.com

A major theme as this year’s MWC will be programmable networks. At its pre-MWC briefing, giant mobile kit vendor Ericsson made it clear that it’s all-in on the concept, on which it thinks the future of the mobile industry depends. Essentially it comes down to operators establishing loads of new B2B revenue streams by charging third parties for access to their networks, through which they can create all kinds of amazing new products and services.

Right now, however, it still feels like a leap of faith. There are very few of these differentiated offerings in the wild and the API economy Ericsson was hoping to capitalize on through its acquisition of Vonage has been slow to evolve. Many vendors will be talking up the programmable network at this year’s show but I suspect solid supporting evidence will be thin on the ground.

AI coming into focus – Andrew Wooden, Deputy Editor, Telecoms.com

In the wider world we seem to be past the explosion in think pieces about how AI is going to dissolve everyone’s job and/or blow up the world, and now the mainstream press chatter is often focussed on the more sober concern of the legality of generative AI’s content scraping techniques.

On Planet Telecoms, it seems now almost obligatory that press releases come loaded with a mention of AI and how it’s going to amp up some network function or another. This year’s MWC is bound to see a flurry of such announcements, but a key question will be how the big operators can play a central role in its development as they clearly want to do, and how this dovetails with APIs, which was a key theme of the 2023 show, but has in the intervening year not yielded a wealth of tangible examples.  

Another key theme a couple of years ago was the metaverse. The air seems to have somewhat deflated from that baloon in the meantime, probably because no one really knew what it was and were not sufficiently enlightened by seeing a cartoon avatar of Mark Zuckerberg floating over an island. But they’ll still no doubt be some AR/VR/XR action at the show, though perhaps leaning into more niche use cases like industrial training.

Nokia’s FWA and security offerings – Manish Gulyani, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer, Nokia Network Infrastructure, Nokia

Whether they are well-established CSPs; new networking players or organisations managing mission-critical network infrastructure, our customers have much in common.  First, they are determined to grow their business.  At MWC, we will showcase innovations – including in fixed wireless access for sub-6 and mmWave and broadband experience software – that enable customers to do exactly that.  Second, the more vital networks become, the more important it is to protect them from everything from outages to the threats posed by criminals.  

We will show how our unique Deepfield offering provides faster, more accurate DDoS mitigation, and demonstrate Nokia’s quantum-safe networking: protecting customers against fast-emerging threats.  Finally, our customers want all this while optimising operations to reduce cost and power usage.  We demonstrate how our PSE-6s and WaveSuite solutions are already delivering these objectives and how we are harnessing the power of AI to help simplify operations.

Consumer-ready GenAI – Anthony Goonetilleke, Group President of Technology and Head of Strategy, Amdocs

It’s no secret that GenAI will be a leading theme at this year’s MWC as communication service providers around the world embrace the tech. However, GenAI adoption doesn’t come without challenges and complexities, and overcoming these barriers will be a core topic of discussion as telecoms and technology companies come together at the show.

 Everybody from webscale giants to those at the forefront of LLM development knows that the business impact of GenAI will be significant, but the industry must invest in telco-specific use cases and copilots that can support the provision of carrier-grade service levels and trusted AI while maintaining the high accuracy and trust levels that telecom demands. I am confident that MWC will provide a springboard for these discussions.

The future of 5G and 6G – Dominic Black, Director of Research Services at Cavell

MWC showcases the latest tech, not only showing what is the possible now, but also in the future. I’m sure there will be a lot of discussions around 6G and the possibilities that it may enable even though the perceived benefits of 5G still haven’t been fully realised. Service providers will still be searching for areas that they can drive value out of their huge capital investments that have been made into their networks. AI will be at the forefront of every discussion and keynote, the pace of innovation is so fast that I imagine many of these announcements will be superseded by the time 2025 comes along.

Seamless roaming between private and public networks – Ann Heyse, Telco Solutions Manager, BICS

Despite a lack of 5G and IoT devices, as well as spectrum licence acquisition challenges, at MWC we will see an emphasis on deploying mobile private networks more widely across sectors, driven by increasing government support globally. The manufacturing sector is poised to dominate private 5G network deployment, but other industries will soon catch up, including healthcare, logistics, energy, utilities, transportation, and smart cities.

 Geographically, countries like the U.S., U.K., Germany, China and Japan are leading the way, but private networks across the board are seeing consistent growth, with reports indicating their presence in over 1,000 organisations across 70+ countries in 2023. Regardless of how the chips fall geographically or industry-wise, the conversation at MWC must be about overcoming the remaining challenges around public/private roaming access if we are to reap the benefits of private networks. The industry is already making the right steps in facilitating seamless in/out roaming between private and public networks without the need for complex operator agreements – but this is something we need to see more of.

AI messaging – Martin Morgan, Head of Digital Marketing at Qvantel

I think it’s fair to say that most of the stands at MWC will have some form on AI messaging on them. But you’ve got to be able to pick the use cases that make most sense and deliver real solutions to real problems. Customer care is a classic example where AI can help. You’ve got average call waiting times of around 3 minutes, and then you’re looking at first call resolution rates of around 40%. This is clearly an area that AI can help – not by replacing care agents, but by acting a copilot in order to improve customer care performance. For anyone looking at AI at MWC, there is a need to add a dose of cold business reality and ask how AI is going to fix current business issues and deliver a better experience for customers.

Industry development – Dario Talmesio, Research Director, Omdia

From the headlines, MWC24 feels like a vast alignment call where everybody shares their progress; those looking for a big headline may be slightly disappointed. But digging deeper, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the development of the industry. Take, for example, some AI challenges such as algorithmic explicability: this year, we will see some clever vendors creating tools to address the issues that still are a serious barrier to adoption. Sum up 100s of these developments and realize that the industry is moving forward decisively. Many areas are moving forward, from network API commercialization to 5G-advanced and 6G and NTN, Open RAN as well as a better regulatory framework for telecom operators. But overall, what will define this year’s MWC is Telco B2B and AI, and, of course, a combination of the two.

Open and disaggregated in the forefront – Kristian Toivo, Executive Director, TIP

Open RAN is designed for multi-vendor deployments and solutions will need to guarantee interoperability and cost-effectiveness. At MWC, the industry will be looking to explore how the major vendors will enable the integration of 3rd party suppliers’ products into their solutions, and how the installed base of RAN equipment will interwork with and evolve towards Open RAN.

 We can expect an emphasis on testing and certifying these multivendor solutions, and also further insights on how the intelligence and automation of the RAN will evolve through the implementation of the Service Management and Orchestration (SMO), RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) and xApps & rApps.

Greater collaboration between terrestrial and non-terrestrial satellite operators – Peter Kibutu, Advanced Technology Lead – NTNs, TTP

At MWC, we can expect more partnerships between terrestrial and satellite operators to be explored, aiming to extend coverage in un- and under-served areas for the delivery of basic services such as voice, messaging and data, as well as new use cases, such as connected cars and industrial IoT.

Terrestrial operators own a lot of valuable spectrum that can be used by satellite operators for direct-to-handset services, and both parties have a lot to gain from collaboration. However, to achieve this, satellite operators will need to move away from using proprietary technology, and instead build their solutions using the 3GPP non-terrestrial network (NTN) standards – which will allow seamless integration with terrestrial networks. This is a crucial piece of the puzzle as we evolve towards the availability of true global coverage, driven by the convergence of the terrestrial and satellite communities.

More gen AI – Kelvin Chaffer, CEO, Lifecycle Software

With European AI regulation hitting the news again over recent weeks, there is no doubt that AI will once again be a hot topic of conversation, with regulation and innovation alike representing a prevalent theme at this year’s MWC. Keeping abreast of regulation and how it impacts will of course be key, but I expect to see most telco players focusing more on AI’s potential for business. Whether it’s discussion of how to harness Gen AI to further enhance the customer experience and deepen the customer relationship, adopt a data-driven approach to target niche markets through more precise and personalised strategies or combat the evolving telecom fraud threat, the power of AI-enabled real-time analytics and machine learning for telcos is very real. By effectively leveraging these technologies, telcos can  identify and neutralise threats, enhance efficiency, reach new audiences and improve current customer experience, ultimately saving on infrastructure and operations costs.

General

Consumers prefer 5G fixed wireless to fibre

A growing number of households worldwide are using fixed wireless access as their main home broadband connection and indications are that satisfaction is higher than it is with fibre connections.

The customer satisfaction angle is one of the headline findings of a new report into fixed wireless access (FWA) published by Ericsson this week. And overall the report – dubbed ‘Capturing the 5G FWA opportunity: A household view’ – paints a pretty optimistic picture of FWA globally, particularly given the ongoing spread of 5G networks.

The Swedish equipment maker’s ConsumerLab carried out an extensive study into FWA usage in the back half of last year, surveying 23,700 respondents in 19 countries, including markets with little or no 5G-based FWA as well as those where it is becoming more common, like the US and Australia.

The report is not particularly data-heavy, but it does give a flavour of the market and its potential, which will make for encouraging reading for telcos already embracing FWA, as well as those with an eye on future monetisation of 5G.

On that last point, FWA is already starting to prove itself.

“Fixed wireless access is currently the largest 5G use case after mobile broadband in terms of uptake, with connections worldwide forecast to grow almost threefold to 330 million by the end of 2029, generating US$75 billion in annual service provider revenues,” said John Yazlle, Head of Fixed Wireless Access at Ericsson Networks, in a statement accompanying the report.

“The report explores the high potential growth of the FWA market given that 1 in 2 households have stated their interest in 5G FWA and highlights that even beyond the US, households choosing 5G FWA are abandoning their previous home broadband connections,” added Jasmeet Singh Sethi, Head of ConsumerLab.

Indeed, Ericsson’s data shows that the number of households using 5G FWA as their primary means of connectivity stood at 69% last year, markedly higher than the 53% figure it reports for one to two years ago, and 46% more than two years ago. And customers are not just replacing older technologies in favour of 5G FWA; 19% replaced cut the cord on fibre last year.

What’s more, fewer than one in 10 households using 5G FWA said they would consider terminating their subscription within a year.

And compared with fibre households were more satisfied with 5G FWA in areas such as delivery times, contract conditions, equipment quality and cost, Ericsson noted. While the two technologies are on a par – in consumers’ eyes – when it comes to network performance, including speed, indoor coverage, security and capacity.

However, satisfaction falls, relatively speaking, when looking at 4G-based FWA. In both the service and network areas, customers were less happy than with both fibre and 5G FWA.

That said, surely that’s market segment that service providers need to put some effort into upgrading as 5G becomes more widespread.

“The study results validate household preferences for high-speed broadband and convenience supporting 5G FWA adoption,” Yazlle said. “With 5G technology and networks in place, it is the right moment to capture this large opportunity with more than a billion underserved households and enterprises globally.”

General

AT&T outage complicates the MWC 5G narrative

US operator AT&T suffered a ten-hour disruption to its mobile network, even affecting emergency services, which is likely to undermine confidence.

There were multiple reports of an AT&T outage that apparently lasted around ten hours yesterday. According to Down Detector is also resulted in a spike in problem reports from all the other US mobile operators and, most concerningly of all, even affected FirstNet, the mobile network relied upon by US first responders (translation: emergency services).

Everything seems back to normal now, and outages happen, but this was a relatively big one. So much so that the FCC and even US security services have taken an active interest in case there was foul play involved. “Based on our initial review, we believe that today’s outage was caused by the application and execution of an incorrect process used as we were expanding our network, not a cyber attack,” said AT&T on its very minimal update page.

Reporting on the outage, US-based site Light Reading noted the outage twists up AT&T’s story at the big telecoms trade show of the year – MWC – which commences next week. We agree but would even take it a step further and say it’s at the very least unhelpful to the broader 5G narrative.

As Ericsson insisted in its pre-MWC event last week, for 5G to eventually be a success relies on opening up the network to third parties to innovate novel products and services on top of it. There are many technical issues that need to be ironed out for this vision to become a significant reality, such as how to bill for network access. But it ultimately relies on those third parties viewing the network as a relatively safe investment before taking such a major step into the unknown.

Many of the use-cases offered to illustrate the potential of this programmable network involve concepts like quality-of-service and generally paying for a premium slice. If even one of the biggest, most advance operators in the world, which is also in charge of critical comms, can’t assure its customers the whole thing won’t periodically go offline for several hours, then how can it convince them to pay extra for premium, bespoke services?

Having said that, outages need to be kept in perspective. Mobile networks are very complicated things – increasingly more so – that work just fine 99.9% of the time. But since much of the 5G narrative seems to involve introducing extra variables in the form of third parties poking about in the increasingly automated network, it feels like we’re still some way away from them being robust and ubiquitous enough to deliver the 5G dream.

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