• At Mobile World Congress, radio access network vendors are likely to promote features that simplify 5G networks, ease their deployment, and optimize their energy consumption.
• Ironically, these features are necessary to tackle problems exacerbated by 5G itself.
Cartoon character Homer Simpson once called alcohol “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” These days vendors of 5G infrastructure are making similar-sounding claims, as 5G hype has given way to a more, ah, sober reckoning of its implications.
As the telecom industry gathers at this year’s Mobile World Congress, we’re sure to hear that “5G is here!” and “5G is real!” – just as we have in previous years. But as the real-world challenges of 5G deployments draw nearer for operators, RAN vendors will need to devote some messaging to assuaging operators’ fears. In fact, this has already begun, and it takes the form of RAN vendors emphasizing 5G benefits that are, in fact, more like remedies to problems posed by 5G itself.
• Network Simplification: RAN vendors are likely to tout the ways that their solutions will simplify network management, including solutions employing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). But they will also concede that one reason AI is helpful is because beamforming using 5G Massive MIMO networks is likely to scale to a level of complexity that is beyond the ability of humans to manage.
• Deployment Aids: RAN vendors will show off solutions that make RAN installation easier by integrating multiple elements – such as radio/antenna units that integrate new Massive MIMO units with legacy infrastructure (thus allowing added functionality without added site space). But the reason such solutions are so important is because 5G will require significant densification; for example, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has estimated the need for some 800,000 new cells across the country to deliver 5G. What’s more, the Massive MIMO units that will be included in this densification effort are often far bulkier than traditional antennas – and thus more laborious to install.
• Energy Efficiency: RAN vendors are likely to point to new features for increasing energy efficiency in RAN solutions, through new cooling techniques and ways to temporarily power down unnecessary functions. But these features are important because 5G will require more power to deliver faster services, and RAN power supplies are a significant expense for mobile operators.
Selling operators on the above features can be tricky from a messaging perspective, because it requires RAN vendors to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths about 5G. But after years of hyping 5G use cases, the time to confront those truths – as vendors will be saying about 5G itself – is here now and very real.