The 5G Ecosystem

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FYI – this is a partial report of the new collection of reports I am compiling for my new book, “The Road to 5G Deployment”.

The 5G ecosystem seems endless, but we must look at all aspects. The NR is something that will have the true 5G format. It’s going to be the driver for most of the 5G radios.

One thing you see all the time is the 5G NR, New Radio. The reason is that the NR is supposed to have the 5G format. What the hell is that? With LTE they could explain exactly what the over the air format looked like. The thing is, as LTE evolution happened there were more and more features that were included. Sure, you all hear of 256 QAM and how that changed everything, but there’s more at play than just a kick-ass modulation. It’s an ecosystem that will be created with the 5G system. We all Get the Wireless Deployment Handbook today!want to see 5G as something that is over the air, but the reality is more equipment will be needed to make 5G a reality.

If you want to know more about over the air signaling, go to:

The features were carrier aggregation. This was the part where they could get multiple carriers to all be sent to a device then put together to look like one big pipe. They could do this on the wired side for years, you may know it as multiplexing. Now, they can do it with wireless. But wait, there’s more! Now they can take the carriers from the different spectrum and put it all together as long as the UE device can hear them all at the same time. WOW! But wait, this was all good if it was all LTE, same format, but they also added in Wi-Fi, which works! Find out more at and if you want to know more. They were able to get all the spectrum to work together, like the licensed, lightly licensed, and unlicensed spectrum to work as one larger cohesive unit. More spectrum means more throughput. More throughput means happy end users and spectrum efficiency, sort of.

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Spectral efficiency is essential, and this is being looked at with new forms of beamforming. Beamforming was around for a while, but it was out there to help coverage issues and to overcome RF reflections that caused problems. However, today we have 3D beamforming that is way more than that. It is creating the antenna to be more efficient in spectrum use and loading. How can this be made better?

Massive MIMO, where they put more than 32 elements in one antenna, then you could have each element capable of beamforming so that it can communicate with a limited number of user devices with minimal interference. WOW!  Now, with these elements, you need to have a radio that could talk to each element individually as well as control the beams of each element. Hence, this is all part of massive MIMO today.

What is NR?

Good question. NR stands for New Radio, creative, right? New Radio, like when isn’t there a new radio with a new generation, but that’s the name these marketing geniuses went with. We all want something new, right?

So, the NR will have no compatibility constraints, according to the articles. We see that the standard seems to build on OFDM, the LTE standard. It will encompass more bands. It will allow LTE and Wi-Fi to work together.

Luckily 3GPP is going to sort all of this out for us. They are setting 5g-deployment-plan-front-cover-3k-pixelsthe standard, in fact, they already have a standard. I don’t’ believe it’s complete but the first specifications have been approved. They came out with something in December of 2017 that has the industry buzzing. It’s funny because if you listen to the carriers here in the USA, you would think it’s rolling out as we speak. If you want to see what the companies are saying, go to and you can see a list of quotes from carriers, manufacturers, and anyone who intends to build something 5G.

It’s exciting, but keep in mind that they need to build off what we have, which means for the first time, the 4G system can gradually morph into a 5G system without complete network overhauls. However, to meet the specifications set by the ITU there are still major RAN overhauls needed.

Like what? Massive MIMO, 3D beamforming, low latency, radio upgrades, and more. This means the antennas and radios must be upgraded to handle the bandwidth. The systems that need low will need to change the way they route, maybe using MEC by putting a server at the site or at the BBU location. We will also see CRAN take off to meet some of these specifications.

In other words, it could get painful when the mobile system is upgraded. New RAN, upgrade core, and new hardware at sites. It all adds up. Will it be worth the effort? In other words, is the juice worth the squeeze? I hope so.

Why do I ask? Because now the world has unlimited usage contracts. I should be able to use 10-Gbps a month on my smartphone uploading cat videos and it shouldn’t cost me any more than your grandmother who uses her smartphone to make phone calls only. We all know that’s not true, the carriers will make me pay the most they can get, but in theory, it should work that way.

The point is, the carriers will upgrade their systems and the payback appears to be limited if they look at airtime only. Hence, new services will be rolling out like video. New partnerships that the carriers will use to build subscribers, steal from the other carriers and make a profit all at the same time.

We must not limit our thinking to data and airtime only like I often do. The carriers are building new business cases and looking to disrupt other business models, like the ISP service that cable companies offer. We all want unlimited music and video where we can watch or listen to what we want when we want. The carriers can profit from that. It’s a new world for a new radio! That requires new technology to support the new services that new marketing will support.

How does this help the business of 5G?

There are 2 things I look at. While most people are looking at what it can do for the end-user, we also must look at how it helps the carriers.

The end-user:

This is where the carriers get bragging rights. The more throughput to the end-user, the more video they can run seamlessly. The more apps they can download. They have better coverage and begin to rely on their device for everything. It is more than a toy or a phone or an email device. It’s a part of their like with their books, podcasts, TV, news, information, daily living calendar all in the palm of their hand.

The end-user gets enough throughput to work from their device, whether it’s a laptop or a tablet or their smartphone. That’s a win for the customer if the QOE, quality of experience, is there. The customer wins because the cost is fair, and the experience is fantastic. Sure, they pay for it, but maybe they can cancel their other broadband connection and do everything with one company instead of 2.

This seems reasonable now, but remember how hard it was to cancel that landline? People were used to having a mobile with a landline. Now even where I work doesn’t have dedicated landlines for everyone, just standard phone lines for all to share because they know that everyone will use his or her mobile to do business. That’s the way the world is.

Another thing people are hoping to see is virtual reality and augmented reality. They want to see real action real-time. Those features, while great for video games are soon becoming a mainstream medium for medical uses, live sports, and live entertainment. While medical may seem like a necessity, if people are willing to pay for any of those things, they are all drivers of 5G, around the world.

Key takeaway! à Soon people will disconnect their cable connection because they can do it all through the device in their hand or 2 devices all from the same supplier.

For the Carrier:

Looking at the carrier, they should be relying on 5G for more than customer retention. They will see new markets coming their way.

Broadband to the home in direct competition with the cable companies. It will be from a mobile device or a wireless modem. Who needs a cable connection when you have a wireless device that works just as well, if not better.

They will be able to sell and promote more apps than ever that can do more things. They will be able to promote laptops with their chips in it because Wi-Fi may not work everywhere but 5G will, in theory. (Hey, why not have both again as we did years ago?)

Now, the critical thing. Equipment at the sites will get smaller and smaller. They are hoping to save money as the RRH and antenna not only become one unit, but a much smaller form factor than the radio heads, the coax, and the antenna spread across an area. All of that into one form that is smaller and lighter than what they had before.

The MEC was hoping to put servers at every cell site, but the carrier may like the CRAN option better. Why not have a central location that would house the servers and possibly the BBUs and run fiber to the radio sites. Keep the equipment minimal at the sites, after all, that’s where most of the OpEx is spent.

The active antennas, (radio head + Antenna in one unit), will also be able to pump through more spectrum in different bands than ever before. This has been a significant challenge for the OEMs, but they seem to be doing it. They are making it more and more efficient to deploy multiple spectrum in on unit.

There are multiple formats that can work together here too. However, they are not all on one radio, that I know of, yet. Not sure when or how this will happen, but I know it’s not here now.

These moves will save the carriers money over the long run, just like LTE started helping that out. They are looking to cut costs since the unlimited contracts started happening. It’s hard to up sell unlimited. Now you need to sell the value add over the updated phones. Value-add would be the video services, like Amazon Prime or Netflix. Applications and other things that have traditionally been passed through. T-Mobile already figured this out; they already started moving in that direction. Now the pipe is a given, it’s time to expand the business line like Verizon and AT&T have already by purchasing news and media companies.

It’s not all savings!

As the demand for broadband grows, so does the demand for backhaul. While the connection rates are coming down, it will take more than ever. Anyone who owns some dark fiber should make some money over the next 5 years because the demand is growing. It’s really taking off, and the 5G system will help make that happen.

The fiber providers will make money along the way. They have an excellent opportunity to sell all the dark fiber they can and then run some more. Unfortunately, running more fiber will be easier said than done. It takes planning, high cost, permitting, zoning, and so on.

Sprint gets the last laugh.

I think that Sprint with the TDD spectrum they have in the 2.5GHz range will get the last laugh because they have the spectrum to explode in 5G. TDD is an excellent way to do digital only communications. I would love to see Sprint overcome all their poor decision-making of the past to shine finally.

I read a fascinating article at where Will Townsend talks about how Sprint will win the 5G race. I hope this happens, but history has shown me that Sprint’s biggest problem has been Sprint. Can they get out of their own way? Let’s hope so for the industry’s sake. If they can make it work, then it will push the other US carriers to be creative. The potential is there for greatness.



Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

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