4G to 5G: How Operators Can Evolve Networks for the Future

4G to 5G: How Operators Can Evolve Networks for the Future

Published: 2nd March 2020

5G is being developed and rolled out at a pace not experienced with earlier communications standards, and it’s not difficult to see why. 5G promises ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency connectivity. It’ll also allow operators to unlock new revenue streams and drive profits from IoT applications.

The ability to capitalize on 5G is essential. Operators will continue to invest in developing network infrastructure throughout 2020 and beyond, and need to ensure ROI from this spend. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding the rapid evolution of 5G. However, operators should be careful not to lose sight of the importance of maintaining optimum quality of service (QoS) for subscribers of existing 4G services. Let’s not forget, this market makes up a large proportion of operators’ revenue at present.

4G is still evolving, presenting a number of challenges for preserving QoS. VIAVI has been supporting operators and NEMs deploy, maintain, optimise, and evolve complex wireless networks, from 2G onwards. Our solutions and approach enable service providers to ready their networks for 5G, ensure they can deliver on KPIs, and future-proof their businesses, while – critically – protecting and improving 4G/4.5G services.

We’ve recently published a whitepaper examining some of the impacts 5G will have on 4G services and some of the hurdles operators face, as well as offering advice and guidance for operators on how best to maintain their position in the 5G race, while avoiding degradation to the 4G QoS.

Below, we’ve outlined a number of key challenges of maintaining 4G as 5G evolves.

Frequent software updates

Developing 5G NSA means that 4G eNB (eNodeB, a base station component) must be updated, including testing things like the control signalling aspects, and the ability to manage mobility and handover scenarios. 3GPP is also adding new features to 4G, while at the same time 5G gNBs (the logical 5G radio node, the equivalent of eNB in 4G) are being updated with new features.

This all adds up to operators having to maintain pretty complex networks! And the result for end users isn’t great either; the high number of low complexity UEs and heavy load on 4G eNB can compromise the QoS of existing 4G users.

Maintaining network KPIs

As 5G NSA evolves, operators must ensure existing 4G KPIs are not degraded to maintain a consistent QoS for users of 4G services. As the number of users increase, operators must ensure that KPIs are strictly maintained, which will usually require optimising the network so that it can manage increasing demand.

There will be thousands of users experiencing different environments, traffic scenarios, fading and spatial conditions. As such, guaranteeing a stable QoS for users in high capacity scenarios can be a challenge, requiring frequent network testing to make sure that, as more functionality is added to the network, operators can continue to deliver on those all-important KPIs.

Handling a growing number of legacy and new low complexity UEs

Evolving networks means operators must manage a multitude of diverse, low complexity UEs, including new types of 4.5G Cat-M and NB-IOT devices which transmit bursts of traffic or small packets. Devices places high capacity demands on e/gNB processing can affect the overall network performance. Compounding the QoS challenge for operators is the continual additional of UEs or subscribers – and of different types of UE – which could further impact the experience for 4G users.

Operating 4G with 5G O-RAN

O-RAN promises a lot: disaggregating hardware from software and standardising interfaces in networks will free operators from costly vendor lock-in. Instead, they’ll be able to use best-in-breed off-the-shelf hardware, mixing and matching O-RAN network elements to best suit their requirements – and price points.

However, this also introduces a challenge, as operators must ensure that different software releases (with upgrades that will likely occur at different times) are interoperable, whilst at the same time protecting the QoS for the end user. Interoperability is important, but the operator also has to ensure that the entire network delivers peak performance, independent of the vendor specific
O-RAN network elements joint up together.

So, while challenges abound, VIAVI has never lost sight of the importance of continual network testing, through every generation of connectivity standard – whilst also supporting the future evolution of networks. VIAVI has the tools and expertise to ease this shift, expedite 5G roadmaps, and help operators ensure that existing users continue to experience optimum service quality through 5G and beyond.

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