Seven communications technologies to watch in 2015

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By eeNews Europe

Data rates have helped LTE-A gain prominence in the global communications market. While LTE’s peak downlink speed is 300 Mbits/s, LTE-A is theoretically capable of reaching 1 Gbit/s. LTE’s highest rates are 75 Mbits/s while LTE-A clocks 500 Mbit/s.

The introduction of LTE and LTE-A-compatible mobile phones has generated competition among mobile manufacturers. Consequently, attaining data rates that meet LTE standards is a key to success for SPs (service providers) and NEMs (network element managers). Competition among leading equipment suppliers to develop efficient RANS (radio access networks), cell site implementation, and LTE base-station products also drives LTE network deployment.

More than 330 global networks deployed 4G LTE in the first half of 2014. The second quarter of 2014 saw almost 60 LTE-A trials, commitments, and commercial deployments. Most of these came from Western Europe, followed by Asia-Pacific and North America.

The transition from LTE networks to LTE-A is most visible in North America and Asia-Pacific, followed by Western Europe. According to Frost & Sullivan, by the end of January 2015, the number of LTE subscribers is expected to exceed 400 million while LTE-A will reach an estimated 22 million subscribers. Further, the analysis predicts that SPs will deploy over 43 LTE-A networks by the end of the year.

As SPs focus investments on LTE, sophisticated services like VoLTE (voice over LTE) will likely gain importance. VoLTE will lead to a recovery in mobile voice services and enable a new conversation experience—one much better than Skype. Because consumers still value voice services, VoLTE will remain significant for SPs.

HD voice will be available within the same network and SPs will offer additional services for VoLTE calls. Moreover, services such as web real-time communications are expected to be deployed, and enterprises will embed RCSs (rich communications services) into web applications to improve customer experience. At present, there is a shortage of VoLTE-compliant mobile devices. In addition, the industry must address handover when switching from circuit switch networks to complete IP-based networks. Mobile manufacturers must address issues with battery life to enable VoLTE. Because of these issues, demand for VoLTE continues to grow as there is a need to conduct performance testing on VoLTE-enabled devices, especially against heterogeneous networks.

Small cells are gaining momentum and will continue to evolve in coming years. This technology can be used to handle local coverage and capacity issues resulting from increased mobile data consumption. Small cells provide customers with faster, more reliable services in crowded areas such as malls and stadiums. Demand for small-cell infrastructure test equipment and network optimization solutions is expected to increase.

HetNets are one of the most effective technologies for increasing the capacity of mobile networks. A typical HetNet is comprised of several radio access technologies, architectures, transmission technologies, and base stations of various transmission powers.

Deployment of VoLTE will likely increase the heterogeneous nature of network infrastructure. As a result, VoLTE can be used to solve latency problems when transitioning between areas covered by VoLTE and those covered by different network architecture. HetNets QoS (Quality of Service) and QoE (Quality of Experience) leave much to be desired as handoff issues between cellular and small cell Wi-Fi networks still exist. Roaming, traffic prioritization, and user authentication are among other HetNet challenges that must be addressed. Thus, operators need effective products and systems to test and monitor legacy-based network infrastructure and next- generation mobile wireless networks for proper coverage.

Source: NEC.

Another trending technology is 802.11ac, which helps SPs with mobile traffic offloading to Wi-Fi. In fact, 802.11ac technology is critical in ensuring Wi-Fi networks reach carrier-grade quality. In 2017, it is estimated that over 55 percent of all mobile data will be offloaded to Wi-Fi networks. To quell customer churn, SPs must ensure that the quality of Wi-Fi services is acceptable. As carrier-grade Wi-Fi becomes a reality, demand for test and monitoring solutions is expected to rise.

The 802.11ac standard incorporates fresh technologies from 802.11n, thus providing higher throughput. Most 802.11ac testing equipment is being used in the R&D and QA testing phases. The test equipment market, however, is moving toward manufacturing and field tests. Thus, new test equipment is required to address the performance of 802.11ac products.

A buzzing topic in 2014, NFV (network functions virtualization) saw significant investments and is here to stay. NFV technology supports the virtualization of components, allowing a flexible network infrastructure that supports shifting of applications and services to the cloud. NFV is expected to bring efficiency to networks and business operations and will allow operators to effectively support subscriber demands.

Though virtualization has been around for about 50 years, interest in the technology was recently reinvigorated by enterprises looking for ways to deliver less expensive, more efficient IT services. Virtualization dynamically allocates physical server resources—processors and memory—among multiple applications and workloads. In a virtualized environment, applications are deployed as all-inclusive VMs (virtual machines) containing application codes, an operating system, and configurations. Because the operating and deployment logic reside with the application code (they aren’t installed separately on the server), the VM can be moved and loaded onto any hypervisor-equipped server hardware through a management console—it’s as easy as moving a file.

Businesses are implementing virtualization in their private data centers at four times the rate they are adopting cloud services, according to recent Frost & Sullivan analysis. The research also adds that, today, virtualization is widespread, and 65 percent of all businesses report that they have implemented server virtualization in their data centers. With adopters enthusiastically embracing virtualization, the market holds significant growth potential.

In addition, control plane elements—the policy server, charging entities, and subscriber database, or HSS (home subscriber server)—are being virtualized for elasticity in the IMS (Internet Protocol multimedia system) core. There is a need to prove the performance quality of a physical device as the industry is moving away from the physical to a virtual device running on off-the-shelf hardware.

The NFV framework shows interfaces between various functional blocks. (Source: ISG NFV). Click image to enlarge.

The IoT (Internet of Things) is expected to make everything faster and more efficient. That is, from the automated testing of consumer devices to the designing, prototyping, deployment, and monitoring of industrial systems, to development of next-generation wireless communications.

As IoT engineering advances, the technology will drastically change how things communicate and the advance will significantly impact both the consumer and manufacturer. For consumers, there will be more wearable, smarter, and faster phones. Manufacturers will see more intelligent factories and energy grids. Smarter machinery control will symbolize the next crucial transition. According to National Instruments, an efficient testing system capable of integrating data with different formats is critical. Without such systems, testing costs will remain almost as high as equipment manufacturing costs.

Communication SPs are also investing in technology for the next generation of wireless communication: 5G. 5G is responsible for the advent of MIMO (Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output, which will introduce new waveforms to address ODFM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) shortcomings, and a move to millimeter waves (mm-waves) for more spectrum. In addition, 5G is expected to translate into a significant densification of wireless networks as well as more HetNets. There will be a more diverse variety of base stations and access points used within geographies including eNodeBs, small cells (picocells, femtocells, etc.) and relays.

Wireless networks are expected to become denser with 5G, which will surely give way to significant challenges across the wireless value chain. Those changes will span from component suppliers and equipment manufacturers to mobile network operators and contractors. Test-and-measurement companies such as Aeroflex (Now Cobham), Anritsu, Keysight Technologies, National Instruments, and Rohde & Schwarz, and Tektronix are already working on test equipment to help bring 5G networks to life.

Looking at the technology development rate, we likely won’t see a large number of live production network deployments for quite some time. Still, the need for speed is one of the most important needs in today’s communications industry.

The author Olga Shapiro is a Program Manager at Frost & Sullivan Test & Measurement Practice.

This article was originally published on the EE Times, Test and Measurement Designline website.


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