A new 451 Research study commissioned by Vertiv has brought new insight and clarity to how global operators are working toward the deployment of 5G and new edge intelligence environments to support it.
Overall the report concludes that while some initial steps are happening now, a little over half the operators said they would deliver their first 5G commercial services in 2020 and a third said 2021. The initial deployments will primarily be faster versions of existing services like information feeds, social media, games, and movies.
Two of the key drivers for 5G involve faster data rates within the Radio Access Network (RAN), increased intelligence at the network edge to support low latency applications, and increased capacity to support Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
Key challenges involve addressing increased energy requirements and site acquisition to support the denser RAN topologies and edge intelligence required for 5G.
I talked with Martin Olsen, Vice President, Global Edge & Integrated Solutions at Vertiv to get his perspective on the conclusions in the study and what that means to the 5G ecosystem.
Martin Olsen has a 20-year history with data center power and cooling infrastructure and manages the strategic product roadmaps and software services as it relates to edge computing. Martin regularly interacts with customers to identify key features and timelines to align product roadmaps.
Q: The research paper mentions the 5G evolution will begin for most in the next couple of years. What are the steps we’ll see as we progress through these next two years?
Olsen: The evolution will be a journey. Intelligent edge and how 5G complements it is still being explored and it’s an aggregate of a number of technologies. I think we’ll see a number of proof of concepts first. Trial balloons that focus around the RAN. Broadcast and more traditional/current use cases involving content distribution networks for example. These mature use cases have their own well known, mature business case around them. The development of business models around new use cases is in early stages. There is some activity, but it’s not wide spread because the business model isn’t understood yet.
Q: One of the key findings mentioned “Site acquisition and connectivity” being critical enablers – are mobile operators going to get into the data center business?
Olsen: Mobile operators have their own CO [central office] and infrastructure. There are also tower sites. A third actor now involves property management companies. Thousands of small cell nodes need to be put in place where they’ve never been put before. Metro area properties and new actors will be coming into play. Antennas, server racks, and backhaul need to be considered. Initially it will be about placing the small cell and broadcast equipment. When real MEC [multi-access edge computing] starts gathering critical mass, larger sites will be needed to leverage distributed cloud computing.
Q: The study mentioned that energy efficiency is a large concern for 5G – will this be a roadblock? What kinds of solutions are available?
Olsen: The study finding that energy is a concern wasn’t surprising. Operators are already seeing the densification causing increased power demand. One example of increased power involved redundancy. In a centralized solution, you typically design in redundancy which may effectively double power and space requirements. As the 5G decentralization evolves, designing redundancy at all these distributed locations is not feasible from a power and space perspective. At Vertiv, we’re innovating around utilizing mesh networks to build redundancy into the network instead of being built into each node. Maybe you have a single UPS [uninterruptable power supply] at a site and if it goes down, through orchestration traffic reroutes to another site as opposed to implementing redundancy at each site. We’re also looking at ways to optimize power and cooling infrastructure.
More Study Observations
Olsen went on to describe using statistics and telemetry information at each site that could be operated on by cloud infrastructure. The telemetry information can provide information on system health, use and load. Adding automated orchestration and intelligence involving when to shut down a VM [virtual machine], moving a VM to another network may be able to optimize energy load across the entire system as well as avoiding potential down time.
Olsen mentioned retail and health care have edge sites but don’t rely on 5G networks today. But the analytics is happening on-site. As this paradigm continues to evolve, the intelligence will migrate into the RAN as opposed to burning space and power at the location. Being positioned at the RAN also opens the door to intelligent processing, metrics sharing and management services.
The study also mentions that long-term 5G use cases involve:
- Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB)
- Ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLCC)
- Massive machine-type communications (mMTC)
mmWave technology will enable up to 1 gigabit per second bandwidth, but need to be deployed as smaller, more densely populated nodes that will host far fewer people and things. Operators will need to roughly double the number of radio access locations in the next 10-15 years.
Multi-access edge computing (MEC) will give rise to small, self-contained data center infrastructure within the mobile network as far out as the radio towers as well as intermediate metro Points of Presence (PoPs), aggregation locations, customer premises, roadside enclosures, and other points between the RAN and core network. When this happens, these mini and micro data centers will need to consider how they are powered and environmental factors.
The marketing hype for 5G is in full swing, painting the picture as if 5G will be here this year or next. However, it will take significant time to think through how 5G will proliferate through cityscape, and landscape. Power and environmental considerations are complex. Mission critical equipment from a centralized data center is being distributed to corporate buildings, industrial settings, and smart poles. This raises important questions like cooling the equipment, power delivery, dust, weather conditions, and how to maintain and service the new distributed 5G infrastructure. The reward is great. New business models and services that can be provided will be a huge transformational event for mobile operators. It will just take time to get there.
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