When 5G was still in its infancy, Nokia Bell Labs teamed up with the NYU Tandon School of Engineering to bring together industry leaders to discuss advanced wireless research and their visions for 5G. Six years later, this event, which continues to host industry experts for an engaging conversation about the world of wireless, is my personal favorite event of the year.
No other event brings together thought leaders in the same way. Unlike other events on similar topics, the Brooklyn 5G Summit provides a unique look at wireless communications trends. Attendees discuss technical challenges surrounding the trends and speakers approach these trends with business-minded lenses.
5G Evolution and 6G
The sessions and panels this year focused on two areas: (1) technology that may be classified as 6G and (2) the rollout and evolution of 5G. Nokia very intentionally declared 2019 asfor 6G and predicted that 6G trials may start as soon as 2030. The general conclusion on 5G was that even though it’s being rolled out right now, there’s still a lot more work ahead.
To live up to its hype, 5G must deliver on its ability to address deep verticals. The need to enable new applications on top of 5G spurred lots of discussion around leveraging cloud computing and using the edge cloud to reduce latency. When considering these issues and latency, researchers should know which applications need specific KPIs.
Low latency is required for some applications while others need reliability more. Last year, the answer to this problem was clear—network slicing could handle this. But as companies investigate ways to implement it, network slicing may not be the solution that was envisioned.
Private networks can solve a lot of challenges and give users more control over the entire end-to-end network. The biggest potential con for this is cost of ownership. For others, concerns about privacy (a topic in multiple sessions) are more pressing, so private networks continue to be an optimal solution for them.
Network slicing shows a lot of potential, but it’s not ready to be deployed in a fully autonomous way. Humans still need to manually review detailed network configurations before they can deploy new slices. A broader rollout of this technology requires adding machine learning to create configurations. Machine learning and artificial intelligence can potentially be added to 5G networks to aid in performance optimization, but they’re not a magic solution to every problem. A few common themes emerged from the many conversations on machine learning and artificial intelligence at the summit this year. They’re clearly important and powerful tools that need to be applied thoughtfully to solve specific problems, but communications knowledge is still needed to use them correctly.
Researching for 6G
The three research topics examined at the summit that could be added to later evolutions of 5G but are more likely 6G technologies are (1) the use of terahertz frequencies (or above 100 GHz; the name and exact frequency changes from researcher to researcher), (2) machine learning and artificial intelligence, and (3) non-terrestrial networks.
Machine learning seems the most likely to be added to 5G, but the research is ongoing. With terahertz, researchers can send communication data, but they also may be able to achieve a network that can sense (remember, we already use terahertz today in airport body scanners). Non-terrestrial networks are also a promising way to deliver wireless service in remote areas and for disaster relief.
With technology advancing quickly, the larger hurdles are on the regulation side. For example, getting permission to fly a balloon in the airspace of multiple different countries as it travels across Europe can take months (assuming approval is granted at all).
When thinking about the diversity of applications 5G is aiming to address, 5G hardware will also need to be diverse, both on the base station and user equipment sides. There’s a push (mostly from carriers) to make different pieces of network equipment, like baseband processors and remote radio units, more black box.
The goal is to enable a plug-and-play-like ecosystem for which different pieces from a variety of vendors can be connected to make standard-compliant gNBs. A working group called Open RAN Alliance (O-RAN)
the wants to define an industry-standard protocol between the different hardware so that equipment from multiple vendors can work together. ORAN concepts were shown in several demos on the show floor.
NI's 5G NR Non-Standalone Test UE
NI was excited to show a 28 GHz New Radio (NR) over-the-air network demo this year in partnership with CommScope and Radisys. The gNB was built using an Intel FlexRAN baseband processor, a Radisys protocol stack, and a CommScope remote radio unit. Bringing together three independent commercial vendors to create a 5G NR-compliant gNB is a great example of how an ORAN system may be built and function.
NI provided its 28 GHz Test UE built using the NI mmWave Transceiver System, a mmWave software defined radio, and an NR-compliant stack running on FPGAs and an x86 processor. The can be used to verify that these ORAN-type systems still comply with 5G NR as pieces in the systems are interchanged. It provides network performance information to help debug and optimize the communications link. As 5G continues to evolve and deep verticals are being built, having a compliant 5G NR UE to test against will be critical.
The summit concluded with a trip to Nokia’s Future X Lab at its Murray Hill site. The demos shown combined all the different technologies discussed during the week to create an interactive and inspiring vision of what the future 5G connected world will be like.
This may have been year 0 for 6G, but it certainly is not the last year of 5G.