Network evolution

Network evolution is driven by demand for improved user experience and cost-efficient network operations, as well as operator interest in exploring new revenue opportunities in the IoT and enterprise services market. Providing such services will put new requirements on the networks; these include increased data throughput capacity, lower latency and evolved capabilities for management and orchestration of both services and networks. In the Ericsson Mobility Report June 2017, we explore how networks are evolving to meet these requirements.

Key findings

  • Networks are evolving to meet the demands of new use cases
  • Cloud-enabled telecom core networks with NFV and SDN are starting to be commercially deployed
  • Network slicing will enable operators to provide service differentiation for a diverse range of applications, users, verticals and business models
  • Enhanced mobile broadband will meet the performance requirements of high-demand applications

Mobile networks are evolving to deliver enhanced mobile broadband and communication services with high data throughput, quality of service and low latency requirements, as well as new IoT services with strong requirements on characteristics such as scalability, reliability, availability and latency. Significant radio performance enhancements, together with a more flexible and agile core network, will enable operators to serve a much broader range of use cases in the future.

Networks are evolving to meet the needs of new use cases, which will have diverse performance requirements

Enhancing radio network performance

Operators have deployed multi-standard access networks with GSM, HSPA and LTE, and are adding more spectrum bands to increase capacity and improve user experience. The majority of operators are expected to have five spectrum bands deployed in the coming years, making it vital to maximize the spectral efficiency and utilization of these bands.

In addition, to get the maximum performance out of each spectrum band, most networks will have multi-layered deployment; that is, a combination of macro and small cells. Network software will optimize the coordination between the standards, bands and layers to further increase capacity and throughput.

Gigabit LTE network deployments in progress

Operators are evolving their existing LTE networks to LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) networks with Category1 (Cat) 4, 6, 9, 11 and 16 implementations, combining lower and higher frequency bands (both for FDD and TDD modes). This will lead to a wider coverage area, increased network capacity and faster data speeds. With Gigabit LTE (Cat 16), fiber-like mobile broadband speeds are achieved. This means people can enjoy their apps, music streaming and video content, for example, with less performance degradation, even during peak times or in crowded places. Gigabit LTE is enabled by LTE-A features, including 4x4 Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) antenna technology, three-channel carrier aggregation and higher order modulation schemes.

There are currently 591 commercial LTE networks deployed in 189 countries. Out of these, 194 have been upgraded to LTE-A networks.

Graph: Percentage and number of LTE-Advanced networks supporting Cat 4, Cat 6, Cat 9, Cat 11 and Cat 16 devices

More flexible and agile network

Cloud-enabled telecom core networks with NFV and SDN, enabling more agile networks, have started to be commercially deployed. These networks will be managed by service and network orchestration systems, which will shorten time to market when launching new services and make network operations more efficient. This will also pave the way for network slicing.

Network slicing segments a physical network into multiple virtual networks. It will enable operators to provide service differentiation for a diverse range of applications, users, verticals and business models in a more cost-efficient manner. The operator will be able to create and manage network slices that fulfill required criteria for different use cases and market scenarios. A network slice would last throughout the intended service lifetime and would provide full network function support to the devices connected with the network slice. Resources for the network slices can be set up based on various service demands. For example, a network slice set up to provide connectivity for smart meters that connects the devices with a high availability, with a given latency, data rate and security level. Another network slice could provide instant access to network capacity, or coverage for mission-critical services in the event of an emergency. These types of network slices could be prearranged through business agreements and provided on demand.

Distributed cloud is another technology that enables distributed workloads and compute resources to be deployed close to where they are being used. This enables critical latency-sensitive applications and increases service reliability.

Graph: Examples of use case evolution and supporting network technologies

Evolution of use cases

A broader range of use cases will evolve over time, along with implementation of supporting network technologies.

The demands of numerous existing and new use cases can be fulfilled on evolved 4G (LTE) networks. As networks evolve, there will be even more opportunities to enhance the existing use cases, as well as to meet the demands of more new use cases when 5G is implemented.

The first commercial use of 5G is expected to be for enhanced mobile broadband and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). Enhanced mobile broadband will provide very high system peak rates in the gigabit-per-second range, meeting the performance requirements of high-demand applications – such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and ultra-high-definition (UHD) video (4K/8K) – within a targeted coverage area. With 5G set to provide 10 to 100 times more capacity than 4G, it has the potential to enable cost-efficient FWA solutions on a massive scale.

Beyond enhanced mobile broadband, networks will be able to handle use cases with different demands on mobility, data rates, latency, reliability and device density. These cases will come from industries such as automotive, manufacturing, energy and utilities and healthcare. As indicated in the figure above, evolving networks will serve an increasing amount of use cases over time, governed by the specific use case requirements.

1 Category (Cat) labels the theoretical maximum speed a mobile device supports. The higher the Cat number, the faster the speeds