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Mobile network evolution

A range of new industrial, enterprise and residential use cases beyond enhanced mobile broadband are enabled by evolving networks. Fixed wireless access (FWA) for residential use and distributed cloud for industries are two examples.


Key findings

  • A range of new industrial, enterprise and residential use cases beyond enhanced mobile broadband are enabled by evolving networks.
  • Fixed wireless access (FWA) for residential use and distributed cloud for industries are two examples of network evolution.
  • Operators are considering a three-step approach to FWA network evolution: to utilize assets, add spectrum and network capabilities and densify the network.
  • The use case requirements in the manufacturing industry can be addressed through the capabilities of a distributed cloud.
  • Providing services closer to the user reduces the network transport delay and enables faster time to content, actions and control.

The FWA opportunity

There are nearly 2.2 billion households worldwide and less than half are forecast to have a fixed broadband connection in 2022. In many markets, continuing to build out fixed broadband infrastructure is not economically viable. The high population coverage of 3GPP cellular technologies, as well as deployments of mobile networks with increasingly high network speeds (see the figure below), opens up an opportunity for FWA deployments.

An evolving market for FWA

FWA is generating interest in the industry for the following reasons:

  • Network performance is improving, making it an increasingly competitive alternative to fixed broadband
  • Additional spectrum is being made available globally 
  • Network cost per gigabyte delivered is decreasing, creating a viable operator business case 
  • There is increased demand for internet access and video streaming services 
  • It presents a new revenue opportunity for mobile operators
  • Governments in many markets are subsidizing broadband deployments as a means to stimulate economic growth 

Globally, the market for FWA can be divided into three different segments:

  1. Wireless fiber
    A market competing with fixed broadband access, driving a need for higher bandwidth offerings. The objective is to provide fiber-like speeds that can meet the demand for residential streaming services, such as TV and video. Typical data speed demand ranges from 100 to 4,000Mbps. 
  2. Build with precision 
    A market where there is some xDSL availability. However, there is a limited business case to provide fixed broadband alternatives. Typical data speed demand ranges from 50 to 200Mbps. 
  3. Connect the unconnected 
    A market where there are virtually no existing fixed broadband alternatives, and where the dominant way of accessing the internet is through mobile networks on a smartphone. Typical data speed demand ranges from 10 to 100Mbps.

The FWA network evolution approach

A well-performing mobile broadband network is the foundation for offering an FWA service. To do this profitably, the best way to evolve the network needs to be explored. A three-step approach is being considered by operators:

  1. Utilize assets
    This includes utilizing assets such as existing radio sites, spare load in deployed spectrum and associated deployed radio, baseband and transport equipment. 
  2. Add spectrum and network capabilities 
    This includes adding spectrum, as well as radio network capabilities such as higher-order modulation, Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) and beamforming, increased higher-order sectorization and 5G NR access. 
  3. Densify network 
    This includes densifying the radio network grid with macro and small cells.
Percentage and number of LTE-Advanced networks supporting Cat 4, Cat 6, Cat 9, Cat 11, Cat 15, Cat 16 and Cat 18 devices

A total of 21 gigabit networks have been commercially launched.

The distributed cloud opportunity

Networks are evolving to handle use cases with different demands on mobility, data rates, latency, scalability, security, integrity, reliability and availability. Such demands can be met by distributed cloud architecture, which allows applications to be deployed at central, distributed and edge sites, to meet specific use case requirements.

In comparison to what is possible from central sites, providing services closer to the user reduces the network transport delay and enables faster time to content, actions and control. Executing workloads closer to the network edge also reduces the need for backhaul bandwidth and capacity, and distribution of workloads and storage over multiple sites increases availability.

Manufacturing use case requirements

In the manufacturing industry, the digitalization of processes and workflows is creating requirements such as low latency, real-time performance, mobility, enhanced security, and ultra-reliable and very high availability. These requirements can be addressed through the capabilities of a distributed cloud.

However, connectivity requirements in a factory are very dependent on the use case and application, and so the network also needs to support service differentiation. Some use cases are possible to address with evolved 4G (LTE) technology, while others such as production and robot control may require latency between 1 and 10 milliseconds, which can only be achieved with 5G technology. Whether it is most beneficial (from both a business and use case perspective) to execute an application at a central or an edge site will differ from case to case.

On-premises cellular network deployment with edge computing

The manufacturing industry’s connectivity requirements are well matched by the capabilities of cellular networks. To enable smart manufacturing, there are different network deployment options depending on the use case needs and digitalization ambitions of the factory. One option is using virtualization and Dedicated Core Networks (DECOR) to map local private networks and virtual networks running within a mobile operator’s public network. A 4G and 5G network with dedicated radio base stations and Evolved Packet Core in-a-box can be deployed on the premises to ensure that traffic stays local to the site. In this case, on-premises cellular network deployment with local data breakout ensures that critical production data does not leave the premises, using Quality of Service (QoS) mechanisms to fulfill use case requirements and optimize reliability and latency. It also means that critical applications can be executed locally, independent of the macro network.

On-premises cellular network deployment with local data breakout