Is network densification essential for a connected Asia?

Karl Horne, Chief Technology Officer, Asia Pacific, Ciena

In order to become a reality in such a short timeframe, networks must swiftly evolve from the current mobile and wired paradigm.

Densification: the smart strategy to improve capacity and coverage
'Densification' or the dense deployment of small cells throughout the macro cell network is already seen as the smart solution to address to rising bandwidth demand with 4G and LTE networks. Singapore and Hong Kong between them already have between 11,000 and 15,000 smartphone users per square kilometre.

Smart living and IoT will further increase bandwidth in two ways. First, there will be much more bandwidth being consumed by a huge number of connected devices. Most of these devices will exchange very small packets of data and information. Second, there will be a huge increase in signalling traffic, as the setup and addressing of these small message exchanges will be a higher percentage of the traffic (as compared to actual messages themselves) than was the case with 3G and 4G networks.

Small cells are being used to fill coverage gaps as well as augment the capacity in under-served areas. Small cells bring low-powered radios physically closer to end-users to strategically improve both capacity and coverage without the prohibitive costs of new macro cell base stations. Densification will augment the capacity and coverage of the overall wireless network. Densified networks are likely to be heterogenous, incorporating a mix of traditional macrocell base stations, small cells, in-building DAS, femtocells, Wi-Fi, backhaul, SDN, NFV virtualisation, and more.

However, densification alone will not be enough to render networks ready for connected devices in terms of network capacity and quality of service. The underlying network must be upgraded to realise the true quality of service improvements, and this is one of the fundamental issues that must be resolved by operators in order to deliver effective 5G services for Asian enterprises and consumers. For example, in order to accommodate the increased level of signalling traffic, the network's control layer needs to scale alongside the bandwidth. There is debate about the type of backhaul solution that will best serve the needs of 5G. There have been numerous voices in favour of wireless backhaul, while others are positive about fibre backhaul. Ethernet backhaul presents numerous advantages.

No matter which approach is used, it must be affordable, simple to roll out and easy to scale.

A densified 5G network based on widespread small-cell deployment needs to be designed for rapid and reliable scalability as the demand for mobile data surges with IoT adoption. It is important for operators to have the right toolkits for Operations, Administration and Management (OAM) that will enable them to quickly resolve issues to maintain the highest levels of performance. IoT devices that will connect to 5G networks — whether drones, connected cars or in-place healthcare tools — must be supported by an absolutely foolproof underlying network with integrated and automated OAM tools that are crucial for network maintenance and preventive troubleshooting.

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