By Adrian O’Connor, CEO at Benetel
While the ordinary person on the street can be excused for thinking 5G just means more bandwidth, once they’ve shelled out for a new handset, the German government sees it for what it truly is: a break with the cellular past and an open door to the future of advanced communication. On top, it enables the country’s engineering innovation that is a driver of economic growth at a moment where the rules of engagement in wireless telecommunications are being turned on their head.
The average consumer and mobile operators will obviously benefit in the generally discussed ways, such as having better access to mobile networks and higher bandwidths, while lower latencies have the potential to make applications such as augmented and virtual reality come to fruition. But these are just improvements in the technical specification. It is the implementation, and what that enables, that makes it exciting.
Over the past decades of cellular technology, the pack of players offering mobile infrastructure has become uncomfortably small, leaving network operators with little room to implement and drive innovation or mix and match solutions. Although base stations moved from being all-in-one to distributed around the introduction of 3G, there is no interoperability between equipment from rival manufacturers at their physical interfaces.
The formation of the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) in 2016 was driven by a common interest by industry players to resolve the many engineering challenges facing our global telecom infrastructure. One project, OpenRAN, took on the challenge of standardising the interfaces at defined points in 4G and 5G network implementations. This enables more players to apply their engineering expertise to specific blocks of the radio access network (RAN), while mobile operators attain flexibility to source the optimal solution for their challenges in the knowledge that the selected hardware will be interoperable with their other hardware choices.
With this the opportunity arises to disaggregate the RAN entirely. In much the same way that many virtual servers can share the performance of a single CPU on a cloud server, many antenna and radio frequency (RF) solutions could share a disaggregated network of baseband processing implementations. Thus, as the tide of subscribers move from work to home, or from public transport to the football stadium, as long as enough antenna and RF systems are in place, their communication and data demands can be assigned to available baseband resources, wherever they may be and regardless of the antenna to which the subscribers were connected.
So, what makes Germany so clever when it comes to 5G? Well, not only has radio spectrum been allocated to the network operators, it has also been reserved for licensing by private operators too. While network operators will be targeting national roll-outs, private operators are expected to include manufacturing organisations with large sites looking to benefit from 5G. This could include factories building cars or semiconductor producers looking to utilise the benefits of 5G (high bandwidth, low latency), while leveraging the availability of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) radio modems to build private and secure networks. And, thanks to the standardised OpenRAN and its disaggregated approach, the investment required to build, operate and license such a network will be lower than ever before.
The opportunities for the nation to benefit are manyfold. OpenRAN provides opportunities for European businesses, such as Benetel, to play a role in the mobile network infrastructure market. In turn the lower cost for infrastructure makes private 5G networks attractive to German industry. They will need to source 5G enabled equipment to realise Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0, from which they will see benefits on the bottom line thanks to efficiency improvements. And this all helps to ensure that manufacturing, the back end of German engineering innovation, can stay Made in Germany.