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Evolution toward 5G Multi-Tier Networks
By Hank Kafka, VP-Access Architecture and Devices, AT&T
While carriers and network vendors have begun to buzz about 5G, the technology is still very much a developing concept, with industry groups projecting use cases for scaled deployment in 2020 and beyond. It will be a technology spanning the full wireless ecosystem with air interface, devices, transport, packet core and more. Some 5G capabilities could first be implemented as LTE-Advanced extensions.“5G networks are expected to build on and extend the architectural concepts” 5G is expected to include the concept of multiple tiers in multiple ways. In the succession from 2G to 3G to 4G-LTE, a defining focus of each new generation has been to provide higher speeds to handsets. But emerging needs are more complex. We’re now in the early stages of the burgeoning explosion of the Internet of Things. Some of the “things” represent a tier of devices that crave higher speeds. While others require long battery life and low costs more than high speeds. Work on LTE standards is already defining technology for this new tier of devices, designated as category-1 and category-0 devices. Under these expectations, 5G will expand with further support for multiple tiers of devices: massive numbers of inexpensive low power devices, as well as devices operating at ever higher speeds. Support for these higher speeds and capacities leads to another type of tiering within the network architecture. Today’s LTE-Advanced architecture includes heterogeneous networks, known as HetNets that synergistically combine conventional outdoor cell towers with the newer concept of Small Cells, located on buildings or even light poles. LTE-Advanced also includes Carrier Aggregation, which combines what previously would have been separate LTE carrier frequencies into a unified whole providing higher capacity and throughput.