The development of 4.5G progressed smoothly. According to a recent GSA presentation, as of November 2016, 105 carriers have deployed 4.5G commercial or trial networks around the globe. In the last year alone, Huawei—the originator of the 4.5G concept—worked closely with its global customers to successfully deploy 68 4.5G networks.
Among these 105 networks, many carriers have chosen to upgrade their network capabilities by demoing Gbps-level peak data rates with 4T4R+3CC+256QAM technologies. However, speed alone is not indicative of sustainable business success. In order to help carriers maximize the value of their networks and explore new business opportunities, in November Huawei announced the concept of 4.5G Evolution during the 7th Global Mobile Broadband Forum in Tokyo.
4.5G Evolution is broken down into three key steps: Go Giga, Go Vertical, and Go Cloud. This new concept not only helps carriers make the most of their networks and assets, but gives them the technology and architecture they need to explore previously untapped business opportunities.
In an era where networks are flooded with massive amounts of data, it's essential that carriers decrease the cost per bit of MBB services. Leading operators often give their end users the better end of the bargain, offering reasonable tariffs for huge or unlimited data plans. While this strategy helps cultivate growing DOU and eases user concerns over unreasonable data caps, it is far from sustainable. To achieve true sustainability, carriers need solutions that help lower their per-bit costs.
Massive MIMO is one technology that can do just that, demonstrating great potential for improving spectral efficiency. TDD-based Massive MIMO technology has already emerged on the commercial market. Softbank, for example, recently announced a 20GB package with far more competitive prices that ever before, powered by TDD Massive MIMO deployed with Huawei in sites all over Japan.
In the meantime, FDD-based Massive MIMO is the next major step, attracting worldwide interest due to its huge basis for deployment and rich spectrum availability. On January 16 2017, China Unicom completed the industry’s first FDD-based Massive MIMO field verification together with Huawei. Deployed on multiple legacy FDD LTE terminals, this solution hit a peak network throughput of almost 700Mbps on 20MHz spectrum.
Generally speaking, as a result of relatively high production costs and huge traffic demands, Massive MIMO technology is typically recommended for hotspot deployment. The ideal deployment strategy proposed by the 4.5G Evolution concept would be FDD 4T4R + Massive MIMO or TDD 8T8R + Massive MIMO, both of which are extremely effective at resolving traffic congestion issues in hotspot areas and providing a flawless MBB experience.
NB-IoT is a critical component of 4.5G technology, and plays a key role in the evolution to a fully connected, 5G-enabled world.
Recognizing the latent opportunities in the IoT market, companies like Amazon, IBM, and Alibaba have already begun working on cloud-based IoT platforms. While the IoT industry is still in its infancy, the opportunity is ripe for carriers to take hold of the platforms that support it. With the right technological infrastructure in place to integrate a wide range of vertical applications, carriers can rebuild their service systems and fully evolve from providing connections to providing services.
To do this, carriers may need to transform their business models from traditional B2C models that serve people, to B2B2B and B2B2C models that serve both people and things. By adopting a new go-to-market approach, carriers can explore limitless new business opportunities with different industry partners. For example, China Unicom worked together with China TransInfo, a leading smart parking industry player in China, to develop a smart parking business that is a living example of the incredible potential that can be created through joint innovation.
Since 3GPP completed its standardization last June, the NB-IoT ecosystem has expanded at formidable pace. In this time, Huawei’s NB-IoT chipset has already gone to the commercial market, and NB-IoT modules, devices and E2E solutions are ready for massive deployment. Some predict that more than 30 operators will commercially launch NB-IoT networks and businesses in 2017.
The NB-IoT ecosystem is growing, and it's the perfect time for carriers to get stake their claim in the IoT market. Key to this effort is going beyond connections to build IoT platforms and collaborate more closely with vertical partners.
Building mobile network clouds is essential to staying competitive and providing superb user experience in a fully connected world. However, different parts of a network need different cloud solutions.
CloudRAN is Huawei's solution for cloud-based radio networks. A CloudRAN-enabled network features significantly shorter end-to-end latency, which improves user experience and enables new applications like remote industrial control. By supporting flexible deployment of various services and technologies, CloudRAN also helps mobile operators improve network resource utilization and O&M efficiency. CloudRAN is an important anchor in 4.5G adoption, and will enable future transition to 5G.
CloudAIR optimizes the use of radio resources like spectrum, power, and channels. For example, with CloudAIR, carriers can share spectrum (their most valuable asset) by dynamically allocating it to different RATs at the same time, including GSM, UMTS and LTE. Most importantly, CloudAIR will support spectrum sharing between LTE and 5G NR (new radio), a critical stepping stone on the way to a smooth 5G transition.
Just last year, True Move in Thailand acquired 10MHz of 900MHz spectrum for billions of US dollars. Since 2G users are not easily migrated to 3G or 4G overnight, True has to allocate some of its new spectrum to support GSM. With Huawei's CloudAIR solution, they were able to flexibly allocate 8MHz for LTE and 2MHz for GSM. Right now, the peak throughput of their LTE 8MHz reaches more than 60Mbps, which is close to the throughput performance of the full 10MHz. In the meantime, the remaining 2MHz can serve 2G users with the help of other capacity enhancement features. Using CloudAIR, True Move has been able to make vast improvements in its spectrum utilization and generate greater commercial value.
4.5G is seeing widespread commercial deployment as we speak, with a number of top chip vendors releasing 4.5G-capable chipsets for terminals. To bolster these efforts, the 4.5G Evolution concept is designed to help maximize network value, explore vertical markets, and support future-proof network evolution, ensuring long-term business success for everyone involved.