What Makes a Smart Building Smart?

As 5G continues to deploy in the year ahead, 5G standalone, indoor private networks and disaggregated systems will fuel growth.

By Dr. Shirish Nagaraj
Published: December 1, 2022

The continuing rollout of 5G will remain the focus of wireless providers and telecommunications equipment suppliers in 2023. While there is still a lot of 4G/LTE in the cellular network world, 5G will be the technology of choice moving forward and companies planning and managing network deployments will have that in mind.

Of course, it feels like we’ve been hearing about 5G and the potential it brings for years. In fact, many networks have already begun rolling it out across the country. What will be truly different about 5G in 2023? It’s all about how it’s deployed, starting with a long-awaited migration to “standalone.” That's the first of my three trends to watch for 2023.

1.     Standalone will unlock 5G’s true potential

While 5G deployments have been ongoing, it has been a complicated evolution. Most 5G networks have been deployed as non-standalone (NSA) networks, meaning they require 4G technology as an anchor. In the early days of 5G rollouts, it helped reduce costs and speed up timelines by relying on existing infrastructure so communication service providers (CSPs) could focus on augmenting the radio access network (RAN) elements.

But a true 5G standalone (SA) network will have a 5G core and 5G New Radio, unleashing the full potential of the latest generation of cellular technology. Many of the key attributes of 5G that wireless companies have been touting, like very low latency and full network slicing, are only possible with 5G SA. Operators are evolving their packet core along with the radio access equipment to deliver new capabilities for their customers.

All of this capacity needs fiber on the x-haul, including the backhaul, midhaul and fronthaul, something that has become more essential with 5G as deployments have focused on the equipment at the edge of the network to deliver powerful speeds and high capacity. Ultimately, even in “wireless” networks, fiber has a key role to play in bringing the next generation of connectivity to consumers and businesses.

2.     Private network ecosystem will drive demand

Public 5G networks will be important in 2023 – but a sector of the industry that also deserves attention is private networks. A lot of cellular traffic originates in buildings, and more and more large enterprises are looking to deploy networks they have control over, that can be installed and managed by their in-house IT staff. It’s especially important as more employees need to access work tools from their phones, things like collaboration tools and two-factor authentication, and companies are looking for strong indoor mobile networks to supplement other kinds of connectivity. Corning’s award-winning 5G RAN and DAS in-building solutions, a key component of our Everon® product portfolio, complimented by our deep expertise in delivering fiber and power to the edge, is perfectly positioned for emerging in-building cellular markets and use-cases.

Cellular is attractive because it’s more difficult to get Wi-Fi solutions to scale, and those connections are typically less secure than cellular. And public cellular can often come with hurdles in gaining access to the right kind of spectrum. That’s why companies are turning to things like Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), a simplified licensing protocol that enterprises can use directly, as well as Generally Available (GA) spectrum. Ease of use and simplicity of deployment will be critical as these networks become more commonplace.

Fiber, in particular, can help enterprises create “future-ready” networks -- resilient and flexible enough to meet current and anticipated needs. Solutions like Corning’s Everon® portfolio offer a wide range of products to meet a number of indoor connectivity needs. The demand for these networks will only grow as the use cases increase. In addition to companies with employees using their phones, there are sensor networks and other Internet of Things (IoT) applications, asset tracking for things like luggage in airports, or secure private networks for convention centers.

3.     Disaggregation will speed deployments

Consumers, governments, and enterprises alike are excited about 5G, the capabilities it brings, and the use cases it is enabling. The need to meet this growing demand in the year ahead will rely on another important trend for the industry:  the move toward disaggregation. Disaggregation is about the decoupling of hardware and software and is really two distinct trends: Open RAN or ORAN, and virtualized RAN or vRAN. We have talked about these secular trends from different stakeholders’ perspectives in our blog series on ORAN. (You can read earlier installments here and here.)

In creating a network, ORAN takes a “mix-and-match” approach of hardware like basebands and radio, as well as software, rather than deploying entire solutions from one equipment provider. We’re likely to see this in greenfield outdoors and indoor network builds because it enables faster and easier deployments at lower cost.

vRAN is when a network is deployed with off-the-shelf hardware rather than custom hardware from providers, and the software is in the cloud, or “virtualized.” Moving the RAN workloads to run-on general-purpose processors that can be hosted on dedicated commercial off the shelf (COTS) servers, or run over distributed or centralized data centers, using cloud-native orchestration mechanisms, increases the network’s flexibility and scalability.

Both of these trends together will supercharge deployments. Mobile network operators (MNOs) will have to take into consideration how these systems are integrated to ensure that they work seamlessly — otherwise they risk losing the benefits of disaggregation.

Overall, in 2023 we will see an acceleration of 5G deployments, spurred by the exciting capabilities of 5G Standalone, as well as an increased desire for enterprises to spin up private networks to accommodate their needs. Moreover, disaggregation through openness and virtualization will help drive down costs and push deployments further.

Dr. Shirish Nagaraj leads technology development for Corning Optical Communications’ Wireless business unit, which delivers world-leading in-building cellular products for Tier-1 operators. He has been instrumental in conceptualizing, architecting, and developing the 5G mmWave small-cell system that is now deployed commercially at high profile stadiums, private enterprises, and other such venues. His teams develop radio access network (RAN) and distributed antenna systems (DAS) software and hardware, with development centers in the U.S., Israel, and India.

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