5G and Wireless Trends 2024 | C-Band 5G, Disaggregation, and Neutral Host Architecture | Corning

Top 3 Wireless trends for 2024: C-band 5G, neutral host architectures, and disaggregation

Shirish Nagaraj 
Published: January 11, 2024

As we head into 2024, the landscape of the wireless industry appears less certain than it did a year ago. Macro-economic conditions and the pressures on CapEx spending have caused a brief challenge in 5G operator spending. Use cases that were forecasted to drive the adoption of 5G standalone networks have been slower to materialize, pushing back the timeframe for the new standard’s full emergence.

Nevertheless, other key steps in the transition to 5G are still unfolding as scheduled, driving the need for new network rollouts. Coupled with the demand for additional wireless applications, 2024 should still be replete with numerous opportunities for wireless operators and stakeholders such as neutral-host operators, systems integrators, and enterprise/venue owners.

1. C-band 5G will continue to grow

Among the various genres of 5G connectivity, C-band appears poised for the greatest growth in the coming year. The versatile mid-band spectrum, which covers frequencies around the 3.5GHz regime, is seeing stronger adoption with its combination of high speed, broad coverage, and more affordable deployment costs. In comparison to mmWave spectrum, C-band signals can travel greater distances with much less signal attenuation from walls and windows, making it a more versatile choice for all-around use. For this reason, expect to see more of the new 5G buildouts in 2024 utilize the C-band spectrum.

2. Neutral host architecture will drive buildouts of in-building networks

So far, operators have focused predominantly on building 5G networks outdoors, despite the fact that as much as 80 percent of traffic originates from indoors. This disparity can lead to challenges in urban settings, where there’s a much greater density of building materials standing in the way of signals originating from outdoor base stations. In response, commercial building operators have been increasingly turning to indoor 5G networks as a way to increase the value of their properties.

C-band 5G, which has been primarily deployed on macros thus far, is proving to be an ideal spectrum for in-building deployments given its ability to provide coverage and capacity. With its strong propagation, it can provide the seamless connectivity required for new applications like remote monitoring in healthcare. It also prevents dead zones that could interfere with communications in potential emergency situations. Given the rising costs of infrastructure needed to support 5G networks, it makes sense to focus on neutral host solutions as a means of amortizing the cost across multiple parties. By setting up the network independent of a wireless provider—installing and connecting the radio and hardware with fiber-to-the-edge (FTTE) architecture— enterprises and neutral host operators can then add a new telecom’s service as needed, with just a small amount of new equipment required. Neutral host sharing will be an affordable and flexible option to many commercial property owners and enterprises that will open the door to providing excellent multi-carrier coverage within buildings.

3. Disaggregation will continue to push expansion

Much like the neutral host architecture, the ongoing trend of wireless disaggregation is all about freedom. Whereas radio access networks (RANs) have traditionally consisted of proprietary systems from a sole provider, the industry has been gradually moving to an open, mix-and-match approach to both hardware and software that has been shown to lower costs and increase innovation.

This move to disaggregate networks involves two trends: open RAN (ORAN) and virtualized RAN (vRAN). ORAN allows for mobile network operators to build base stations using components from the expanding pool of OEMs, lowering the upfront capital required in their construction. As more OEMs develop these components, competition is fueling greater innovation, leading to hardware configurations that are both more capable and cost effective.

vRAN, in turn, uses virtualization to disaggregate the radio software from the RAN hardware. With vRAN, network and data processing are carried out almost entirely by software, allowing for less latency-sensitive controller functions to be offloaded to the cloud, optimizing efficiency. Instead of utilizing purpose-built hardware, vRAN allows for operators to harness off-the-shelf hardware like x86 processors and servers to run baseband functions, further reducing upfront costs.

Given the extensive benefits of these combined approaches, we expect more greenfield network builds to utilize ORAN and vRAN architectures in 2024, both for outdoor and in-building deployments.

A year of adaptation

Network operators are finding ways to continue delivering better service to their customers. In 2024, trends like disaggregation and neutral host architecture will not only allow wireless companies to scale deployments in a more cost-effective manner, the increased competition fostered by these approaches will also drive further innovation to the benefit of all.

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Shirish Nagaraj

Shirish Nagaraj serves as CTO for Corning Wireless, where he is responsible for product management and technology innovation. In the past, he has led technology development for the 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. Corning Wireless develops radio access network (RAN) and distributed antenna systems (DAS) software and hardware, with development centers in the U.S. and India.

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