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5G New Radio: an industry primer


5G New Radio promises concrete use cases to realise the full potential of 5G, bringing high-speed, low latency data services to consumers, enterprises and industry. Who is benefitting most from this evolution in the 3GPP standards and what charging models will prevail?

In 2017, 3GPP, the organisation responsible for the standards and protocols of mobile networks, approved the specifications for the next phase of the then-emerging 5G, addressing a broad selection of use cases.
They called this 5G New Radio (5G NR), and now, the global market is expected to reach over $250 billion by 2030.

5G NR is designed to deliver enhanced performance and increased capacity to 5G users across a variety of use cases, each catering to different requirements, whether it be the commuter responding to emails en route to work, the farmer monitoring the soil quality of hundreds of acres of land, or the surgeon remotely operating on a patient.

Such requirements were defined by 3GPP in their Study on New Services and Markets Technology Enablers (the not-so-wisely named SMARTER), which whittled down the many concrete applications of 5G into three high-level use cases (with similarly high-level initialisms):
  • Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)
  • Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC)
  • Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC)
5G New Radio serves as the underlying enabler of these three distinct service types, but can you confidently say that you know your eMBB from your URLLC?

Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)

The initial phase of 5G NR (3GPP Release 15) focused on Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), which fulfils that central pillar of the 5G standard: providing significantly higher data rates, and available through 5G’s non-standalone architecture (i.e. with a 4G/LTE core network) as well as full 5G standalone networks. This has already helped to develop today’s mobile broadband use cases such as streaming video, VR/AR applications, and more.

eMBB was, and to a large extent still is, “the main early use case for 5G” according to Ericsson, centred on the need for better and faster connectivity to handle higher quality video and social content, cloud gaming, and VR/AR; already, there are more than one billion 5G eMBB subscriptions globally, but with overall 5G penetration remaining relatively low, compared with previous generations, there’s much room for growing this userbase.

eMBB represents a great leap forward in terms of speed and capacity compared with 4G LTE, with peak data rates exceeding 20Gbps regardless of location or device, helped along by 5G’s mmWave compatibility, opening up the spectrum of available frequencies to provide dense, high-performance networking.

One of the standout features of eMBB is its ability to support high-definition content on a massive scale, offering low latency for smooth streaming of multimedia content and real-time applications without buffering or slowdowns. It delivers an unparalleled level of connectivity, speed, and content consumption that is reshaping how we access and engage with information and entertainment, including through ever-larger data bundles and booster packs that are helping CSPs to protect and in some cases increase ARPU.

On the business side, eMBB supports cloud-based enterprise software for remote workers. Since 2017, the number of people working away from the office has grown massively, and remains the daily reality for millions across the world, so the capacity to support a decentralised, distributed workforce, from home or on the move, is just as essential as streaming content to consumers.

Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC)

Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) is designed to handle the enormous connectivity requirements of billions of IoT devices, sensors and machines in a single area, but is largely dependent on full 5G standalone networks.

Scalability, energy efficiency, and the potential for transformative applications are driving industries and sectors such as manufacturing to embrace seamless connectivity between industrial machines and control systems, opening up new possibilities for innovation and efficiency across various domains.

With mMTC, IoT devices are optimised to transmit small packets of data while conserving energy – essential for devices with limited power sources that spend the bulk of their time in sleep mode, from wearables all the way up to industrial sensors. 5G standalone has the capacity to support over a million devices per square kilometre, meaning a wide range of mMTC applications can be seamlessly integrated into the network without overwhelming it.

mMTC will play a pivotal role in Smart Cities, improving city life with interconnected devices such as environmental sensors, smart traffic lights and waste management systems. The wealth of data these devices generate paves the way for deeper, data-driven decision-making and predictive analytics. Outside of the cities, mMTC can be used by farmers and researchers to gather data on and monitor soil quality, crop health and weather conditions, using vast mosaics of IoT devices across farmland and pastures, enabling targeted resource allocation and sustainable farming.

As many businesses in the West are seeking to onshore their manufacturing to fortify domestic supply chains, spooked by the many-pronged threat of supply chain disruption, war in Europe, energy price rises, and tensions between the US and China, mMTC is likely to be cropping up in new, upcoming massive manufacturing hubs; Micron Technology’s $100 billion chip fab in Syracuse, New York, and Tata Group’s multibillion-pound EV battery “gigafactory” in the UK are just two examples of next-generation industrial sites likely to employ mMTC technologies.

mMTC creates opportunities for more innovative charging models, using B2B, B2B2C and freemium strategies to create new value chains and 5G revenue streams, beyond traditional data bundles.

Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC)

Also dependent on 5G standalone, Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) enables real-time interaction between mission-critical devices and networks with latency as low as one millisecond.

As the recent widespread failure of air traffic control in the UK is testament to, split-second decisions can prove the difference between success and catastrophic failure.

From life-or-death use cases in the real world such as remote surgery and autonomous vehicles, to the virtual battlefield of cloud gaming, a sector which alone is projected to grow to $84.97 billion by 2030, communication failures always have consequences, but how much worse would it be in the middle of remote surgery or some other activity where seamless connectivity is critical?

For those who don’t think life-saving remote surgery and cloud gaming should be fighting for the same bandwidth, then another 5G capability – network slicing – can be used to adapt the quality of service to the needs of different kinds of applications in real time, with customers paying a premium for this guaranteed network performance.

Latency can be improved even more through multi-access edge computing, which provides cloud processing at the very edge of critical networks, much closer to the users, to make applications and processes perform better.

In partnership with China Mobile and Huawei, Chinese PLA General Hospital carried out the first 5G-based remote surgery in 2019; a surgeon based in Beijing implanted a deep brain stimulation (DBS) device in a patient with Parkinson’s in a hospital in Hainan, 3,000 kilometres away, supervised by another surgeon 2,200 kilometres away in Shenzen – and no, the surgery was not performed on a banana.

In autonomous vehicles, network-assisted information sharing and vehicle-to-vehicle communications can measure road and traffic information faster than sensor measurements alone, leading to a higher reliability by combining information received via sensors and wireless networks.

While URLLC’s potential is immense, its implementation is not without challenges. Achieving the high level of reliability and low latency required for critical applications demands meticulous engineering of both hardware and software components in a full 5G standalone deployment.
As 5G continues to expand and evolve with standalone deployments, the synergy of eMBB, URLLC, and mMTC sets the stage for a future where seamless content streaming, real-time critical communications, and the proliferation of IoT devices become the norm. Most people believe that 5G has the potential to improve society more than AI, yet the numbers that have made the switch so far remains low.

If CSPs expect that one will be a springboard to the other though, they’ll be in for a shock; the industry is stuck on convincing customers of the benefit of eMBB when, in order to stimulate demand and monetise use cases, they should be looking towards mMTC and URLLC enterprise applications in mission-critical functions, such as in healthcare and the realisation of smart cities.

Contact us now to find out how Cerillion’s charging and billing solutions can help you to monetise the full range of 5G services.

About the author

Adam Hughes


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