Higher speeds, lower latency, greater capacity. 5G is much faster than usual 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks. The introduction of 5G has changed industries worldwide in significant ways. But, 5G is still in its infant stage. We have only just scratched the surface of the new possible use cases.
The rollout of 5G is accelerating. However, different geographies and telecom operators are deploying 5G networks at their own pace because of both costly and complex requirements. We believe 5G will be an innovation driver for everyone and not yet another digital divide among regions and markets.
The 5G infrastructure market is proliferating with a CAGR of 60%. It is estimated to reach a total market size of ~$50 billion by 2027. As 5G networks are evolving, new mission-critical applications become enabled, including:
- AI and robotics
- Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
- Autonomous vehicles
- Connected devices and sensors
The deployment of 5G networks comes with several stringent requirements, especially concerning time synchronization, where imprecise time synchronization may lead to a systemic failure of 5G services. For example, an unsynchronized base station may disrupt and interfere with the 5G operations of other operators and create problems across their networks.
Source: Gartner; Markets and Markets; A.T. Kearney
It’s critical for telecoms operators globally to deliver accurate and secure 5G synchronization across their networks. So far, this requires significant investment which raises 5G deployment costs dramatically. According to a report by Kearney (April 2020), the synchronization cost is estimated between 3-5% of the total 5G deployment cost, i.e., $1.5-2.5 billion in 2027 and can in many cases require a large forklift upgrade of old infrastructure to enable PTP network synchronization.
As not all telecom operators are able to sustain these 5G deployment cost, this can put some markets and industry players at a significant competitive disadvantage.
Source: Expert Interviews 20202; A.T. Kearney Estimates, April 2020
To level the playing field and ensure all operators can be part of the 5G revolution, they need to leverage technology solutions that can help them upgrade their network infrastructure to meet synchronization requirements quickly, securely and cost effectively.
The importance of 5G deployment options
Precise and accurate network synchronization is vital for mobile networks. Mobile network infrastructures enable higher capacity and speed for an array of new applications and services. The requirements for 4G/LTE network synchronization were already demanding, and 5G takes them one level higher.
Source: Heavy Reading 5G Transport survey, 2021
With the deployment of 5G, TDD (Time Division Duplex) technology becomes more critical. It requires a much tighter synchronization compared to FDD (Frequency Division Duplex), which is prevalent in most 4G/LTE networks. Moreover, new features and advanced network techniques such Massive MIMO, Carrier Aggregation (CA), Fronthaul (FH) and Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP) transmission and reception technologies require further synchronization improvements.
Examples such as below:
- Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO)
- Carrier Aggregation (CA)
- License Assisted Access (LAA)
- Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP)
The synchronization requirements cover both neighboring base stations and devices across the network.
The vulnerabilities of GPS-based synchronization
As part of the 4G paradigm, mobile networks delivered synchronization to base stations and small cells with Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) and Precision-Time-Protocol (PTP).
GNSS solutions deploy GPS receivers together with the base station antennas where GNSS technology can deliver highly accurate network synchronization… with a few compromises. Using a GNSS-based solution increases the cost of dense mobile networks. Unfortunately, these solutions are also vulnerable as GNSS signals are easy to jam by completely blocking them out or replacing them with a similar but incorrect signal — known as “spoofing.”
Source: EUROCONTROL EVAIR
These issues have become a topical conversation in the telecoms industry, partly due to the current geopolitical situation (2022). To this end, on March 17, 2022, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a safety information bulletin about potential GNSS outages in areas surrounding the conflict zone and other regions leading to navigation and surveillance degradation.
Source: The major hotspots – IATA 2021, Opsgroup.
At the same time, individual country regulators in Sweden, such as the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS), have explicitly said that a GNSS-independent solution for transporting synchronization is a mandatory requirement for operating the 5G network.
5G-based mobile networks also give rise to a few challenges, such as increased demands on cell density, indoor cell coverage, and deployment in challenging geographical areas ─ for example, tunnels, buildings, and factories where satellite visibility may be limited hence the 5G deployment options and its challenges will vary. Likewise, geography and landscape impact GPS-based solutions, making it challenging to deliver in areas with poor satellite visibility ─ for example, urban areas where buildings obstruct the view and rural regions with deep forests and canyons.
5G deployment options (PTP)
GNSS 5G synchronization solutions are not the only viable option on the market. Operators can instead opt for the network- and timing-based on packet-switching technology, mainly Precision-Time-Protocol (PTP or IEEE1588v2), supported by Synchronous Ethernet (SyncE). PTP solutions don’t have the same disadvantages as GNSS-based timing regarding safety, robustness, and ease of deployment. However, there are a few pressing challenges when implementing support for PTP and SyncE in mobile networks ─ the cost being the most significant. The transition to network-based timing requires a complete overhaul or considerable hardware and software upgrades as PTP requires every node to provide on-path PTP support (in hardware) to ensure 5G timing accuracy. Unfortunately, several operators will not be able to complete these network upgrades simply because of the price tag and will consequently fall behind in the race to deploy 5G.
The future of 5G deployment
Time synchronization is becoming critical for many areas including, but not limited to:
- power networks
- distributed databases
- stock exchange trading
- distributed video production
- defense networks.
Synchronization challenges are relevant for most real-time critical network installations, including digital terrestrial television (DTT) networks with stringent frequency and phase synchronization, within a ~one µs requirement.
Net Insight developed the Precision TimeNet (PTN) solution to address this challenge. Our solution has been developed and deployed in DTT networks in 15 countries and was chosen by Turk Telekom for its 5G rollout. Precision TimeNet ensures the distribution of absolute time with very high accuracy over existing IP networks. Because Precision TimeNet disaggregates time distribution from the transport, it does not require all nodes to be upgraded for on-path PTP support. As such, it may significantly reduce rollout times and CAPEX and OPEX.
Source: Net Insight; Kearney
Synchronization becomes a virtualized network function across the IP network. It thus creates a virtual sync network over the existing IP network, distributing time (phase) from clock sources while managing all redundancy, security, and asymmetries in the IP network. The Precision TimeNet solution is augmented with software to run over public-managed IP networks with advanced filtering, multilink collaborative clocks, and asymmetry profiling, thus enhancing reliability and improving accuracy. The benefits of the PTN solution are its openness and interoperability, which enables operators to integrate it within their existing network infrastructure. It’s complementary to GPS-based solutions, addressing security challenges, and fully interoperable with existing PTP installations.
Source: Net Insight; Kearney
Precision TimeNet enables regions with a geographical disadvantage, such as rural areas, to access better bandwidth, which contributes to lessening the digital divide by removing the cost of replacing entire underlying network infrastructures to enable 5G deployment. Our solution is also environmentally sustainable as it reuses existing communication equipment, thus minimizing the telecom network footprint.
The possibilities of mobile network innovation (5G deployment challenges)
5G has the potential to change the world as we know it, and already has to some extent, by bringing the unparalleled potential to telecom and mobile communications. The business world relies on 5G to enable more innovation, new revenue streams, and growth opportunities. However, some minor kinks and challenges still need to be addressed. The most significant challenge is the costs of global 5g deployment, which may be prohibitive for multiple telecom operators.
We developed Precision TimeNet to overcome the 5G deployment challenges and have completely redefined what’s possible in 5G network deployment. It leverages existing telecom networks without requiring additional CAPEX, delivering the accuracy, security, and low latency operators need to deploy 5G today. It also provides the necessary openness and interoperability to integrate within the current infrastructure, driving efficiencies across the board. By removing the cost and complexity hurdles of 5G rollouts, we can enable telco operators globally to transition to 5G sustainably and efficiently. Removing the dependency on GPS solutions support turning the vision of 5G into reality, and it’s time for operators to harness its benefits today.