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Network architecture changes are coming for 5G

06 June 2019 Richard Webb

As 5G changes network architectures to deliver ultra-high capacity, near-constant availability, and broad coverage, network density will become vital for 5G deployments. To realize the potential of 5G, network infrastructures must support growing bandwidth and throughput demands as well as incredibly low-latency requirements for a host of new applications and use cases for industries and consumers alike.

To support the move toward 5G, mobile transport must undergo an evolution to integrate macro/small-cell backhaul, fronthaul, and midhaul into a unified, dynamic, and flexible network environment. Fronthaul, backhaul, and hybrid network architectures can accommodate the efficient and dense deployment necessary to deliver the high throughput and ultra-low latency demands of 5G networks.

Multiple new applications are driving demand for 5G, all of which require different capacity, latency, speed, and other performance-based network requirements, as shown by the graphic below on 5G use cases.

IHS Markit graphic on 5G use cases

Source: IHS Markit Evolution from 4G to 5G Service Providers Survey - 2018


As networks migrate to 5G and X-haul demands change the dynamic, the 5G race will reshape mobile networks over the mid-to-long term. And though neither centralized RAN (C-RAN) architecture nor distributed RAN (D-RAN, the macrocell base station-oriented network) are necessarily the optimal architectures for 5G, C-RAN will likely play an increasing role. Ultimately, the foundation for 5G mobile networks is likely to fall somewhere between C-RAN and D-RAN topologies.

To bring fronthaul, midhaul, and backhaul together into a unified mobile transport network that supports the roadmap to 5G, network architecture and services will require close coordination between the RAN and transport teams. This means operators need to have an appreciation of the different types of network slices that will be required at each layer of the network, as well as some common cross-layer network intelligence that can harmonize network elements.

Further elements of various 5G architectures are discussed in the webinar "5G X-Haul for network density," which was jointly hosted by IHS Markit, Fujitsu, and Anritsu. The webinar discusses multiple factors related to X-haul, network density, and 5G infrastructures, and the following key takeaways were discussed:

  • Operators must get ready now to take advantage of 5G, but to achieve the potential of 5G, infrastructure must undergo an evolution.
  • The evolution from 4G to 5G and the deployment of new radio (NR) is driving major changes in transport networks.
  • CPRI framework can't be used for 5G networks.
  • Operators need to blend legacy and new 5G networks while eliminating the need for overlay.
  • Operators must overcome challenges relating to scalable capacity, latency, timing, and availability.

To learn more about the shifting mobile transport landscape and to understand different network architectures, please view our webinar, which also includes white papers authored by IHS Markit, Anritsu, and Fujitsu.


Richard Webb
is director of research and analysis for service provider technology at IHS Markit
Posted 6 June 2019

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