Fronthaul Front and Center in 5G Planning

Carl Weinschenk

The standards for 5G are well on their way to being established and the public is increasingly aware of and awaiting the technology. The sector is now focusing on actual deployment details.

5G will require a tremendous increase in base stations. This process, called densification, raises a challenge. The base stations that will be used actually will be divided into the antennas that dot the landscape and central units that hold the processing equipment. The wired connection between them is called fronthaul.

This week, South Korean telco SK Telecom's approach to fronthaul was accepted by the government through the Telecommunications Technology Association. FierceWireless says that the SK Telecom standard is open. This is an attempt to make the sector more attractive to small and medium-sized vendors. Big players, such as Huawei, are already working toward dominating the market.

Options are still being explored elsewhere. 4G concepts are being repositioned and, in the case of fronthaul, expanded. Options are available concerning the amount of functionality put in each place, according to RCR Wireless. In fact, the questions may extend beyond simply divvying up responsibilities between the antenna arrays and processing units. Functionality may also be distributed elsewhere in the radio access network or mobile edge computing (RAN and MEC) networks.


Some of those questions may be answered by The Broadband Forum and NTT. The organizations say that they are working on a project exploring the use of software-defined networking and network functions virtualization (SDN and NFV) to support fronthaul and other 5G functions. The first phase of the project, called PON Abstraction Interface for TCAs, will explore how to virtualize optical line terminals (OLTs) using SDN and NFV with open interfaces. The second phase will create application programming interfaces (APIs) to represent those interfaces.

Fronthaul is not a new concept. However, it is being widely expanded to support 5G. Questions remain, including what the precise parameters of the platforms will be and if the open approach that is used in South Korea will be employed elsewhere.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

 


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