Airspan Networks on 2021: Open, private and standalone – six enterprise 5G trends
Abel Mayal, senior vice president of technology and marketing at Airspan Networks, offers six pointers on the year ahead for 5G networking developments in the broad enterprise sector.
1 | OpenRAN
OpenRAN has been the main talking point in 2020, but currently only one operator, Rakuten, has an open architecture deployment. 2021 should be a crucial period for OpenRAN as commercial trials will begin at scale across the globe. As mobile network operators start to convey results throughout 2021, informed comparisons with legacy vendors should show that OpenRAN will be the go-to technology for massive deployments.
2 | Private networks
In 2020, early adopters in countries that have regulator-assigned dedicated spectrum have shown a lot of interest in private 5G networks. As these networks begin to deploy in 2021 we should see some interesting ROI and network performance results. The results should lead to rapid market growth during 2021 especially as new countries also follow this approach. In addition, OpenRAN disaggregated architecture will provide faster evolution of 5G features and innovation compared to the traditional approach with legacy vendors, dedicated to each vertical requirement.
3 | CBRS
Dedicated and licensed CBRS has now become the reality in the US, and provides enhanced connectivity and innovation. A clear example is fixed-wireless access (FWA) networks using CBRS spectrum, providing much needed coverage in previously unconnected rural and remote areas. Many enterprises have adopted CBRS and have taken advantage of the added benefits a private cellular network provides, such as improved, secure connectivity. But it has also given them more control over their network and users. In 2021 will bring the evolution of CBRS to 5G, delivering even greater speeds and new functionalities to the industry.
4 | SA versus NSA
In 2020, non-standalone (NSA) 5G deployments, with 5G radios using existing 4G network as an anchor, have been the preferred choice. But 2021 will be the year of standalone (SA) 5G architecture, connecting the 5G core and 5G radio to provide a ‘real’ end-to-end 5G network. The SA architecture will enable lower latency connections, network slicing, advanced QoS and mMTC, as well as delivering much higher eMBB speeds. A 5G SA architecture is also a key requirement for private networks, CBRS, and FWA.
5 | Network sharing
Network sharing is of particular interest for mobile network operators to cover remote areas and to bring 5G coverage indoors. There has been a lot of debate about network sharing in 2020 and in 2021 we will begin to see some commercial trials. One key target for indoor deployment is to substitute expensive DAS systems using an OpenRAN Architecture. O-RAN Alliance working groups are already developing technical specifications that will share the RAN elements and interfaces such as front-haul. In rural and remote areas, a shared spectrum could be the key for success for economical deployment by using a single frequency as a neutral host.
6 | mmWave
mmWave has already proved the benefits of higher throughputs during 2020, but only a few operators in a few countries have deployed this frequency so far. In 2021, spectrum auctions will bring more mmWave adopters to the market and the global deployments will begin to grow. Private networks are also keen to use the mmWave frequency, but the current ecosystem is not yet ready, this is mainly due to devices/CPEs not supporting a 5G SA architecture, which is mandatory for industry. There is a high expectation within the industry in 2021 that device vendors will begin to support mmWave.