As demands on the Internet continue to grow, an in-depth look at the future cell site towers needs to be addressed, especially with IoT that sees homes become increasingly "smart" with the demand for transmission equipment continuing to grow.
How will this growth happen? Where will transmission towers be located? What are the cost factors and are any innovations likely to come online soon? Are cell towers even going to be needed?
The base for everything on the Internet is power. Something must generate the electricity for transmission, whether through fiber optic lines or radio waves. How much power is not even a question as engineers know exactly how much it takes to send any signal any distance through any medium.
The power needs for individual devices, think smartphone, smart thermostat and such, is tiny. However, the power demands for several of these devices increase. Bump that number to the hundreds and thousands and power demands jump a lot. The future cell site towers is that they are going to need a LOT of power to handle that volume of data traffic.
Simply put, a pocket-sized battery will not deliver the volts and amperage needed to receive and transmit signals from more than 1,000 devices. "Cell towers will become obsolete only when Chevy Suburban’s and Ford F-150’s can drive down the Interstate at 70 MPH fully powered by solar panels made in the USA. The demand for bandwidth is growing faster than the carriers can sell smart phones. Even if they came up with some amazing technology that could replace cell towers, it would easily take 10 years or more to implement." Some may point to signal boosters to handle the need for more and stronger transmissions.
Signal boosters require more power. That must come from somewhere. The demand on the already-stressed power grid will just get worse. Individually, the power draw may be minuscule. Added together, it becomes a real issue. A straw broke the camel's back. Battery advances over the past 30 years are huge, but battery output is still directly tied to the size of the battery. You can't run a golf cart on a dozen D-cell flashlight batteries.
The Federal Communications Commission controls radio wave broadcasts including that done by wireless devices. It regulates signal boosters now. "Malfunctioning, poorly designed, or improperly installed signal boosters can interfere with wireless networks and result in dropped or blocked calls, including emergency and 911 calls," says an FCC Consumer Guide to signal boosters. As more and more devices go wireless, the chances for interference are going to grow.
The demand for towers is not going away. Vertical Consultants tracks cell tower agreements and reports the industry is growing. "So again, if cell towers were about to become obsolete, why would the industry leaders be investing billions of dollars to acquire the rights to your cell tower? The answer to this situation is that technology is nowhere near close to finding an economic and reliable replacement for the future cell site towers, and your individual site lease has value to the acquiring company!" .
However, the look and location of these towers is changing. So, a better description for a cell tower is "transmission hub," or hub for short. Increasingly municipalities are rejecting the look of giant antenna arrays. The industry is responding. "Cell tower companies like Crown Castle are installing small cells for carriers' use on light poles, on top of shopping centers and other places where they fit in with the urban scenery. In 2010, Crown Castle acquired New Path Networks, which built the nine-antenna medical center system.
Where and what these smaller hubs are might surprise you. Twisted Sifter has a list of these different types of antenna hubs. These hubs still require space, which means buying or leasing that space. A smaller footprint likely will translate into smaller lease payments, but more hubs also mean more leases. Savvy negotiators are going to win this one.
The demands on the wireless networks and high-speed broadband Internet are only going to grow. Consumers have already shown they are willing to pay for the service. Creative thinking will dominate the industry as it moves forward.
ISPs must step up their transmission capabilities. The tower manufacturers are already headed in the right direction with smaller hubs that are not eyesores. With the increase in transmission/reception sites, the demand for real estate to plant these hubs is also going to grow.
Future cell site towers are small hubs, more hubs and hidden hubs are the demands. Companies that make these hubs are in the driver's seat. They determine the power needs and appearance. Location is going to be set by ISPs or cell companies and real estate owners.
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Curious – can LTE and 5G compete or compliment IoT networks or the other way around? The big cellular companies have heavily invested in Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks and the coming 5G network. They are saying it can compete with the Internet of Things (IoT) network that smaller companies are putting their bets on.
"Despite the prospect of new networks that reach farther than cells and let IoT devices communicate for years on one battery charge, many of the power-sipping networked objects to be deployed in the coming years will use LTE and future 5G cellular systems," reports Stephen Lawson in Computerworld. Lawson's article depends largely on information from the LTE and 5G network developers..
ZDNet took a look at IoT investments stating that "Investors in Sigfox's fund raising included major cellular network operators NTT Docomo, SK Telecom, and Telefonica, so it seems that some at least are hedging their bets," wrote Stuart Corner.
Verizon has not made that kind of investment, but it is investing in its own IoT tech. Looking at the Category M1 tech Verizon is working on, it's hard to see major differences between that and the IoT networks under development, and in place, by the LORA Alliance, Sigfox and others. Cat M1 runs on a 1.4mhz bandwidth with speeds capped at one meg a second. It promises to come in under $10 for consumers.
Verizon is saying LTE and 5G compete or compliment IoT networks and in fact they will exist together. Rosemary McNally, Verizon’s VP for mobile devices and operating system technology, told RCR Wireless that “the Cat M1 network they have in mind will run on the LTE. It will offer more security than IoT”, she promises.
So the question needs to be reframed. Instead of asking if the two networks can compete, ask instead do LTE and 5G have to compete on the same grounds as IoT? No, because they don't have to.
The IIoT and 5G merge in places like over-the-road shipping. IIoT sensors inside the truck feed data into the 5G and LTE networks, which hand it over to controllers and monitors. Decisions can be made within minutes.
The agriculture industry is also using the IoT. Modern tractors are embedded with sensors that provide regular feedback to the manufacturer. A farmer in South Georgia recently got a call from the tractor dealership. The sales rep said he'd received a message that whoever was driving one of the farm's tractors was "riding the clutch." Riding the clutch can cause it burn out, a costly repair. By having IoT in the tractor, the maker was able to monitor use and save the owner money.
Another reason LTE and 5G compete or compliment IoT networks is radio frequencies. The Verizon Cat M1 is going to run on licensed bands. Once those bands hit maximum transmission traffic, Verizon is either going to have to get new bandwidth, which can run to the millions of dollars, or scale back some traffic. If that happens, will Verizon continue to support Cat M1, which appears to have low profit margins? Or, will the company discontinue its IoT investments?
Where 5G and LTE have an advantage is security. Current IoT is running on unlicensed spectrum. Anyone can use it. Turf wars may erupt. Two companies next to each other decide to use the same frequency for their IoT. The signals interfere with each other, causing minor to major problems. With licensed frequencies, this is not a problem.
So can LTE and 5G compete or compliment 5G and LTE complement Iot networks? In truth they compliment each other. Each has strengths and each has weaknesses. Using each system's strong points to cover the other's weak points will create a much stronger network than either could be independently.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Doug Brake takes a long and hard look at IoT, 5G, LTE and nextgen wireless in a report for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The industry has gone from 1G (analog) in the 80s to 2G, 3G and now 4G in the past few years. He points out the industry goes through a major upgrade every 10 years. Each upgrade has required big investments. With 2020 a short four years away and 5G already being discussed, AT&T, Sprint and the rest are planning major investments to upgrade the wireless network. The smart ones are planning upgrades that allow IoT.
The questions that should be asked are:
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In regards to long range commercial drone control, according to wireless technology company Qualcomm, “5G connectivity will enable a worldwide boom in drone use, for fun, research, and business.” But for now, U.S. drone activity is limited to line-of-sight control. Regulations will need to catch up to the fast-developing technology.to enable the future of long range commercial drone control.
“A Highway in the Sky”
Research on the control of drones parallels work being done on autonomous vehicle technology. Dr. Harita Joshi of the University of Warwick spoke to Telecom TV about the development of ultra-reliable and low latency 5G networks that would allow for accurate communication with self-driving cars. Others are talking about “self-flying aircraft”.
China Mobile used the term “flying automotive” when referring to the 5G drone network they were testing with Ericsson in 2016. Achieving end-to-end latency of 15 milliseconds, their 5G drone was able to make handovers between towers shared with normal cell phone users.
Commercial long range drone control is in deep development. Take Alphabet (aka Google) who's been working on ways to deliver mobile connectivity from the air. In 2014 they bought Titan Aerospace and turned it into Project Skybender. The aim was to launch a fleet of lightweight, solar-powered drones that would fly in the upper atmosphere for up to 90 days at a time. Alphabet abandoned Skybender in 2016, preferring to concentrate on the use of balloons through their Project Loon. Another venture in long range drone control is Qualcomm, who want their unmanned aerial system (UAS) to be autonomous through development of UAS Traffic Management (UTM) controls.
Director of Marketing Maged Zaki blogged about the “Path to 5G: Building a highway in the sky for autonomous drones”. “When UTM systems are deployed, we envision fleets of drones flying missions autonomously while connected to operators and regulators.”
No one wants to worry about drones falling from the sky. The FAA in the U.S. has restricted drone usage to Visual Line of Sight (VLOS). However, in 2016 the FAA granted an Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) operations waiver to commercial drone company Precision Hawk.
But for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) control of drones, operators need something more for long range commercial drone control. “Many of the anticipated benefits of drones, including delivery, inspections and search-and-rescue will require a highly secure and reliable connection,” said Qualcomm’s Chris Penrose, senior vice president, IoT Solutions, AT&T, according to a press release.
Dr. Joshi underscored in her interview the problem of latency and the need to service vehicles traveling at high speeds. The ITU published “IMT Vision”, a paper about 5G, in which they addressed these issues: IMT-2020 would be able to provide 1 ms over-the-air latency, capable of supporting services with very low latency requirements. IMT-2020 is also expected to enable high mobility up to 500 km/h with acceptable QoS.
To achieve the goals of long range commercial drone control, researchers are experimenting with a range of bandwidth called millimeter-wave radio. The new band spans from 30 to 300 gigahertz. Way back in 1895 the polymath Jagadish Chandra Bose was experimenting in this spectrum. An August 2014 article in IEEE Spectrum tells the story: The intrepid scientist “sent a 60-GHz signal through three walls and the body of the region’s lieutenant governor to a funnel-shaped horn antenna and detector 23 meters away. As proof of its journey, the message triggered a simple contraption that rang a bell, fired a gun, and exploded a small mine.”
Despite the early research, attempts at harnessing millimeter-wave frequencies turned out to be extremely expensive and infeasible. The spectrum propagated poorly between towers and was scattered by rain. “The huge advantage of millimeter wave is access to new spectrum because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded,” says Jacques Rudell of the University of Washington. The Guardian writer Mark Harris wrote about it when he broke the story “Project Skybender: Google's secretive 5G internet drone tests revealed” in 2016. Despite Skybender’s demise, plans to harness millimeter-wave technology continue.
Hobbyists have taken to drones as a new tech toy, but other use cases will contribute to the drone boom. Companies like Alphabet hope to deliver internet to remote and under-served areas. Drones are useful in disaster recovery, search-and-rescue, and hazardous material situations. Amazon has already done long-range test deliveries. Pizza delivery by drone is not far away. And drone racing – like the 2016 World Drone Racing Championships in Hawaii – is a growing sport.
AT&T Foundry offered “10 Bold Projections on the Future of Drones”. These include swarming technology, onboard analytics, IoT support, AI and robotics, and the use of drones for dynamic communications networks. Whatever commercial applications await drone technology, it’s clear that they will be dependent on secure, fast, and reliable communications. 5G technology will likely play a significant role in the evolution of long range drone control.
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Network function virtualization, as Dylan would say, the times they are a changin’. Network Function Virtualization has come to the mobile operator, and according to strategic business advisor Northstream.
It will be part of a “natural evolution of existing infrastructures” bringing greater efficiency and lower costs. But the key will be the creation of new services. “NFV in 2017 will be driven by services such as VoLTE, Carrier Cloud, Wi-Fi calling, service chaining, resource sharing and network slicing.”
Network Function Virtualization, aka NFV, was introduced to the world through a white paper that was delivered at the 2012 SDN and OpenFlow World Congress. Authors from thirteen different telecom providers contributed to the work. The paper highlighted several benefits of NFV, including reduced equipment costs, lower power consumption, faster time to market, scalability of services, and vendor interoperability.
The traditional approach to networking involved the dispatch of personnel, either to the data center or to the customer premises, to install the physical devices and cabling required to make the network services function. This sometimes involved a number of “truck rolls” until the network appliance was fully operational. But an implementation that might have taken weeks or even months through the traditional method might only take a few minutes with Network Function Virtualization.
Common appliances that can be replaced by virtualized network functions (VNFs) in the NFV architecture include routers, firewalls, switches, load balancers, and media servers. Instead of physical installs, Network Function Virtualization software can be used to simply “spin out” new services as needed. As traffic volume increases, the system may automatically create VNFs to meet the demand.
When things slow down, the infrastructure will automatically be reduced. Malfunctioning virtual devices will be detected and traffic will be rerouted through a new VNF created just for that purpose.
Replacing infrastructure is fine, but the real potential is in the expanding service portfolio of the NFV architecture. “By enabling service chaining and resource sharing,” says Northstream, “NFV allows operators to deliver network services to customers and enterprises through software instead of dedicated hardware devices. This represents a major step towards meeting the new demands of industry verticals that are just around the corner.”
While the hardware part has become simpler – many implementations are using off-the-shelf blade servers – there are still plenty of obstacles to overcome. RCR Wireless News explores the key challenges facing ongoing SDN, NFV and cloud deployment models in an interview with Frank Yue, director of application delivery solutions at Radware.
Yue believes that the biggest issue telecom companies need to deal with is orchestration, the automatic deployment of resources in the cloud. Trying to bring things together is “still very targeted and piecemeal”. Providers seem to be in a rush to bring services to market. “Really to get orchestration and everything right,” says Yue, “you need to have all these tiny projects come together in one big cohesive unit, and I don’t think we’re there yet.” Real time and automation are the key words, according to RCR Wireless editor Dan Meyer. For Frank Yue, the keys are agility and elasticity, terms associated with cloud computing.
Another major challenge is security. How do you maintain the privacy and integrity of your data across the cloud infrastructure? Industry standards have a bearing on security. Yue calls the situation a “big administrative mess”. Without proper standardization, particularly in multi-tenant environments, the potential for security breaches remains.
One standards body, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), announced NVF Release 2 on September 27, 2016. The statement includes remarks from Telefonica’s Diego Lopez, the newly appointed Chairman of ETSI NFV ISG: “This represents another major step towards our objective of defining a comprehensive set of specifications that will facilitate the deployment of Network Function Virtualization throughout the telecommunication industry, with significant benefits being subsequently derived in many interrelated sectors.” Lopez says that the ETSI NFV Architectural Framework will form the basis for the security, reliability, and integration of NFV going forward.
How quickly will NFV revolutionize the networks of the world? That remains to be seen. It’s being looked at as a potential framework for 5G mobile deployments. Will service chaining fueled by NFV resources make large-scale network installations a simple point-and-click operation? How will Network Function Virtualization be used in the development of self-healing networks? What other innovations await us in the field of network virtualization? Get ready, because the virtualized future everyone dreamed about is well-nigh upon us.
Does your company plan to deploy NFV any time soon? What do you think about this new technology? How do you think it will affect telecom companies and their customers in the next few years? Please share your comments on Network Function Virtualization below.
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