As I wander around my home in Ireland, I find myself frustrated by inconsistent wireless coverage. I have two available networks: WiFi and the mobile wireless network. Thanks to basic topology and wireless propagation, downstairs the WiFi is good and cellular is poor, while upstairs the reverse is true. But my handset lacks the smarts to create seamless connectivity. Why do I have to bring my personal wireless technology expertise to solve this problem when the networks should be able to do this intelligently themselves?
And of course, we know why: my WiFi is on a fixed-line network very separate from the mobile wireless one, in separate network domains, working with very different technologies, and (in my case) with two different providers.
Fixed-mobile convergence is an old topic. So old that it probably has traversed the hype cycle not once, but several times. 5G, however, is now looking to change the game. While clearly driven by new massively capable radio technology, its radically new core architecture is also being designed to be agnostic to the access technology used, whether it be 5G, 4G, WiFi, fixed, etc. This will be achieved by a clear separation between functions used to support the various access networks and functions used to support services.
Okay, so that gives us a logically clean architecture on which to build a solution. But how then do we solve my in-home coverage problem?
Multi-access convergence to transform end user experience
Luckily, I get to work with not one, but two very smart teams looking to solve these issues: Nokia Bell Labs and BT Labs. Since late last year, we have engaged on a joint project investigating the potential of multi-access convergence anchored by a scalable cloud-native 5G core. The exciting result is how we now can greatly improve the end-user quality of experience in the home.
Stephen Johnson [right] from BT Labs and Stepan Kucera [left] from Nokia Bell Labs stand by their 5G converged core demo complete with a mini-Faraday cage.
Using our own mini Faraday cage, we replicated what happens when one or more brick walls get between you and your WiFi access point. Even as the WiFi signal was degraded and eventually cut off, we demonstrated how 5G could pick up the slack using an innovative Bell Labs solution. Together, BT Labs and Nokia Bell Labs brought this as a demo to BT’s Innovation Week at Adastral Park earlier this year, where visitors could see rock-steady throughput rates being delivered to the end device.
Even with these early successes, we are only starting to tap into the potential of how the 5G core will reshape the way connectivity is delivered to end-users. By going for multi-access capability, the users and their needs are put at the centre of the architecture, transforming how we will experience services and applications that depend on seamless ultra-high-performance network connectivity. Representing both operator and infrastructure vendor viewpoints, the collaboration between two world-renowned labs, Nokia Bell Labs and BT Labs, is critical to making this 5G a commercial reality.
In the meantime, I continue to wander around my home, eagerly looking forward to experiencing consistent, fast connectivity intelligently delivered by 5G.