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5G in the laboratory conditions: global trends in the study of next-generation communications

October 28, 2020|
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exclusive

2018-2020 can be called transitional years for the 5G segment: telecom operators, vendors and other companies are gradually moving from piloting their solutions in laboratories and test areas to practical commercial cases. 

However, the importance of further exploring 5G cannot be underestimated. Today, new laboratory-type sites are actively opening in the world, where market participants test technologies, their own solutions and services in conjunction with a fifth-generation network.

A notable number of laboratories began to appear after 2018. Among other things, this may be due to the fact that it was in 2018 that the first full version of the current 5G standard developed by the 3GPP consortium - the 15th release - was published, and market participants around the world received a systematic understanding of the principle on which to build 5G-infrastructure.

Igor Kharlashkin, Director of Business Development at Qualcomm Europe, in a conversation with ICT.Moscow, confirmed that each new release of the specifications implies new technical opportunities for market participants.

ICT.Moscow studied the experience of piloting 5G solutions based on global laboratory-type sites and research centers testing fifth-generation communications. The document includes 116 such sites, selected in the process of studying publications in open sources until August 2020, based on two criteria: the presence of a test 5G cellular network and the availability of infrastructure and capabilities for comprehensive research of 5G networks in a laboratory environment. The first mentions date back to 2014, when laboratories were opened in Spain and Germany.

Analysis of the global experience in piloting solutions on the basis of various laboratory-type 5G sites is available here.

ICT.Moscow highlighted several trends in the study of 5G technology and discussed them with experts: representatives of the telecom industry, equipment manufacturers who are actively exploring the possibilities of 5G.


Testing in a new format

In addition to the fact that a noticeable number of laboratory-type sites appeared in 2018 or later (more than 100 sites included in the analytical review appeared over this period of time - approximately 87% of those reviewed), over the past two years a new format has appeared in the world - innovation and industrial parks. It involves the unification of a large number of companies for joint testing of various technologies, services and equipment.

So far, four innovation and industrial parks have been discovered, three of them are located in China, one in South Korea. They began their work over the last one and a half years, in most cases - in cities where earlier (usually a year before) commercial 5G networks had already been launched. The distinctive features of these parks are as follows:

  • They are open and try to attract a large number of different participants with their projects: research institutes, developers, business. For example, at the opening of an industrial park in Chengdu, China in March last year, agreements on several dozen different projects were signed.      
  • They are focused on the participation of companies not only in the domestic but also in the foreign markets. A prime example is the global innovation port in Shanghai, which opened in October 2019.      
  • They focus on integrating 5G with other promising technologies. For example, a park in Chengdu is focused on the development of 5G projects related to artificial intelligence; in the South Korean park, the focus is on smart and self-driving vehicles. And the innovative port in Shanghai is exploring the prospects for using 5G networks along with satellite Internet.      

It is worth noting that all four parks were opened with the active support of government organizations. This is logical, given their particularity, including the focus on international collaborations.

Taking into account the world experience, it can be assumed that such industrial parks for 5G testing will soon begin to appear in Russia (or existing ones will be reformatted). However, this will require active support from cities. And not only that - Dmitry Lakontsev from Skoltech claims that innovation and industrial parks have no serious prospects without a very powerful expertise accumulated in the field of 5G.

Dozens of parks can be created, but they will not work, since there are very few professionals in this area, they are very demanding, and spraying this resource will only hurt the business. The optimal solution is to focus on a maximum of two 5G parks, but with a full-fledged infrastructure and competencies. Neither human nor financial resources are enough for more. The training of new specialists in the field of creating mobile communication technologies will take more than one year.

Dmitry Lakontsev

Head of the NTI Competence Center for wireless technologies and the Internet of Things at Skoltech


AI, robotics and more

The study of the world experience of testing 5G in the laboratory settings showed a heterogeneity of interest in other emerging technologies.

On the one hand, among the sites analysed, technologies related to VR / AR and the Internet of Things were more often found, and artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics were in third and fourth places.

Fragment of the analysis of the global experience in piloting solutions on the basis of various laboratory-type 5G sites

These data are at odds with the trend that was tracked when studying new 5G practices in the world, according to which in the world 5G is most actively used in conjunction with AI and various robots. This discrepancy may indicate that the possible effects and prospects of using fifth-generation communications in conjunction with VR / AR and IoT have not been studied as well as the connection with AI and robotics . This assumption is confirmed by market experts.

Now, in 2020, there is a real readiness for the development of new directions, such as the field of VR / XR / AR and always connected personal computers, a wide range of devices for these areas has already become available - compact XR-glasses (mixed reality glasses) and VR-helmets, wearable connected electronics, a line of 5G personal computers from different manufacturers, including those working in the millimeter wave range.

With the advent of a wide range of applied terminal equipment, new application scenarios are being developed not only in entertainment and media, but also in areas related to the Internet of Things: technologies in education, warehousing, logistics, medicine, retail trade, mining, industrial production, work of emergency services, airports, railway stations, etc.

Igor Kharlashkin

Business Development Director, Qualcomm Europe

Dmitry Lakontsev from Skoltech assesses the combination of 5G with other technologies through the prism of other factors that are key when solutions enter the market.

The three main drivers of interest in 5G are cost efficiency, increased safety for people, and user comfort. And it is logical that the main interest and the greatest progress is observed in the following areas: video and VR / AR ("for everything"), industrial and administrative / office Internet, remote control and maintenance, unmanned urban and industrial logistics, sensory fields, remote medical examinations and procedures.

Dmitry Lakontsev

Head of the NTI Competence Center for wireless technologies and the Internet of Things at Skoltech

Moscow laboratory-type 5G test sites are also primarily focused on VR / AR (this technology is presented at 5 sites out of 7 in Moscow), IoT (also 5 out of 7), artificial intelligence (3 out of 7).

Nevertheless, it is at least premature to talk about a decrease or a lack of interest in testing 5G in conjunction with AI and robotics. ICT.Moscow managed to find five examples where a special emphasis is placed on the 5G bundle with these technologies. The very first of those sites that were included in the review was opened in South Korea in 2016, the other four have been launched over the past two years in China, India and Singapore.

The emphasis on AI and robotics does not imply abandoning testing of other technologies. For example, in the AI ​​and 5G Mobile Edge Computing innovation lab (opened in September 2018 in China), 5G-AI solutions were tested for use with IoT, VR / AR and others technologies. The latest laboratory of this format, which Nokia opened in August this year in India, is focused on studying the possibilities of 5G for more effective use of robotics in the field of security, agriculture, etc.


5G capabilities are more commonly tested in media, smart city, transportation and industry

The directions most frequently cited in 5G testing around the world have a definite correlation with the technologies mentioned above. During the review, we managed to find the largest number of references to the media and entertainment sector , followed by the smart city, logistics and transport, industry, and medicine.

Fragment of the analysis of the global experience in piloting solutions on the basis of various laboratory-type 5G sites

The top positions generally coincide with the directions that Dmitry Lakontsev from Skoltech highlights. He explains why exactly they can get a significant impetus in development by testing various solutions.

There are three leading areas: media, industry and smart cities - these are the ones that have the potential for complete transformation thanks to the fifth generation of communication. The rollout of 5G for each of these verticals brings tangible growth in opportunities.

From other areas, I will especially note medicine , since the fifth generation of communication technology allows to increase the number of patients served and make medical services more accessible thanks to 5G's capabilities for monitoring and remotely conducting examinations and procedures. By the way, there are already cases of remote operations.

Without a doubt, 5G will have a profound impact on other industries as well. It is difficult to fully imagine what ideas and inventions will be realized with the help of 5G and how they will change various areas of human activity. There are prospects and developments in industries such as retail, electricity (especially wind and transmission lines), high-speed railways and smart seaports, river and coastal navigation, restaurant business and food delivery, communications for drones and aerial vehicles. heights up to 4 km, environmental monitoring, etc.

Dmitry Lakontsev

Head of the NTI Competence Center for wireless technologies and the Internet of Things at Skoltech

The Moscow laboratory-type sites that have been opened to date are focused on the following areas for testing 5G solutions: logistics and transport (4 out of 7 sites), medicine (4 out of 7), media and entertainment (3 out of 7).

Alesya Mamchur, Director of Strategic Development of Rostelecom, also told ICT.Moscow which areas for testing and subsequent implementation of 5G the company is considering in the first place.

Rostelecom considers the most promising development of digital solutions in the following industries: transport (including unmanned vehicles) and logistics, healthcare, mining, energy, mechanical engineering, housing and communal services, and trade. At the same time, for freight and personal transport, the introduction of 5G will be delayed until the issue regarding using the 700 MHz band is resolved, which is necessary for federal coverage, especially highways.

Alesya Mamchur

Director for Strategic Development of Rostelecom

Alexander Balyuk from Beeline notes the importance of an integrated approach to testing new generation communication technology.

We are now primarily interested in participating in testing сomplex innovative solutions for various industries (industry, medicine, education, etc.), in which the advantages of 5G are most clearly manifested, where, without 5G, a potential client will not receive the desired service.

Alexander Balyuk

Head of the department for the introduction of new technologies at "Beeline"


New opportunities for corporations

A study of the world's 5G research centers has shown that not all are opened by telecom operators. The analysis found more than 50 laboratory-type sites launched by companies from other industries (including equipment manufacturers, as well as government organisations). Among them, there is a noticeable share of those that were opened by companies that have no direct relation to the telecom segment (they are neither telecom operators nor manufacturers of telecom equipment), including Alibaba; electronics manufacturers Baidu and Intel, OnePlus, NEC; automobile corporations Mitsubishi and Scania. At the end of September, several more American corporations, also not related to the telecom segment, joined the study of 5G opportunities: Microsoft and Dell became partners of the 5G Open Innovation Lab.

The creation of 5G laboratories without a strong team and very serious competencies in the field of mobile network technologies is useless. The experience of companies like Alibaba, Facebook or Microsoft only confirms this thesis. Their interest in telecommunications is not superficial, but part of a long-term strategy . This approach allowed them to accumulate patents and attract valuable human resources. The 5G laboratory should be formed on the basis of existing developments, and not start from scratch.

Taking into account the specifics of Russia, we consider the creation of broad partnerships with players from different industries as a more promising area. Working consortia allow to combine strong competencies of participants to accelerate the launch of 5G projects.

Dmitry Lakontsev

Head of the NTI Competence Center for wireless technologies and the Internet of Things at Skoltech

The willingness of companies to open entire laboratories in an unusual sphere for themselves - telecom - is explained by the fact that 5G (including in close conjunction with other technologies) should open up new opportunities for them in business development: it will allow them to develop ecosystems more effectively, stimulate sales of new generations of smartphones, bring smarter (including self-driving) cars to the market.

Speaking about the combination of competencies, it is important to note another trend in testing 5G technologies, which we managed to highlight - multi-vendor interoperability. Scientific centers, where several competing manufacturers of telecom equipment can conduct tests at once, appeared in 2018 (in New Zealand) and even in 2015 (in Germany), but this trend is most clearly traced from 2019-2020. There is such experience in Russia as well.

We provide support in the launch of 5G services to all operators - together with operators and partners, we are testing various 5G use cases and new functionalities, as well as testing 5G devices - in particular, we actively interact with Qualcomm, Oppo, Xiaomi, Sony and other manufacturers.

Mikhail Filimonchik

Director, Ericsson 5G Innovation Center


Moscow in the context of global trends

As in the case of practical 5G cases, the role of cities and states is also noticeable in the segment of exploring opportunities and testing technology . Among those laboratory-type sites that were included in the study, 24 (21%) were opened with the participation of the city or state. This practice is also typical for Russia: 6 out of 10 were launched with the support of cities.

Most of them were launched in Moscow - 7 out of 10. Almost all of them were also opened with the support of the city, only two were launched by foreign vendors - Ericsson 5G Innovation Center and Huawei laboratory . Thus, Moscow is expected to be one of the main Russian centers where 5G testing opportunities are being studied .

Almost all Moscow laboratories and centers are open, that is, third-party companies can come to them to test their own solutions and cases:

The areas in which technologies are tested in Moscow laboratories and research centers mostly coincide with global ones: logistics and transport, smart city, media and entertainment, industry . It should be noted that 5G is also being tested at Moscow-based laboratory-type sites in the areas of medicine and security . As for technologies, they coincide on the most popular points: VR / AR, IoT, artificial intelligence .

A representative of the MTS company told ICT.Moscow that at the moment, active work is underway to expand the existing laboratory for the development and testing of digital solutions and devices operating in the 5G network (5G Incubator MTS Startup Hub), as well as to open new sites with partners. However, the company cannot share details yet.

The director of the 5G Innovation Center at Ericsson, a manufacturer of telecom equipment, in turn, notes the importance of opening laboratory sites by vendors before launching commercial networks.

Ericsson opened the 5G Innovation Center in Moscow in the spring of 2019 - before the launch of 5G networks in commercial operation in Russia. We opened the center well in advance to provide carriers, mobile device manufacturers and other interested companies with an opportunity to test future 5G solutions and use cases. Since 2019, a 5G E2E network has been operating on the territory of the laboratory, more than 90% of Ericsson's current products have been deployed in the laboratory, and new products appear with us simultaneously or ahead of global releases of new products for customers around the world.

Mikhail Filimonchik

Director, Ericsson 5G Innovation Center

Details about the new 5G Demo Center, which opened in Moscow on October 26, became known at the end of September, after the signing of an agreement between the Moscow government and Rostec corporation at the CIPR-2020 conference. The press service of Rostec ICT.Moscow told about some of the corporation's plans to develop a new Moscow 5G Demo Center.

The 5G Demo Center started working in October, so it is difficult to talk about any trends at the moment. We believe that IoT technologies are the most related to 5G technology, and we expect the greatest synergy from the simultaneous development and implementation of these technologies. At the same time, we expect that 5G will become the technological basis for the development of other “end-to-end” digital technologies: AI, VR / AR, robotics and sensing, etc.

Rostec

Press Team


Analysis of the global experience in piloting solutions on the basis of various laboratory-type 5G sites is available here.

Original (in Russian)

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