Taming the avalanche of mobile data
Data drives the internet as we know it. Getting it from one place to another, fast and unfettered, is one of the greatest challenges facing networks as the growth in video and other heavy applications show no signs of abating. European and Taiwanese network experts joined forces to prepare for the coming data tsunami by better integrating the front-and back-end mobile systems to deliver smoother, faster, cheaper 'crosshaul' solutions.
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Improved device capabilities, more affordable data plans and the take-up of late-generation solutions (5G and LTE) are all set to play their part in driving innovation in mobile networks and, in turn, new economic opportunities for European players. But without careful planning and integrated technical solutions to manage the coming tsunami of data, the internet as we know it could start to unravel.
“The challenges posed by 5G development require a holistic perspective on all technologies set out to shape the mobile networks of the future, and chief among these is the transport network,” says Arturo Azcorra, professor at UC3M-Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, and director of IMDEA Networks Institute.
“The 5G-Crosshaul project I’ve coordinated has delivered what is now the de-facto concept for an integrated 5G transport network, a crucial step towards the real-world implementation of the future 5G communications system,” he adds. And the timing could not be better.
Hauling in the net
By 2023, monthly global mobile data traffic will surpass 100 exabytes (EB), growing annually by 42 %, according to Ericsson’s latest outlook report. A fictitious 1EB hard drive could store, for example, equivalent of 341 billion three-minute MP3 music files, according to TopTenReviews. Existing terabyte drives can cope with around 342 000 such files! Everyday usage including mobile chat, voice and video calls, as well as e-commerce are driving up mobile traffic, but the biggest growth is expected in mobile video and data-intensive virtual and augmented reality applications, according to 5G pundits.
For the networks and systems experts, massive growth in data-intensive content means one thing: a massive amount of work behind the scenes. This is needed to keep the systems going so pages continue to download fast and videos don’t break up on viewing as ‘packets’ of data get held up on their way to the end-destination.
5G-Crosshaul built a unified management environment combining hardware, software and cloud services which brings all the data transport and networking elements together using flexible yet integrated solutions, merging the ‘backhaul’ and ‘fronthaul’. These are two typical segments of today’s 4G telecommunications networks. On the fifth generation of communication networks, which is expected to replace 4G by around 2020, these two segments merge into what is known as a ‘crosshaul’.
Ambitious targets enduring partnerships
5G-Crosshaul set out in 2015 to boost network capacity by 20 % and significantly reduce latencies how much time it takes for a ‘packet’ of data to get from one point to another and the total costs of running networks by 30 %. Did they succeed?
“The 18 real-world trials in Berlin, Madrid, Barcelona and Taiwan meant we could better design and validate our crosshaul data plane, control plane and applications, delivering sub-millisecond latency, massive throughput (tens of Gbps) and proven energy and cost savings of up to 70 %, depending on the deployment scenario,” confirms Azcorra. “The trials also demonstrated fast service deployment time in the order of minutes, taking advantage of two emerging concepts: software-defined networking, or SDN, and network function virtualisation or NFV.”
Take the high-speed train case led by Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), in which three new so-called ‘over the top’ applications were developed to improve mobility and energy management, and streamline data flow between virtual network operators in ‘multi-tenancy’ arrangements.
According to Shahzoob Bilal, engineer at ITRI, the 5G-Crosshaul platform’s SDN solution managed to boost conventional data ‘handover’, and the energy management application, fondly known as EMMA, is delivering 78 % savings across the network. These results would not have been possible without the crosshaul solutions materialising out of the international cooperation.
The project’s impressive track record also includes 91 scientific publications in several prestigious journals, 74 presentations in international venues, 28 demonstrations (including several made at flagship events such as the Mobile World Congress), and 35 contributions to international standardisation bodies, among others.
A number of key innovations have been identified in 5G-Crosshaul. Five patents have been filed and a handful of technologies are earmarked for exploitation and eventual commercialisation by consortium partners, and outside interests.
Several partners are also participating in new EU-backed 5G projects 5G EVE, 5G-VINNI and 5GENESIS aimed at smoothing vertical market uptake of 5G innovations, services and applications. The 5TONIC lab, co-founded by Telefónica and IMDEA Networks, has been chosen as one of the testing facilities. Major Telco players, Telefónica and Ericsson, are participating in all three EU projects, while UC3M is taking part in two of them.