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Gianluca Mazzi
Gianluca Mazzi

Business Development

L’architettura 5G in funzione dell’IoT

A quick introductio to 5G

5G represents the fifth generation of mobile connection and offers enormous potential for the development of services to citizens and businesses, making current communication systems extremely efficient, not only in terms of connection speed, but more generally in terms of reliability, continuity, safety and quality of services. Making communication lines more efficient becomes very important for the new technological challenges worldwide, some examples concern machine learning, blockchain but also digital payments and, more generally, digitization

At the moment 5G is in an experimental phase in some cities and should be launched at full capacity on the Italian market by the end of 2020. We at EDALAB are however already testing 5G modules in our IoT BOX-IO platform.

The term 5G indicates new generation technologies and standards for mobile communication. This "fifth generation", which follows the previous 2G, 3G and 4G, is therefore the connection technology that our smartphones will use, but also and above all the many IoT connected objects, destined to be ever more numerous. One of the main characteristics of this network is, in fact, precisely that of allowing many more connections at the same time, with high speed and very fast response times.

The 5G offers numerous advantages applied to the IoT and which can be summarized as follows:

  • Very high throughput (1-20 Gbps)
  • Ultra low latency (<1ms)
  • 1000x bandwidth per unità di area
  • Maximum connectivity
  • High availability
  • Dense coverage
  • Low energy consumption
  • Up to 10 years of autonomy for machine type communications

Each new generation of 3GPP wireless mobile data communication technology has set the stage for a new set of use cases and features. 3G was the first truly wireless mobile data communication technology to deal with data communication. While 4G was the first true IP wireless data communication technology. Both 3G and 4G have been instrumental and fundamental for data communication on mobile devices which, over time, has led to the proliferation of applications such as video, e-commerce, social networks, games and several other applications on mobile devices.

What is different about 5G? 

5G allows not only high speed data connections for mobile broadband enhancement, but also enables several new features that can satisfy several new business use cases. Furthermore, this is not the simple evolution of the current 4G network, because it has completely different technical characteristics, not only in terms of the amount of wider bandwidth and speed; it is a different way of managing communications and coverage, with different frequencies, antennas and data transmission techniques than in the past.

5G architecture as a function of the IoT

The 5G end-to-end architecture aims to provide extreme flexibility in terms of support and configuration of features and services and access integration. Starting from the building blocks of virtualization (NFV), programmability (SDN) and process automation (SON), the goal is to create an integrated multi-technology network on wireless and wired access (evolution of LTE, NR, WiFi, FWA).

Evolution from 4G EPC

The 5G core has evolved from 4G EPC in two stages:

  • Control and separation of user plan (CUPS) of the 4G EPC
  • Reorganization of 4G EPC CUPS functions into services

Cups

The introduction of control and user plane separation in the 4G EPC is the first step towards the 5G architecture. The SGW and PGW functions have been split into a control and data plane component.

SGW → SGW-C and SGW-U

PGW → PGW-C and PGW-U

This flexibility derives not only from the enablers, but also from new architectural paradigms such as service based architecture, dataless and cloudification, which provide modularity and flexibility for Operator deployments and with a view to enabling a "Platform as a Service ".

The 5G core as SBA is therefore a mesh of interconnected services, as shown in the following figure.

L’architettura 5G in funzione dell’IoT

The advantage of this approach lies in its flexibility: in fact, instead of having to define point-to-point interfaces and specific protocols for each interaction between network elements, services are defined that can potentially be consumed by any (network) element and that, therefore, can be easily reused in different reporting flows. In the software industry, for example, a product can be divided into several communication services and service-based architectures have been used to improve their modularity. With this approach, developers can mix and match services from different vendors into one product.

To support these architectural changes, optical and IP transport networks must evolve hand in hand, integrating within a single management and configuration framework, thanks to the SDN capabilities, providing connectivity where required and "on-demand", according to networking oriented to services and contents.

A first element of novelty in the new network architecture is therefore represented by the separation of mobility control from that of user data sessions. This modularization of the functionalities allows to increase the flexibility with which they can be composed to create service chains;

Another element of flexibility in the architecture is represented by the separation of the control plane of the data sessions from that of the user data.The separation between SMF and UPF (User Plane Function) allows the operator to deploy the UPFs in the most effective way , depending on the type of services they are assigned to deliver; for example, for services where very low latency is required, the UPFs and service platforms will be deployed as close as possible to the devices to be controlled.

Unlike what happens in 4G networks where the SGW represents an anchor for all user data sessions, in 5G different user data sessions can be anchored to different UPFs. In addition, a UPF, through the Uplink Classifier features, can select certain traffic flows as part of a user data session and redirect them to a local network where, for example, MEC (Mobile Edge Computing) platforms can be located. We remind you that in addition to IP-type data sessions, the new 5G network also supports non-IP and ethernet-type data connections to address usage scenarios such as those connected to the world of IoT (Internet of Things). In this regard, this new network natively supports some of the features / optimizations that had been added to the EPC and the ability to register to the network without the need to activate a data connection.

Cloud and 5G?

The 5G network was created to be deployed in the Cloud. In this environment the Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) have their own life cycle (they are instantiated and terminated according to the operational needs of the network) and for this reason a new functional element has been introduced in the architecture that goes by the name of NRF (Network Repository Function). The role of the NRF is to keep track of all the VNFs up and running in the network: when a VNF (e.g. an AMF) needs to interact with another VNF with certain characteristics (e.g. an SMF) it queries the NRF to find out which instances of the target VNF ​​are active at that time.

The advantage of this approach lies in making the VNFs stateless between one transaction and the next and therefore resilient to possible failures: if a VNF were to stop working any other VNF of the same type could replace it simply by retrieving the data relating to the state of the terminal from the USDF. Furthermore, in a virtualized environment, the separation between compute and storage facilitates the scale in / out of VNFs.

It follows that the orchestration and management of the complexity of these virtualized networks will also represent a challenge that must be faced while the extreme flexibility of this platform opens the door to new opportunities and service models.

Ability to extend the reach of mobile broadband

5G can power technology far beyond what current mobile technology allows. Thanks to its speed and bandwidth, 5G promises to make significant improvements in 3D holograms, virtual reality and augmented reality, creating opportunities to connect people far beyond what current cellular technology allows. To make a comparison: today the Italian mobile networks allow you to download, on average, 31.1 megabits per second (ie 0.031 gigabits). Fixed broadband reaches 47.27 megabits. 5G should therefore allow us to navigate, while walking on the street, traveling by train or by car, at a speed 45 times higher than current mobile networks, it means, for example, downloading even rather heavy content practically immediately.

Lower latency

The "latency" (latency time) is the interval that passes between the sending of a signal and its reception. No connection, not even the fastest, achieves immediacy but 5G will get very close: the latency time should be at least halved. But in the best performances it should reach just 1 millisecond. The signals of 5G networks will reach everywhere, connecting cities that are thousands of kilometers away. The latency of 5G will compress (and greatly) the times and become decisive in all those that require immediacy between stimulus and response. Just think of autonomous driving, the speed with which an industrial machinery acts (which will become more precise but also safer) or even medical applications where a doctor can operate remotely thanks to robotic arms and fast connections.

Higher density

The new networks will be able to support a much greater number of devices without impacting the speed of the connection. The density of connected devices according to the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance will be in the order of "hundreds of thousands of simultaneous active connections per square kilometer". A fundamental capacity for the Internet of Things: private homes, industrial plants where machines will no longer need cables, smart cities where millions of sensors analyze and manage emissions, traffic, public lighting; it will be possible to monitor bridges and works of art in real time to keep their condition under control, improve controls during large events by crossing thousands of observation points, autonomously and efficiently manage traffic on roads, ports and airports.

Usage scenarios

Extremely reliable low latency communications (factory automation, robotics).

In the context of Industry 4.0, 5G wants to act as a technology enabling the integration of systems and the large-scale interconnection of machines, robots, sensors, vehicles, products and workers: in order to support Industry 4.0. The new generation networks will have to facilitate automation, allowing the massive and real-time sharing of critical information, supporting very high volumes of communications with the aim of monitoring production and tracing assets and ensuring very high reliability and very low latencies. The innovations, in particular, focus on smart manufacturing, in the idea of ​​a wireless factory completely autonomous from the "Monitoring" phase and data collection with consequent big data analysis, to the "Command and Control" phase of assembly lines and robots with intelligence from the Net (Cloud and Mobile Edge Computing) thanks precisely. to the end-to-end latencies of the 5G Network of the order of milliseconds.

Furthermore, significant advances in autonomous vehicle technology are possible with this network, creating the potential for people to have new levels of personal and professional freedom. Connected appliances can help automate tasks around the house, which can not only improve personal convenience, but also help those who need assistance with daily tasks.

Smart City 

In Smart Cities, a place where traditional infrastructures and services become more efficient through the use of digital information and communication technologies, the pervasive use of digital technologies materializes in an improvement of public services for citizens, a more efficient use of resources and a lower impact on the environment. The innovations in the Smart City area, therefore, translate into the ability to manage in a unified way this great variety of data of the connected urban infrastructures, including the monitoring of the territory and the environment, the management of public transport, street lighting, utility networks and plants, waste management, parking management and the digitalisation of homes and offices; in addition to planning the urban interventions of the future based on indicators and predictive maintenance given by the processing of the collected data.

Entertaiment

The audiovisual experience is rewritten after the implementation of the latest technologies powered by 5G: the availability of these networks with high bandwidth and low latencies allows the adoption of new paradigms for the use of multimedia content based on IP and WebTV. The interconnection to the network will not stop only at objects belonging to TV production but also at new devices that will facilitate the production of content such as wearable cameras or drones, or devices that will be used to experience content in increasingly immersive ways such as viewers for augmented reality.

High-speed mobile network

The 5G network revolutionizes the mobile experience thanks to a supercharged network capable of supporting up to 10 to 20 GBPS of data download speeds, the equivalent of a wirelessly accessible fiber optic internet connection. The mobile download will be much faster, always on, always connected and extremely reactive, given the fact that the 5G frequencies are very high and allow you to greatly increase the speed of data transmission since there are no typical interference inside lower frequencies.

5G networks will allow secure access to cloud storage, access to business applications and allow you to perform activities with greater processing power, allowing us to improve our experience linked to the use of the internet: it will be possible to watch videos or movies online without buffering and sending and receiving large amounts of data much faster than 4G. In conclusion, it is clear that 5G is and will be a "systemic revolution": the infrastructures will be overtaken by an innovative virtualized network and end-to-end services platform capable of effectively responding to the needs of a rapidly growing market the demand for services and video content, the mass diffusion of digital products-services, but also the personalization of advertising as a new business driver. However, the techno-economic acceleration of this transformation poses important challenges on industrial sustainability that will require the adoption of a new and innovative approach to make the most of the full potential of this new network.

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