The Future of Communications: 5G & Beyond
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The world of telecommunication networks is in full swing, not only in one direction but in all directions. This brief presentation gives some ideas of the current explosion without being exhaustive, far from it.
The network revolution pertains to the move from hardware-based mode to software-based mode. This transition is taking place because of virtualization, whereby physical networking equipment is replaced by software fulfilling the same function.
Let us take a look at the various elements which are creating this new generation of networks. To begin with, we can cite the Cloud. The Cloud is a set of resources which, instead of being held at the premises of a particular company or individual, are hosted on the Internet. The resources are de-localized, and brought together in resource centers, known as datacenters. The use of Cloud services has meant a significant increase in the data rates being sent over the networks. Indeed, processing is now done centrally, and both the data and the signaling must be sent to the Cloud and then returned after processing.
The rise of this new generation of networks, based on datacenters, is also a problem due to energy consumption. This consumption is estimated to account for between 3% and 5% of the total carbon footprint. However, this proportion is increasing very quickly with the rapid rollout of datacenters and antennas for mobile networks. By way of example, a datacenter containing a million servers consumes approximately 100MW. A Cloud provider with ten such datacenters would consume 1GW, which is the equivalent of a nuclear power plant. Continuing in the same vein, the carbon footprint produced by energy consumption in the world of ICT is projected to reach 20% by 2025. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial to find solutions to offset this rise. There are solutions that already exist and are beginning to be used. Virtualization represents a good solution, whereby multiple virtual machines are hosted on a common physical machine, and a large number of servers are placed in standby mode (low power) when not in use. Processors also need to have the ability to drop to very low speeds of operation whenever necessary. Indeed, the power consumption is strongly proportional to processor speed. When the processor has nothing to do, it almost stops, and then speeds up depending on the workload received.
Mobility is also another argument in favor of adopting a new form of network architecture. Forecast shows that by the end of 2020, 98% of terminal equipment will be connected to a network by a wireless solution. In parallel, another revolution that is currently under way pertains to the “Internet of Things” (IoT): billions of things will be connected within the next few years. The prediction is that 50 billion will be connected to the IoT by the end of 2020. In other words, the number of connections will likely increase tenfold in the space of only a few years. The “things” belong to a variety of domains: 1) domestic matters, with household electrical goods, home health care, home management, etc.; 2) medicine, with all sorts of sensors both on and in the body to measure, analyze and perform actions; 3) business, with light level sensors, temperature sensors, security sensors, etc. Numerous problems arise in this new universe, such as identity management and the security of communications with the sensors.
5G is 4G’s successor. It is likely to be 2020 before it is standardized, and a few years after that before it begins being massively commercialized. The first major development regards the peak data rate, which should be between 1 and 10Gbps. The second important characteristic is the massive Internet of Things essentially being medical devices, household appliances or objects and sensors. The third is critical missions that will allow the 5G to enter control applications of machine tools or autonomous vehicles. The characteristics of 5G contain numerous key terms, including: cognitive radio, smart antennas, small cells, software-based approach, D2D (Device to Device), slicing, intelligent protocols, etc.
Another important point which absolutely must be integrated in networks is “intelligence”. So-called “intelligent networks” have had their day, but the intelligence in this case was not really what we mean by “intelligence” in this field. Rather, it was a set of automatic mechanisms, employed to deal with problems perfectly determined in advance. Here, intelligence pertains to learning mechanisms and intelligent decisions based on the network status and user requests. The network needs to become an intelligent system, capable of making decisions on its own.
There is also one critical reason to favor migration to networks of a new generation: security. Security requires a precise view and understanding of the problems at hand, which range from physical security to computer security, with the need to lay contingency plans for attacks that are sometimes entirely unforeseeable. The world of the Internet today is like a bicycle tire which is now made up entirely of patches (having been punctured and repaired multiple times), and every time an attack succeeds, a new patch is added. Such a tire is still roadworthy at the moment, but there is the danger that it will burst if no new solution is envisaged in the next few years.
A last point, which could be viewed as the next revolution, is concretization – i.e. the opposite of virtualization. Indeed, the problem raised by virtualization is a significant reduction in performance, stemming from the replacement of hardware with software. There are a variety of solutions that have been put forward to regain the performance: software accelerators and, in particular, the replacement of software with hardware, in the step of concretization. The software is replaced by reconfigurable hardware, which can transform depending on the software needing to be executed.
As a conclusion, we can say that the world of networks is evolving in a spectacular way: it is no longer a distributed system but a centralized system controlled by a datacenter! However, the expansion of artificial intelligence should make possible the redistribution of the center between edge controllers. All these developments form a solid base for new start-ups but also for high-level scientific publications.
Guy Pujolle, Sorbonne University, France, and Editor-in-Chief of Annals of Telecommunications
Guy Pujolle is currently a Professor at Sorbonne University (Paris 6) and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Orange/France Telecom Group. Dr. Pujolle is the French representative at the Technical Committee on Networking at IFIP. He is an editor for International Journal of Network Management, WINET, Telecommunication Systems and Editor in Chief of the indexed Journal “Annals of Telecommunications”. Guy Pujolle is a pioneer in high-speed networking having led the development of the first Gbit/s network to be tested in 1980.
Annals of Telecommunications
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