Delivering More 5G Data With Less Hardware

A proposed crowd-sourcing technique could mean that hardware for 5G networks hitches a ride on cars

2 min read
Outdoor experiment for proposed approach: Measuring throughput between server and UEs via DU and RUs (simulated with IEEE802.11ac/ad wireless LAN)
In an outdoor experiment, wireless data throughput—from a server to radio units installed on cars and then to wireless handsets—is measured using an IEEE 802.11ac/ad wireless local-area network acting as a stand-in for 5G signals.
Photo: Kazuki Maruta

Business districts may be bustling in the daytime, but they can often be near-deserted in the evenings. These fluctuations in population density pose a challenge to the emergence of 5G networks, which will require more hardware than ever before to relay massive amounts of data. Here’s the rub: To ensure reliable service, mobile networks must either invest in and deploy many more hardware units–or find ways to let the hardware move with the crowds.

One group of researchers is proposing a creative solution: installing small radio units on cars and crowdsourcing the task of data transmission when the vehicles are not in use. That approach relies on the fact that more cars tend to be parked in highly populated areas.

The most common network model that service providers are considering for 5G networks involves C-RAN architecture. Central units coordinate the transmission of data; the data is disseminated through distribution units and is further processed and transmitted by fleets of radio units. Those units convert the information to usable formats for mobile users.

Some researchers have explored deploying radio units on moving vehicles such as city buses which run along defined routes. But it has proven difficult to successfully transmit data via moving targets.

In a study published 20 January in IEEE Access, a Japanese research team showed that harnessing radio units on parked cars results in efficient data transmission, all while keeping radio units close to where people are. The team proposed a crowd-sourcing approach, in combination with a monetary or non-monetary incentive, which could be used to get drivers to participate.

With their approach, radio units are charged via the car battery and can be activated when the car is parked. When a crowd-sourced radio unit is available, it establishes a wireless mobile front-haul link with a neighboring distribution unit and starts working to transmit data to nearby phones.

In a series of simulations, the researchers compared the effectiveness of their approach to that of a traditional fleet of stationary radio units. The results show that 100 radio units installed on nearby parked cars that complement 200 stationary units (or 300 radio units total) can deliver data better than 400 uniformly dispersed stationary radio units. Thus, its possible to get better data throughput with fewer radio units that have the added benefit of almost always being where network users happen to be.

The researchers also confirmed the efficacy of this approach through experiments. “The improvement of throughput by locating and activating a radio unit near users was far higher than expected,” says Yu Nakayama, a member of the research team who is a professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. “This result implies the effectiveness of adaptively locating and activating radio units based on the distribution of mobile users,” adds Yu.

The group is interested in exploring the commercialization of this technique. “We believe that it is a promising solution for the future mobile networks beyond 5G,” Yu says.

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Photo: George Frey/AFP/Getty Images
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We've all been told that 5G wireless is going to deliver amazing capabilities and services. But it won't come cheap. When all is said and done, 5G will cost almost US $1 trillion to deploy over the next half decade. That enormous expense will be borne mostly by network operators, companies like AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and dozens more around the world that provide cellular service to their customers. Facing such an immense cost, these operators asked a very reasonable question: How can we make this cheaper and more flexible?

Their answer: Make it possible to mix and match network components from different companies, with the goal of fostering more competition and driving down prices. At the same time, they sparked a schism within the industry over how wireless networks should be built. Their opponents—and sometimes begrudging partners—are the handful of telecom-equipment vendors capable of providing the hardware the network operators have been buying and deploying for years.

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