In 2022, as 5G gives rise to 5G-Advanced, mobile network technology will focus increasingly on the energy efficiency of radios. In addition, third-party application developers will get more involved in the mobile networking space.
The past two years have been anything but predictable, but the new year brings hope for a return to normalcy. In that spirit, here are a few predictions for what to expect in the mobile networking technology space in 2022:
Energy efficiency an increasing network radio focus
This year, mobile networking radio vendors will increasingly focus on the energy efficiency of their solutions as a competitive differentiator – and for good reason. It’s an extremely important topic for mobile operators, since network radio power represents a significant operating expense, especially amid current 5G deployments.
We have already begun to see, in 2021, some networking equipment vendors shift toward a heavier focus on this subject; Huawei promoted its Power Star 2.0 solution, which features new ways for mobile base stations to power down during low-traffic periods. ZTE highlighted ceramic fans to cool its mobile network radios more efficiently.
In 2022, look for vendors to explore more advanced ways of reducing unnecessary power consumption and more efficient ways of cooling equipment. Nokia, for example, has hinted at announcements early in 2022 related to the use of liquid to cool radios, and Samsung has suggested it may introduce new radio energy efficiency features as well.
Mobile network radio apps will multiply and diversify
Mobile operators are starting to experiment with the concept of disaggregating their mobile base stations – buying the radio and the computing element from different vendors, rather than from the same vendor, as has been necessary historically. That disaggregation requires a new network element to make the disaggregated parts work well together: the Radio Intelligent Controller, or RIC.
The RIC allows software application developers to take a new role in the network, creating applications, hosted by RICs, that manage mobile networks in new ways. And 2022 could see a surge in activity among these developers. Early applications are likely to come from incumbent major networking equipment vendors trying to kick-start the ecosystem, as we’ve begun to see.
Ericsson and Nokia have both introduced RIC applications already, but new entrants may not be far behind. Facebook has developed RIC apps xApps that have been trialed by German operator Deutsche Telekom. Infovista, which has supplied mobile networking software but not historically made mobile base stations or radios, introduced a RIC application> focused on network planning automation and optimization. The more operators show interest in RICs and their apps, the more app developers will show up.
Just as 4G LTE rollouts gave rise to the next generation of that technology (LTE-Advanced), 5G is about to cede the stage to its successor, 5G-Advanced, which includes new capabilities and functions. The pace of this evolution is greatly influenced by industry standards that allow different vendors’ gear to interoperate. In early 2022, the 3GPP, the standards group focused on cellular network technology, will complete Release 17, the latest 5G standard.
Once that’s done, work will ramp up on Release 18, the release focused on 5G-Advanced. Among other things, Release 18 will focus significantly on artificial intelligence and machine learning, which could help optimize networks and relieve human operators of some of the burden of managing their increasing complexity. 5G-Advanced will also focus on energy efficiency, another reason why prediction number one, above, is a safe bet – not just for the near term but for years to come.