Intel exec: 5G will redefine how we measure network performance

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--The term "5G" is still amorphous and not yet a standard, but it will likely involve a radical rethinking of how the industry defines metrics for how users experience the network, according to an Intel executive.

Intel Asha Keddy


Speaking here at Intel's global headquarters, Asha Keddy, Intel's general manager for standards and advanced technology for its mobile communications group, said that the biggest change she sees with the advent of 5G networks is that "we'll start redefining terms."

In the past, she noted, bits per second was a standard way of measuring network performance. She said measurements like energy efficiency will come into play, and so will the use of different spectrum ranges for high and low-frequency spectrum, as well as coverage. Therefore, Keddy said measurements in the future may be bits per joule, bits per Hz or bits per square meter of coverage.

In an interview with FierceWirelessTech, Keddy described Intel's approach to 5G. She's in a unique position to know--Keddy is responsible for the work that Intel does in standards bodies such as 3GPP and she then works with Intel's product teams to translate those standards into reality. The definition of 5G is still very much up in the air, with different groups ranging from the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance to METIS 2020 and individual companies seeking to sketch the outlines of what 5G networks will look like. Most in the industry expect 5G to be commercialized in 2020.

For Intel, the push to 5G is pivotal because it has only really been since Intel acquired Infineon's wireless business in 2010 that it has ramped up its efforts in wireless. Being a part of the conversation around defining 5G could help the chip maker play a more significant role in wireless and computing in the decade ahead.

Keddy said for Intel a major part of 5G is that different devices will use each other's computing power--so a smart watch could wirelessly use the computing power of a nearby laptop. Additionally, with the advent of the Internet of Things and the increasing move toward heterogeneous network architectures with small cells, there will simply be more technologies the network needs to support.

"All of these technologies, if you think about them, they didn't really exist in one network before," she said.  

Some have said that 5G will just mean a much more robust network experience. Keddy said she thought that was "correct, but I think it's not complete." She said the industry will need to address issues related to the scalability, versatility and energy efficiency of networks. However, she also said it's difficult right now to determine what will be the applications and use cases that will drive 5G. "When you look at what we call 'killer apps,' even though we're starting with 5G, I think a few years from now, there will be use cases that will challenge and thrill, and we don't even know what they are," she said.

Keddy also said that it's uncertain whether a new air interface technology will be required for 5G. Any new air interface is very expensive, she said, noting that the industry has invested a lot in LTE and LTE Advanced. "So what I would see happening is a lot of augmentation," she said.  

Keddy discussed the idea of separating the control plane from the data plane in networks. That would theoretically allow small cells to work with any air interface technology, whether it is LTE, Wi-Fi or millimeter wave technology. "It allows you to start combining differ technologies into the same architecture, which is very different," she said.

The Internet of Things, which Intel has made a major push around ever since Brian Krzanich became CEO last spring, will be a part of 5G, Keddy said. Others think so as well. Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers said at Mobile World Congress in February that he believes IoT will be a big part of 5G and that "unstructured and structured data will transform society and many industries." 

Keddy said one of the challenges of 5G is to "accommodate a very diverse set of use cases."

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