The old distinctions between “my network” and “other networks,” plus the reliance on “my spectrum” versus “any available spectrum” now will change with 5G, even more than has been the case with 4G, A new TIA survey of industry executives suggests. That significant virtualization of spectrum assets and spectrum networks also will accompanied by virtualization of core networks. In fact, virtualization is an underpinning of 5G.

More than half (55 percent) of respondents plan to deploy Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) and prefer the notion of operating LTE in unlicensed spectrum. That is an example of bonding unlicensed spectrum with licensed spectrum to support mobility services.

Of course, other methods of using Wi-Fi also are considered important. LTE+Wi-Fi link aggregation (LWA) and LTE Wi-Fi integration, (a forerunner to the LWA), were both favored by 41 percent of respondents, the study found.

The larger point is that 5G will customarily be deployed in complement with other licensed and unlicensed wireless technologies. That is a major step towards virtualized access.

In fact, so important a development is such virtualization that a variety of initiatives to leverage unlicensed spectrum are under way, including LTE-LAA, LWA, LTE WiFi Integration, Wi-Fi offload and MuLTEFire.

LTE-LAA and MuLTEFire use LTE radio technology operating in unlicensed spectrum. LTE-LAA uses both licensed and unlicensed spectrum bands, while MuLTEFire enables LTE radio technology to operate entirely in unlicensed spectrum.

Some 79 percent of respondents were interested in deploying Wi-Fi offload, 41 percent favored LTE Wi-Fi integration, and 41 percent favored the more advanced LWA technology. Some 55 percent of respondents are interested in deploying LTE-LAA, and four percent were interested in deploying MuLTEFire.

Also, 83 percent of respondents believed network slicing (the ability of the virtualized core to create custom private networks) will be either very important or extremely important for creating revenue-generating opportunities. Some 73 percent of respondents see network slicing as a tool for delivering  enhanced service quality, while 70 percent see network slicing as a tool that lowers operating costs.

As always, real estate–radio siting rights–are expected to be issues. Most survey respondents indicated that they planned to partner with building owners (75 percent), electrical utilities (64 percent) and public lighting companies (61 percent) for their network densification efforts. Fewer than 40 percent of respondents identified alternative partners. 

Of course, networks have been more virtual since the advent of the internet era, where “access networks” and “applications” are logically separate, and mostly physically separate as well. In other words, any internet app can be accessed over any internet access connection, irrespective of physical network ownership. That has virtualized apps from networks. But the degree of virtualization now is extending even to network core transport and access.