Ensuring proper sync in 5G networks

Arthur Cole

5G is about to hit the world economy like a freight train. Most observers fully expect that by mid-decade, we will have an entirely new digital ecosystem driving new forms of communication, new markets and sales channels, and entirely new levels of wealth.

But 5G is not merely the next step in the evolution of wireless networking. It represents a distinct break from the past in many crucial ways, starting with the need to maintain strict time synchronization across multiple points on any given data chain.

New challenges

This need for accuracy places a significant burden on the shoulders of service providers and enterprises alike, since the goal is no longer just to maintain the proper frequencies on a steady basis, but to ensure proper phase and time modulation as well. A recent survey by Heavy Reading, in fact, showed that nearly half of networking executives feel that network synchronization will be of high importance in the rollout of 5G service.

Fortunately, help is on the way. Unfortunately, time is growing short. Major carriers like Verizon and Vodafone have already launched limited service in select cities, and more general rollouts are expected in 2020.

Oscilloquartz’s Nir Laufer noted recently that world standards-setting bodies are working toward easing the transition to this new networking paradigm by updating the Precision Time Protocol (PTP) and Sync-E specifications to reflect an environment that is measured in nanoseconds, not microseconds. As well, improvements to the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) will help overcome the delay variation between satellite and receiver, which should vastly improve 5G’s ability to support advanced services like autonomous driving.

Time synchronization is only one aspect of complete 5G assurance, of course. As Openet’s Sara Philpott points out, future services are expected to be rife with network slicing, virtualization, open APIs and other elements that must all be subjected to audit and control. Not only will this require continuous monitoring on multi-point networks to track automated changes in dynamic, high-volume ecosystems, but deep-dive inspection into encrypted data flows, protocol normalization measures and the interface bridging between disparate networks.

The rollout

But while the technology to accomplish all of these tasks is already either readily available or in the final stages of development, the real challenge going forward will be implementation. Deploying monitoring solutions at each and every site is difficult enough, but then there is the fact that interpreting and analyzing this kind of data is a highly specialized skill that demands top salaries.

ADVA took steps recently to alleviate both issues, however, with the new SatAware™ solution, the first AI-powered system for monitoring GNSS signal quality. SatAware features a lightweight, easily deployable, data collection tool tied to a powerful intelligent analytics engine that provides high-level insight into issues that affect GNSS synchronization, both now and in the future. This allows CSPs and other critical infrastructure providers to maintain consistent sync without in-depth knowledge of satellite timing or other issues, nor does it require onsite visits to collect data or calibrate equipment.

SatAware™’s monitoring capabilities range from sky-view plots and carrier-to-noise ratios to such esoteric matters as potential signal interruption from growing trees and new construction. In this way, operators gain complete visualization of GNSS reception, all without having to deploy dedicated hardware or software at each and every site.

Compared to driverless cars, remote surgeries and automated drone deliveries, the monitoring and synchronization aspects of 5G rarely steal the headlines. But the fact is that none of the exciting services currently dominating the 5G hype cycle will see the light of day without a more refined system of coordination between network devices.

With this much data flying through the air, providers will need to make sure the intricacies of high-speed connectivity are maintained at all times, or risk spoiling the 5G party before it even begins.

Arthur Cole

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