IWCE 2018: Considering wireless convergence

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ORLANDO, Fla.–Smart cities. Public safety communications. Cellular evolution, including LTE and future 5G systems. Land Mobile Radio. The internet of things. Telecom technologies are evolving rapidly, and panelists at a session at the International Wireless Communications Expo delved into how they overlap and may eventually converge — and where the gaps might be.

Tre Zimmerman, co-founder and CTO of small cell company Ubicquia, painted a rosy picture of carriers’ ability to densify urban networks for 5G using light poles and simple equipment, as well as changes in negotiations between carriers, cities and utilities as all three types of stakeholders work out new ways to get the access, infrastructure and services that they each want. Justin Blair, director for wireless business products with Verizon Wireless, said that in smart city deployments that fixed devices connecting to other infrastructure are becoming a platform for community engagement and partnerships, as well as potential new advertising revenue. He also said that densifying and aggregating the network in urban areas for 5G will require virtualizing the network, and that Verizon is in the process of working on that and moving toward remote radio heads that can provide either indoor or outdoor coverage, rather than the traditional approach of using macro sites to ensure indoor coverage.

Public safety customers and video surveillance capabilities are often top-of-mind in urban smart city deployments, said Rishi Bhaskar, VP of North American government markets for Ericsson, noting that such use cases are very data-heavy and Carriers are investing heavily in fiber rings in metro areas to increase their when it comes to public safety’s communications needs, a single LMR site can have a range of 30 miles, according to Don Wingo, senior product manager at Jvckenwood USA — who went on ask how the telecom ecosystem can ensure that urban areas aren’t the only ones that end up with sufficient connectivity.

“The small sheriff still has the same policing activities,” Wingo said, noting that there are rural broadband initiatives but that such areas are difficult to deploy due to the economic equation of serving less-populated areas. “We all have to make money and have the [return on investment], but how do we bring these networks and scale these networks into rural America?” Blair responded that Verizon made rural partnerships a large part of its LTE deployment in such areas and that more such partnerships will be needed for future technologies — as well as private LTE networks being more feasible now, cost-wise. Bhaskar thought rural utility companies could utilize their existing infrastructure for fixed wireless and move toward more digitalization, and that could be a relatively easy fix for the rural/urban connectivity divide. He said that spectrum scarcity is likely to prevent private LTE from being a widespread solution, but that network slicing may end up being the next closest thing.

Wingo also discussed the need for more communication and interoperability between technology types, from LMR to satellite to cellular, because public safety users roam in and out of coverage areas where they may have to rely on any one of those technologies.

“You’re going to see more and more technology convergence,” he said, adding that the industry needs to move to modulation types that can handle both data and voice better. “It’s going to be an evolution, but we have to take the blinders off and be working diligently in those directions.”

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