CTN Editorial Board and Yuanqiu Luo, Guest Contributor
Published: 25 Jan 2023
CTN Issue: January 2023
A note from the editor:
As it is now tradition at CTN we are venturing into the world of the magic 8 ball to see if the famous fortune teller toy can help us predict some of the communications trends that will see increased attention or become reality in 2023. We have also tried to score ourselves on our 2022 predictions, and to an extent created other predictions while at it. As we tried to come up with this year’s set we struggled, we could have taken the easy way out and just predict the obvious or we could have taken a less traveled path and predict obscure technologies, trends or events. In the end we simply decided to let each member choose, so perhaps in the reader’s mind this is an amalgamation of magic ball predictions, obscure paths and some well-traveled ideas. The fun part is to see how all of this plays out as the field of communications is full of exciting academic and industrial technologies that will continue to evolve to pave the way for better communications systems. We look forward to 2023 and believe that this is a pivotal year in many ways, as we should start to see the maturation of 5G (as an example) and how it will help create those verticals we all have hoped for. I just realized that the last statement is actually a prediction - so enjoy reading the rest of the selections from the editorial board.
Miguel Dajer, CTN Editor-in-Chief
2022 Retrospective, Looking Back at What We Predicted, and Did We Hit Any Targets?
1. mmWave to THz?
Well, we kind of missed our first prediction but not entirely. We were on the mark that mmWave (mmW) deployment for fixed wireless access (FWA) would continue, largely borne out by its steady expansion in the US. However, we found only a handful of operators spent CAPEX of significance in the mmW space in 2022, with fewer proposing to spend in 2023, now that they are looking to put to use the C-Band assets that they so expensively acquired. Many of the proponents of mmW for 5G have fled the field and found new grounds to mine in THz space. To be fair, it has been apparent for quite a while that mmW is not suitable for outdoor macro mobile networks, where sub-6GHz network shines in coverage with decent throughput. Rather it requires either dense small cell or line-of-sight point-to-point type of deployments. 6G use cases such as industry IoT demand both high throughput and ubiquitous coverage by way of ultra-dense deployment, an extreme feat to pull off at mmW carrier frequencies, yet quiet efforts to overcome this very challenge have been undertaken by industry labs throughout the pandemic and yielded successful proof-of-concept demonstration of coordinated multipoint transmission for mmW and beyond. Here at CTN we remain convinced that those hurdles that are not of a fundamental nature will be overcome—we engineers relish such challenges. But the journey may be longer and more arduous than anticipated, and the role of higher frequencies may be more geographically restricted than the pre-5G hype led many to believe. Last year also saw the inauguration of the ‘upper-midband’, a 7-24 GHz ‘centimeter wave’ band that bridges the legacy 5G bands (between sub-6G and mmW) and overlaps with the SATCOM bands (Ku and Ka). With suitable refarming of incumbents, major swaths of bandwidth could be made available as the basis for 6G in this centimetric range, augmented by millimeter-wave and terahertz components in hot spots, indoors, etc. Stay tuned because this all-important issue is sure to be the subject of subsequent CTN pieces!
2. 5G or Not 5G?
As we predicted, 2022 saw a massive uptick in 5G deployments globally, specially in the US and China in terms of total CAPEX. With the spectrum auctions out of the way in the US, the issues related to FAA/FCC GPS interference mostly resolved, and lagging to some extent to T-Mobile’s 5G deployments, both AT&T and Verizon aggressively built up their newly acquired C-band spectrum. In China, all three mobile operators also continued their aggressive deployments topping a combined 2.3M 5G-enabled base stations at the end of 2022. The main applications continue to be MBB consumer services, but we also saw a lot of chatter around private networks not just in the US but also in Europe, with countries allocating spectrum for this purpose. Finally, 3GPP R17 made the specs for Red-Cap devices a reality, something that was lacking in order to support more 5G based verticals.
3. 6G, Not So Fast.
We also hit the bullseye on this prediction as 6G continues to gather the attention of many academics and some industry forums, but the reality remains that most of the ideas at this point seem to be an evolution of current 5G roadmaps. Sure, industry groups like ATIS’ Next G Alliance have published a number of position and vision papers, but it is still unclear what exactly will the gaps be, and when the Rio Negro (5G) and the Amazon (6G) will merge their waters. Aside from requiring more of every 5G spec, and continuing to indicate the need for greener solutions, the fact remains that successful 5G and 5G-Advanced based verticals are of paramount importance to the final definition, vision, and time to market of 6G.
4. O-RAN: Whom Do We Call When Something Goes Awry?
O-RAN has continued to make strides globally not just in commercial circles but also in political ones albeit still slower than some wish. The question posed in this prediction is still unanswered and operators continue to struggle with it. We have examples of companies deploying O-RAN based networks in 2022 that had to change plans mid-course to achieve their initial launch objectives, and companies that contracted “integrators” that are still lagging in their plans. We can attribute this to the natural growing pains of a new way for an industry to do things, at the same time this question is still not fully answered, perhaps 2023 will bring more clarity.
5. Edge, IoT and Communications (EIC) Supports Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs)
The global adoption of SDGs continues with the advent of verticals supporting the foundation of some of the SDGs set forth by the UN. As stated in our prediction, communications are a catalyst to the realization of many of the SDGs and the evolution of 5G with more capabilities in each standards release, the continued focus on cost reduction, new IoT devices and the adoption of 5G based services makes SDGs an attainable proposition over the rest of this decade. The other aspect of this is that 6G forums like the aforementioned NGA (and others), have adopted “supporting SDG” one of its key objectives for 6G.
6. How Our Security and Privacy Is Changing Forever
We weren’t wrong in this one and we will be correct pretty much every year if we put communications security and data privacy in our predictions. We continue to see cyber threats escalating and more and more companies offering solutions to help safeguard information. Governments continue to be proactive in this space across the globe. The game has just begun, if we can call it a game.
Looking Ahead into 2023
Predictions galore everywhere you turn, so at CTN, like it is tradition, we cannot avoid this prediction fever. Interestingly, as we read the predictions already out, we continue to marvel at the similarity between them, and to a large extent between new and 2022’s. Edge computing, 5G and mmW, AI (sigh), etc. Can we at CTN be less predictable? Hopefully maybe. With that non-committal position we present to you some of the ideas the editorial board has come up with for 2023.
“Will Comm. & Sense Become Common Sense?” - Xiao Feng Qi
Several members of the editorial team picked this as their top prediction. The team believes that this year will see a continued academic research buildup on integrated sensing and communication (ISAC), adding to the buzzwords already in circulation (JCAS, RadCom, to name a few). Prospective use cases abound, yet business cases justifying the total cost of ownership may take several years to materialize. mmW and higher spectrum, despite having fallen short of offering ubiquitous mobile broadband to date, may yet find new momentum in ISAC, owing to the high spatial resolution achievable with small aperture and wide bandwidths. AI/ML will be indispensable to ISAC, as communication and sensing reinforce each other’s performance via intelligent adaptation to a real-time environment shared by both, that is too complex and unpredictable to comprehensively parameterize. In the US at least, ISAC may also be driven by the impetus for dual-use technologies resulting from recent industry policy such as the CHIPS Act, as well as the massive defense R&D funding that places a premium on resilient ISAC networking. If history is any guide, ISAC may benefit as much from the 'trickled-out' effect of government spending as private outlay, much like ARPANET became the forerunner of today’s Internet.
“We Look Even More to the Sky” - Miguel Dajer
The last three articles of CTN in 2022 touched on Non-Terrestrial-Networks or NTN, and it is not surprise that the staff picked NTN as another area that will see strong growth in 2023, both in academia, standards, and, more importantly, in terms of real deployments and services from an ever-growing group of companies. Recently we have seen agreements from companies partnering to provide 5G based handsets capable of supporting satellite communications (Apple/Globestar, Qualcomm/Iridium, Starlink/T-Mobile, etc.) along with announcements from many companies, not just for LEO type satellites, but also for new GEO type satellites called microGEO that are more cost effective to launch than traditional geostationary units. New types of antenna arrays that are as large as 128 m2 are promised, allowing for much better system capabilities with a smaller number of units. All in all, this is a very exciting field that should continue to see significant growth and investments in 2023.
IoT of course has been part of new year technology predictions for several years running, especially as it relates to 5G and its potential to help deliver valued vertical services. At CTN, we have passed that inflection point since it is understood that IoT is simply a must. But IoT is so talked about that we decided to do a two-part prediction in a somewhat different light.
1. “Disappearance of IoT!” - Ranga Rao Venkatesha Prasad
Mark Weiser talked about the disappearance of technologies 30 years ago. He said, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it”. IoT – no one even expands the acronym any longer—is one such technology, that has matured over the last 15 years and has become part of the ecosystem of anything to do with “smart”. Indeed, it has a perfect semblance with us humans; we have so many sensors embedded, and we never even notice them – except when they fail! Similarly, the sensors that have been deployed in the environment have almost been forgotten – driving all the smart applications. We remember IoT devices only when they need batteries or communication fails. Thus, we predict that, in a couple of years, the following will make us forget IoT: (1) The battery technology will mature such that the lifespan of IoT devices would be much more than our requirements. (2) Communication and computation will become robust consuming low energy so that IoT devices would be for a lifetime! (3) The miniaturization and cost will be so low that it becomes smart dust – in the true sense! Will this be enough to make it “disappear”?
2. “Red-Cap to the Rescue” - Weimin Liu
By now, every consumer has access to 5G, and one will be hard-pressed to buy a new phone today that doesn’t have 5G. We also know that 5G is expected to make a real impact on IoT applications, especially on industrial applications such as sensors, AR (augmented reality) / XR (mixed reality), and AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) to name a few. But so far, 5G (mmWave or even sub-6GHz) modules and devices for such applications have been either difficult to find or simply too expensive. We predict that more IoT 5G devices will become available, possibly at a lower cost, in 2023 and even more so in 2024, driven by the standardization of “reduced capability” (Red-Cap) devices in R17 (and future releases) of 3GPP. The current spec is by no means sufficient, but marks a starting point for a new breed of 5G native devices. This also coincides with the acceleration in deployments of private 5G and indoor public 5G networks in industrial environments.
“Fiber Makes Its Grand Entrance” - Yuanqiu Luo, Guest Contributor
We predict that, just like NTN, fiber deployments to the home and to the room will see major gains in 2023. We know that broadband is being used today more than ever in areas like telehealth, online learning, and our jobs in the digital economy. Video conferences and interactive multimedia applications stimulate symmetrical traffic load in the access network. This is where optical access technologies can shine. We predict that this year will see continued growth of not just Fiber to the Home (FTTH) but also of Fiber-to-the-Room (FTTR) specially in North American, Asian and European markets. Extending fiber links, not just to demarcation points at facilities and residences, but into each room, FTTR enables 10G internet services that are more reliable than Ethernet or coaxial cables. With fiber connections all the way to customer rooms, operators can provide value-added services, such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and metaverse. Another encouraging area is Industry 4.0. Optical fiber cables are robust in harsh environments, making them the preferred medium of industrial networks. This year we envision growth of optical access technologies in industrial sensing, business data sharing, commercial segment coordination, and production process automation. Challenges exist of course, especially in supply chain unrest driven by many factors.
The Rise of RIS - Muhammad Zeeshan Shakir
RIS (aka Intelligent Reflecting Surface, Large Intelligent Surface, Smart Repeater, and Holographic Radio) has already attracted significant attention from both industrial and academic researchers in the wireless community. The research direction on RIS will continue to aim at design and development of a fully reconfigurable network for 6G communications. However, the technology still faces several challenges in its quest to achieve higher capacity and improved performance due to the highly dynamic wireless environment, particularly with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). Standardisation activities in RIS are still at an early stage. As an example, ETSI’s new RIS Industry Specification Group has started to work towards defining use cases, identifying enabling technologies and developing physical-layer models and techniques with a view to pave the way for future standardization of the technology. Given this, we can predict that 2023 will see a broader industrial engagement with more defined use cases and solutions proposed aimed at future commercialization of the RIS technology.
WRC-23 Will Have Success - Miguel Dajer
We need to be right at least once in our predictions so we are predicting that WRC-23 will happen, but will it be able to address the many challenges and gaps that exist in terms of global spectrum allocation for not just 5G, but for many other wireless services? We already discussed NTNs and, as satellites and other high-altitude vehicles become a reality, the ability to clear spectrum for terrestrial services becomes less plausible. WRC-23 is a critical event at a point in time where spectrum is one of the major roadblocks to high quality, high-capacity wireless services. We believe that participants will work towards common-sense agreements that will help wireless services of all kinds become more and more pervasive while helping achieve their promises. WRC-23 is perhaps the most critical industrial and technological event in 2023’s calendar and we will be anxiously waiting for its outcome.
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