Connect (X) Exclusive: Boingo’s Dr. Derek Peterson on 5G and Hyper-densification

As the wireless industry moves closer and closer to 5G, the landscape of infrastructure and wireless networks is changing. The growing appetite for mobile data is necessitating deployment of smaller cells that address not only coverage but also capacity. Small cells, distributed antenna systems and Wi-Fi are among the solutions that address this need for network densification.

Dr. Derek Peterson, CTO, Boingo Wireless

For nearly two decades, Boingo Wireless has been involved in propelling the industry forward through generational changes from 2G to 3G to 4G in large venues. Now the company is focusing on the requirements for 5G and how densification will play a crucial role in successful network deployments. Boingo’s Chief Technology Officer Dr. Derek Peterson explains more about hyper-densification and the role it will play in next generation wireless connectivity.

What is hyper-densification and why is it necessary as the industry transitions to 5G?

Wireless operators densify networks to combat the rapid growth of mobile data consumption and satisfy the increasing demand for fast, seamless connectivity. At Boingo, our densification strategy focuses on converged network solutions that add more base stations, antennas and access points within large venues. We do this using a mix of distributed antenna systems (DAS), small cells and Wi-Fi. But with 5G, venue densification strategies will be amplified, requiring “hyper-dense” network environments that bring even more nodes closer to the end user. Some 5G use cases will require deployment using higher bands that can’t travel as long of distances, making the proximity of increased nodes throughout a building and its surrounding areas key for ensuring a strong signal that delivers gigabit speeds and ultra-low latencies.

Who will benefit from hyper-densification of networks?

Everything 5G touches will benefit from hyper-densification. It will be the common thread that strings together smart cities, smart buildings and all things IoT — autonomous cars, artificial intelligence, M2M communication and more. In the near term, we’ll primarily see hyper-densification in urban communities and large enterprises, but I anticipate that we’ll see 5G disruption in rural areas in the years ahead as well.

What changes to the network will be required?

The most significant changes we’ll see with 5G networks is convergence, where a combination of technologies come together to make up the standard’s DNA. Powering a new generation of connectivity requires access to more airwaves, which is why we’ll see a story of convergence that leverages licensed, unlicensed and shared spectrum, like CBRS 3.5 GHz.

More spectrum means more throughput, reduced latency, better coverage and lower costs. But to realize any of these benefits, we’ll need to move beyond a monolithic network entity and create environments that are densely packed with wireless nodes.

What are the challenges the industry faces on the road to densification and how should those challenges be addressed?

The road to hyper-densification will require intelligent virtualization and automation at every level. Operators who do not adopt technologies like Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) will be challenged to efficiently manage traffic loads or react to micro and macro instances.

To advance virtualized networks, the New IP Agency (NIA) is rolling out various programs that look at standardizing NFV with interoperable solutions that can benefit the entire wireless ecosystem. Boingo has been focused on virtualization for several years and we look forward to more NFV and SDN openness so that our networks can offer even greater control, scalability, flexibility and data visibility.

What is Boingo’s role with 5G?

Boingo has a long history of overseeing successful upgrade cycles, as we’ve moved our cellular networks from 2G to 3G and 3G to 4G. 5G will be no different. At venues where we manage the network infrastructure, we’ll proactively work with Tier One carriers to determine the best 5G deployment and hyper-densification strategies. Boingo will continue to champion solutions that balance user experience and network cost, taking advantage of all network technologies, including Wi-Fi.

As the industry evolves, Boingo will also play an active role with organizations that are helping shape the future of wireless, including the Wireless Infrastructure Association, Wireless Broadband Alliance, Wi-Fi Alliance, CBRS Alliance and others.

Hear more Boingo viewpoints on 5G and hyper-densification at Connect X. Boingo executive Don Bach will share insights on the 5G revolution and what technologies will get us there. His panel discussion is Tuesday, May 22 at 8 a.m. You can also catch Don rocking out with The Wireless Band at the WIA and Music Movement’s 3rd Annual Charity Concert.