Right Data, Right Place, Right Time: Unravelling the 6G Network Challenges

May 7, 2021

Written by Alex Lawrence

“We’re starting to see a transformative change in our customers that will be hopefully realised by the time 6G comes along”, Fergus Wills commented. The Director of Product Management was one of three experts from Enea chatting to 6GWorld™ recently.

Enea is a well-known company in network software circles, with expertise in traffic management and optimisation, 5G data management, policy and access control, and more. While other aspects of 5G and beyond gain a great deal of the limelight, 6GWorld was keen to talk to people facing up to the complexity of moving the right data to the right place at the right time in the coming decade’s networks. As well as having solutions in over 100 mobile operators worldwide, Enea is working with the University of Oulu, Finland as 6G standards are developed.

“There are some services which we always need in a telecoms back-end to measure and mediate what’s going on – content filtering, providing data analysis – key services which you need beyond the simple connectivity services,” Wills noted.

Oliver Korfmacher, Vice President for Technology and Telecoms, outlined the scale of the challenge facing networks based on the spread of IoT. It’s far greater than simply the growth in connected devices. “By the time that 6G arrives we’ll move away from the idea of one device, one session. We could well have one connected device with seven, eight, ten different sensors and multiple data sessions per device.

“Also, looking ahead to the enablement of video across some of these IoT devices together with new latency-sensitive media applications such as cloud gaming, that’s going to create a new dimension for operators, including bandwidth and latency.”

Wills agreed. “Enea is considering where we can add value or what things you should be thinking about, such as the concept of a high frequency, high-capacity mesh mobile network.”

A Distributed Data Network

Mesh networking as a concept is far from new. However, the argument for it has changed radically. Mesh networking protocols such as Zigbee are being used in smart meters collating data to send back to an energy company. By contrast, Enea foresees the need for telecoms networks to avoid centralizing data.

“If you just have a centralised data architecture you’re going to have a lot of latency, with data going backwards and forwards from that data core. In these protocols, there’s a lot of interaction and a lot of individual requests for updates etc. The accumulated latency could slow the whole project down. That’s what we’re seeing in 5G; we combat that, but we expect it to happen and be more relevant in a 6G space,” said Wills.  

Santiago Bouzas, Director of Product Management, nodded. “Probably our biggest challenge right now (apart from deciding where the edge is, and I won’t go into that) is how to decompose services to facilitate scalable edge-core transitions; in a stateless, de-centralized and service-based architecture,” he said.

“Everything the sub-components in a 5G environment want to access can potentially be at the edge to facilitate their scaling and handling of downlink – scaling out and scaling back opportunities – this is what we’ve been doing.”

This has implications for the longevity of data types and their storage at the edge. Wills highlights a few of the challenges Enea is coming to grips with for 5G that more decentralized future networks will only exacerbate eg: “Managing the data there beyond the transient nature of a container; making sure the data is always available and accurate, not just for profile information but essential authentication information.”

Again, the growth of IoT raises questions around the handling of data from devices more or less closely related to an individual, from a factory machine to a personal heart monitor. “With billions of devices and the state that they generate, how you store that data and ensure that the right people have access to it – these are non-trivial factors going beyond technology to questions of ‘how private do I want to be? How do I make sure my data is protected?’” Wills notes.

“We put a lot of emphasis on the knowhow of data management, because that’s the way we see networks will continue to evolve. We’re way past three major data centres in a country or in a region for an operator moving to a much more diversified and dynamic environment.”

Traffic Management in a Multi-Access Network

Enea already works on intelligent traffic management and QoE-driven optimization, being able to ascertain what type of content an encrypted data packet has and making sure that it is treated appropriately to meet the user’s needs.

“Traffic  steering and management, and applying the right resources at the right time, in a 6G environment will become a more interesting thing to think about,” Bouzas noted, “More importantly as, for the operator, their success is going to be sold on experience.”

Bouzas explained further: “In the 3G to 4G transition, or 4G to 5G, everyone assumed that the road was wide enough – no intelligent traffic management, optimization or prioritization would be required. It hasn’t been the case in either of those transitions. You have a mixed radio environment, where you’ve got to have seamless interworking and seamless transition. You need to manage and measure the quality of service, react to that, with the agility to deploy services in real time to compensate.”

“We’ve learnt one thing from COVID-19 at least. Two years ago we thought it was good enough to be connected at home, but today you can find ‘broadband shaming’, where you can’t get connected to the office with sufficient speed. This is only going to continue; so you need the right service at the right time to give you the experience you want,” he continued.

Bouzas added “It’s not only about steering. We envision that multi-access will be the new normal in 6G and beyond including combined cellular and Wi-Fi access. The same content may be delivered to a single user across multiple flows using different access technologies; with dual-carrier activity”.

“We expect this to become more and more relevant in 6G as the number of frequency bands and permutations will become significantly higher,” he continued. “We’re talking about not only new spectrum up to, let’s say, three THz but also re-using existing spectrum. It’s hard to visualize a 6G scenario without multi-access. This has direct implications on the control plane, user plane and management of the data.”, Bouzas said.

Korfmacher sums up, reviewing the triple challenge of building a multi-access, distributed network where all kinds of data are correctly moved, stored and accessed. It is a conundrum already staring networks in the face and will only become more complex in future networks. “We don’t think that simply adding another ‘G’ to the network, simply putting in better latency and higher bandwidth will make the problem go away.”

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