Beep Beep. This is Spock calling starship enterprise. Is it Captain Kirk over there? Goodness me! Just reporting a close encounter with the Romulans!
The Communicator that we had witnessed in the Start Trek episodes had been an awe and inspiration for the tech savvies in mid-seventies and eighties. It had probably defined how a cell phone would have looked like in future. But even more remarkable is the fact that it set out the paradigm of Device to Device (D2D) communication where mobile devices can instantly communicate with each other without a network in between.
Wifi-Direct using the unlicensed spectrum was perhaps a good starting point. With the recent advancements in mobile technologies, D2D communication based on licensed band is possible within the framework of 4G and 5G. 3GPP introduced (in Release 12) LTE-Direct and the concept of ‘Proximity Services’ aka ‘ProSe’ where the device discovery, authentication and paring functionalities are generally facilitated by the network, whilst the data channel is established directly between the communicating devices. However ‘ProSe direct discovery’ between two ProSe enabled devices in vicinity is also another option.
The 5G researchers and technologists are betting on an evolved version of ‘ProSe’ to introduce Cellular Vehicle to X (C-V2X). ‘X’ can be a vehicle, a Remote Sensing Unit (example a smart sensor at the road signal), or even a person wearing a smart watch with C-V2X capabilities. Vehicle to Vehicle communication may be needed for anti-collision systems, collaborative autonomous driving. Vehicle to person communication may be for warning pedestrians attempting to cross the street while there is a car at the corner.
But LTE-Direct/ProSe has a constraint, and that is the physical distance between devices. Though it may be well suited for C-V2X and for Massive Machine Type Communications, the communicating vehicles or machines can never be too far from each other. Moreover, it is not a technology typically meant to address human type communications, example voice communication, messaging, mobile data, Value Added Services, etc. And for that we have the classical mobile network.
The mobile network needs intelligence to service its users, rendered by radio and core network components. To serve its users, a mobile network actuates 3 primary processes.
Mobility Management: keep track of the location of users and to manage their mobility
End User Addressing: implying the method to reach an end user
Bearer Management: bearer conveys the data traffic or payload
At any given time, there is an incessant exchange of intricate control signalling information between network components and devices, and managing this becomes more complex as proliferation of man and machines continues to intensify.
This leads to the following questions:
Can we make the network light enough and avert these intricate signalling interactions?
Can the mobile devices communicate with each other without a network in between without spatial constrains?
Any mobile network is based on the 7 layered OSI stacks with the lowest layer being the physical layer used for conveying data symbols for the users and the higher layers managing network processes, where intelligent and active network components are required to manage those tasks.
Enter the new world of ‘Networkless Network’!
This brand new ‘Beyond 5G’ technology (read more here and here) renders the suite of intelligence required by a mobile network (to serve its users) to the physical layer, ie., the air around us. This implies that the devices may not need any active network for the service. Device to device communication can ensue at massive scale and without any barriers of distance and location. We envisage smart (and full duplex) walky talkies that can manage addressing and mobility on their own without a ‘man in the middle’ mobile network, albeit some passive repeaters and aggregators to boost, consolidate and rebuild the signals for its users.
The trick lies in 2 new Multi Access (MA) techniques, # SMNAT (Smart Mobile Network Access Topology) and # CPMA (Colour Pixel Multiple Access) and the network ecosystem conceived around it. These MA schemes use multi helical modulation where one or more rings are used solely for the purpose of network tasks, while others are used for conveying traffic data.
Application areas are limitless. For brevity, 2 key domains are addressed, ie., Private Networks and Smart Cities.
A couple of major telecom vendors like Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei as well as some mid-sized players such as Airspan and Ruckus have been offering Private LTE Networks. It is essentially a closed user group system. Straight and square, you build a network isolated from public network that caters your private users and fulfils their business needs. The Private LTE network technologies that are part of the MultiFire alliance are meant to operate in the unlicensed band of 5 MHz. It is a mini version of a LTE network, generally a one-box solution with EPC (Enhanced Packet Core), radio network designed for small cell deployments and adjunct platforms for BI/OSS/BSS. Of late, the Private LTE Networks have found some good use cases in petroleum refineries, mines, factories, hospitals etc.
From the perspective of features/services, the Private Networkless Network has nothing new to offer compared to Private LTE Networks. The only difference being that, in case of the former, the end devices can manage the communication services on their own in D2D mode without any active mobile core and mobile radio network in between.
Come to smart cities. The IoT devices, and to name a few, smart actuators, surveillance equipment, sensing devices, vehicles and IoT application platforms set up an intricate communication mesh. Some devices are perpetually dynamic, but may not transact high volume of data. Some devices are static and stay in idle mode round the clock, except at specific times when they all wake up simultaneously and create a data surge in the network. It may be untenable for a traditional mobile network to cope with varied traffic patterns and deliver high quality service to both man and machines. To tame the situation, the 5G Network slices tuned to cater each of these use cases and traffic models are deployed at every nook of the coverage area. We achieve ultra-low latency, high reliability and enhanced bandwidth per user. But at a cost. Cost of infra, cost of maintaining the edge slices, cost of network optimisation and dimensioning, to name a few. To bring down TCO (Total Cost of ownership) and operational cost, the 5G Network can offload traffic to ‘Networkless Network’ pertaining to the use cases where D2D communication is an option.
A technology that can reduce the cost and complexity of modern day communication in purview of IoT, AI, Software Defined Cars and smart cities would be welcome.
Night is long and the party is not over. Can Networkless Network be the perfect breezer?
Disclaimer: This research work is not related to any telecommunication company/organisation that the author has worked (or is working) for.