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ANDY SUTTON 5G NETWORK ARCHITECTURE 09

5G NETWORK
ARCHITECTURE
The 20th December 2017 will be remembered as an important day
in telecommunications history as, on this day, during a meeting in ANDY
Lisbon, Portugal, 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project)
successfully completed the first implementable 5G NR specification.
SUTTON
NR (New Radio) is the term used to describe the 5G air interface and Scalable and
radio access network. This is the first phase of delivering a optimised 5G
complete 5G end-to-end network based on the architecture
presented in this article. service delivery

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10 ANDY SUTTON

The first mobile implementation of 5G is


designed to work in Non-Standalone *+",+'2%3456'.%7"('% !&*%0A91%7"#.(",%3,4#'
(NSA) mode to support the enhanced 0*371 !&*%0A91%=>'(%3,4#'
Mobile Broadband (eMBB) use case. In 89%:<%=>'(%3,4#'
NSA mode the connection is anchored in BC%7"#.(",%3,4#'
Long Term Evolution (LTE) (3GPP 4G BC%=>'(%3,4#'
technology) with 5G NR carriers being
used to increase data rate and reduce
latency. !"#$%&'()% 89%:';%
*+",-./"#%0!&*1 <42/"%0:<1
5G is often referred to as the next
generation of mobile communications
technology but the potential is more
significant than this. 5G will likely become =>'(%
the future of communications, supporting *?-/@)'#.%
fixed and mobile access. In addition to 0=*1
eMBB, 5G will support Ultra-Reliable and
Low Latency Communications (URLLC), also figure 1: Option 3x 5G non-standalone network architecture
referred to as Mission Critical
Communications, and massive Machine connected to an enhanced 3GPP Release • 24.25 to 27.5GHz (referred to as 26GHz
Type Communications (mMTC) – an 15 4G radio for control plane and 4G and/or band) with 3.25GHz of available
evolution of
" IoT
" – along with " Fixed and 5G radio for user plane traffic flows. This spectrum to provide extremely high-
Mobile Convergence. Although the diverse concept is illustrated in Figure 1 noting that, speed data services and very low latency
requirements of eMBB, URLLC and mMTC in addition to the 3x architecture illustrated, at short distances along with addressing
will not be supported from day-one, a there are other approaches to the future massive area capacity density
flexible approach to the design of NR has connectivity between LTE and 5G NR to the requirements – to be auctioned in the
been necessary to ensure 5G standards will Release 15 EPC. future (no date set as of yet).
evolve to meet all requirements. This
approach has resulted in a NR design with Spectrum Spectrum in the frequency band of 3.4 to
scalable numerology (numerology refers to Ofcom and the European Radio Spectrum 3.6GHz will be the first new spectrum
waveform parametrisation, e.g. cyclic prefix Policy Group have identified three pioneer available in the UK for 5G use. This is
and subcarrier spacing in Orthogonal frequency bands for the introduction of 5G known as band 42 in LTE although in 5G
Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM)), services in Europe. These bands are listed terminology it has been combined with LTE
numerology multiplexing and below along with the amounts of spectrum band 43 (3.6 to 3.8GHz) to form 5G band
implementation of Time Division Duplex to be auctioned in each band for future 5G n78. Band n78 covers the 5G TDD
(TDD). TDD is better suited to data-centric use in the UK: spectrum range of 3.3 to 3.8GHz. Note that
services in which the downlink (the while designated, LTE bands 42 and 43 are
connection from network to user) will carry • 700MHz with 2 x 30MHz (FDD) + 20MHz not actually deployed in Europe.
significantly more data traffic than the centre gap (supplementary downlink) to
uplink (connection from user to network) in provide a wide-area coverage layer - The 3.4 to 3.6GHz band has a higher
the vast majority of use cases. TDD will be spectrum auction expected during 2019. propagation loss than existing cellular
the most common implementation across frequency bands. During the early days of
the majority of initial 5G frequency bands • 3.4 to 3.8GHz with 150MHz of spectrum 5G rollout, this band will not necessarily
although it should be noted that Frequency in 3.4 to 3.6GHz band and 116MHz of offer contiguous coverage for both
Division Duplex (FDD) operation is also spectrum in 3.6 to 3.8GHz spectrum downlink and uplink communications and
supported. band (TDD) to provide a large amount of therefore the wider coverage of LTE,
contiguous spectrum for high data rates typically at 800MHz or 1800MHz, will
The December 2017 release of 5G NR does and low-latency services, and also a support the control plane and in some
not include a 5G Next Generation Core capacity solution in congested areas – to scenarios, the user plane. One advantage
(NGC) network but rather relies on an be auctioned as two blocks, firstly the 3.4 of 5G is the adoption of massive Multiple
evolution of the existing 4G Evolved Packet to 3.6GHz band will auctioned in 2018 Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) technology,
Core (EPC) often referred to as EPC+. This with 3.6 to 3.8GHz to be auctioned during an evolution of the MIMO technology we’ve
means that a 5G-capable device will be 2019. seen in LTE but at a much larger scale. This

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5G NETWORK ARCHITECTURE 11

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0=*1 0<D:1 0=3E1 0F:1

figure 2: 5G network architecture

increased scale is realised by supporting 64 and user plane functions. Since the early for selecting which core network instance
%
radio transceivers and antennas within the
antenna module in such a way that beam-
days of Global System for Mobile
Communications (GSM) and then General
is to accommodate the service request
from a User Equipment (UE) by taking into
forming" can
"
be implemented
"
to enhance Packet Radio Service (GPRS) we’ve been account the UE’s subscription and any
the coverage by increased directional familiar with logical representations of specific parameters. The user plane
antenna gain. There is widespread global mobile network architectures. These functions start with the UE which may be a
alignment behind the 3.4 to 3.8GHz band diagrams take the form of functional smartphone or a new form factor terminal,
with ongoing discussions about extending blocks and the interfaces between them, possibly fixed rather than mobile. This
this band in the future to 4.2GHz. officially known as reference points. connects via the Radio Access Network
Figure 2 presents this view of the 3GPP 5G (RAN) to the User Plane Function (UPF) and
The higher frequency bands are not as well network, referred to as “reference point on to a Data Network (DN). The DN may be
aligned; Japan, South Korea and the USA representation”. the Internet, a corporate Intranet or an
are favouring the 28GHz band rather than internal services function within the mobile
the 26GHz band which will be supported in The reference points or interfaces, which network operator’s core (including content
Europe. There is a 1 GHz overlap between will be known as interfaces for the distribution networks).
these two bands and it is anticipated that remainder of this paper, start with the letter
both will be fully supported by the 5G eco- ‘N’. Originally these were designated ‘NG’ The NR air interface downlink waveform is
system. for next generation, however recently the Cyclic Prefix-Orthogonal Frequency Division
term has been shortened to simply read ‘N’. Multiplex (CP-OFDM) access while the
While the main focus of 5G spectrum The functional blocks are split between uplink can be either CP-OFDM or Discrete
discussions are currently on new spectrum, control plane and user plane functions with Fourier Transform-spread-Orthogonal
any existing cellular frequency bands can the control plane further split between Frequency Division Multiple access, the
and most likely will be re-farmed to 5G NR subscriber management functions and uplink mechanism being selected by the
in the fullness of time. control plane functions. network based on use case. The UE
connects to the RAN via the air interface
3GPP network architecture The subscriber management functions which also carries the N1 interface which,
The remainder of this paper will focus on consist of the Authentication Server in previous iterations of 3GPP technologies,
the complete 5G end-to-end network Function and Unified Data Management has been known as the non-access
architecture which is the combination of while the control plane function consists of stratum. This is a peer-to-peer control
5G NR and NGC. 3GPP will complete a core Access and Mobility management plane communication between the UE and
standardisation of a 5G network Function, a Session Management Function, core network.
architecture by June 2018 with Release Policy Control Function, Application
15 (phase 2) which supports subscriber Function and Network Slice Selection The N3 interface is what is commonly
data management, control plane functions Function (NSSF). The NSSF is responsible known as mobile backhaul between the

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12 ANDY SUTTON

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0=*1 0<D:1 0=3E1 0F:1

%
figure 3: 5G service-based architecture

RAN and the core network although, as on common computer hardware and call will enable different access types such as
" "
we’ll discuss shortly, this" isn’t as simple in upon resources as required to manage fixed broadband and WiFi (planned for
reality as the illustration in Figure 2 demand at any instance. The use of SBA future releases of 5G).
suggests. The N6 interface provides does not mandate a centralised solution;
connectivity between the UPF and any distributed computing could be • Support a unified authentication function.
internal or external networks or service implemented if appropriate. The SBA is
platforms. This interface will include illustrated in Figure 3. • Support stateless network functions such
connectivity to the public Internet and will that the compute resource is decoupled
therefore contain the necessary Internet- 3GPP states a number of principles and from the storage resource.
facing firewalls and other smarts concepts for SBA (not all are exclusive to
associated with the evolution of the Gi/SGi SBA), including: • Support concurrent access to local and
LAN1 environment. The Gi/SGi LAN centralised services; this will enable
environment has evolved from GPRS • Separate control plane functions from support for low-latency services along
through UMTS and LTE to provide a range user plane functions allowing with access to local data networks. To
of capabilities in support of mobile data independent scalability, evolution and facilitate this, user plane functions can be
network operation, including features such flexible deployment. deployed much closer to the access
as Transmission Control Protocol network.
optimisation, deep packet inspection and • Modularise the functions design to
network address translation. enable flexible and efficient network • Support roaming with both home
slicing. network routed traffic and local break-
In addition to the familiar logical network out traffic in the visited network.
diagram with defined interfaces, 3GPP has • Wherever possible, define procedures
introduced an alternative view of the 5G (the interactions between network The SBA introduces a couple of functions
network architecture which is known as functions) as services therefore their re- that didn’t exist in the traditional logical
Service Based Architecture (SBA). SBA use is possible. interface-based architecture
takes advantage of recent developments in representation; these are the Network
Network Functions Virtualisation and • Enable each network function to interact Repository Function (NRF) and Network
Software Defined Networking to propose a with other network functions directly, if Exposure Function (NEF). The NRF provides
network based on virtualised infrastructure. required. control plane network functions with a
This architecture will leverage service- mechanism to register and discover
based interactions between control plane • Minimise the dependencies between the functionality so that next generation control
functions as necessary. The solution will sit access network and core network; this plane network functions can discover each
1
The Gi-LAN interface is a 3GPP reference point between the mobile packet core and the packet data network or internet. In LTE networks the interface is referred to as the SGi-LAN and connects the Packet
Gateway in the mobile core network to the packet data network.

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5G NETWORK ARCHITECTURE 13

7'#.(4,/>'2%
other and communicate directly without 7',,%>/.'%\ F/>.(/H-.'2%=#/.%5"S,"54.'2 4$$('$4./"#%>/.'
making messages pass through a message
7"))"#%3-H,/5%
interconnect function. The NEF receives <42/"%]#.'(K45'%
information from other network functions D5./+'% 073<]1%U%'+",+'2% Y@./"#%C%>@,/.%
(based on exposed capabilities of other D#.'##4% 73<] F/>.(/H-.'2% S ]3%&:!%U%*.L'(#'. 7'#.(4,/>'2%
=#/.% =#/.%0F=1 =#/.%07=1
network functions). It may store the 0DD=1%Z
received information as structured data
using a standardised interface to a data
EC%/#.'(K45' EM%/#.'(K45'
storage network function. The stored
information can be re-exposed by the NEF ZDD=%/,,->.(4.'2[%45.-4,%/)@,')'#.4./"#%5"-,2%H'%DD=%
to other network functions and used for "(%@4>>/+'%4#.'##4%;/.L%<')".'%<42/"%=#/.%0<<=1

other purposes such as analytics. A figure 5: 5G RAN functional blocks and interfaces (excluding NR air interface)
practical example of use of the NEF is to aid
the establishment of an application server- next Generation Node B (gNB) is split into radio bearer, and QoS flow ID marking.
initiated communication with a UE where two entities: a gNB-Distributed Unit (gNB-
no existing data connection exists.
%
DU (often shortened to DU)) and a
gNB-Centralised Unit (gNB-CU (often
Reading Figure 4 from left to right, Radio
Resource Control (RRC) resides in the
functional decomposition of the RAN shortened to CU)). The protocol layer
" " "
control plane while the data is user plane.
In the high-level network architecture interface at which this split will occur has As discussed above, SDAP will be inserted
illustrated in Figures 2 and 3, the RAN is been the topic of much debate in 3GPP and between data and the Packet Data
represented as a single functional entity throughout the wider industry. Convergence Protocol (PDCP) for a
whereas in reality the realisation of a 5G standards-compliant 5G NR view of the
RAN is not so straightforward. In GSM/GPRS 3GPP used the RAN protocol model protocol stack. Functions of PDCP include;
and UMTS there was a network controller illustrated in Figure 4 (3GPP TR 38.801) to IP header compression and decompression
which provided an interface between the discuss the functional split which should be along with ciphering and deciphering
radio access network and the core network. implemented in 5G. Note that this protocol (encryption of the data over the radio
This network controller hid a lot of model is based on LTE as this was all that interface). PDCP feeds down the stack to
signalling from the core, particularly in was known at the time although this the Radio Link Control (RLC) layer. RLC
UMTS, and managed a range of complex doesn’t differ significantly from 5G NR. The functions include; Error correction with
RAN functions. In LTE there is no network same terms are used although there have Automatic Repeat request (ARQ),
controller, the RAN manages a range of been some minor movements of functional concatenation and segmentation, in
mobility management and radio sub-entities. Additionally, a new protocol, sequence delivery and protocol error
optimisation activities between evolved known as Service Data Adaptation Protocol handing. Moving down the stack from RLC
Node Bs via the X2 interface. 5G effectively (SDAP), has been introduced to the NR user to the Medium Access Control (MAC) layer
introduces a centralised RAN node albeit plane to handle flow-based Quality of we find the following functions;
not a network controller as such. The 5G Service (QoS) framework in RAN, such as multiplexing and de-multiplexing,
radio base station, known as a mapping between QoS flow and a data measurement reports to RRC layer, Hybrid

<42/"%
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M C P A 8 O N Q
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figure 4: RAN protocol architecture as discussed in 3GPP TR 38.801

E %
" " " THE JOURNAL TJ
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14 ANDY SUTTON

The F1 interface is split into control and


user plane interfaces which are known
7'#.(4,/>'2% respectively as F1-c and F1-u as shown
=#/.%5"#.(",% in Figure 6. The CU itself is also split into
@,4#'%07=S51
two functional entities; these could exist
on the same hardware, on separate
hardware on the same site or on separate
F/>.(/H-.'2% *M%/#.'(K45' hardware across different physical site
=#/.%0F=1 locations. To connect the decomposed CU
a new interface, designed E1, has been
7'#.(4,/>'2% defined within 3GPP. The E1 interface (not
=#/.%->'(%
to be confused with the legacy E1
@,4#'%07=S-1
(2048kbit/s) transmission interface)
connects the CU-c and CU-u functional
entities. The CU in its entirety can be built
figure 6: Control and user plane separation for F1 interface using virtualised infrastructure, as can the
vast majority of the 5G network, the
%
ARQ error correction, scheduling and
transport format selection. The physical
within the antenna unit; these are known as
Active Antennas Units (AAU). The interface
noticeable exception being certain radio
frequency functions.
layer takes care of the actual radio between the current 4G BBU and RRU is
" " "
waveform and modulation scheme, based on the Common Public Radio Interface AUTHoR’S CoNCLUSioNS
amongst other things. (CPRI) protocol in most implementations,
CPRI is an option 8 interface as shown in The strategic 5G network architecture
After much debate 3GPP agreed on an Figure 4. Recent developments by the CPRI comprises 5G NR and NGC although the
option 2 functional split, meaning that PDCP group, which consists of most of the major latter is not likely to be deployed in the
and therefore everything above this layer mobile RAN manufacturers, has resulted in early years. In the first instance 5G will be
will reside in the CU while RLC and an alternative lower layer split known as supported alongside 4G on an EPC+ which
everything below it will reside in the DU. evolved CPRI (eCPRI). The initial is increasingly likely to be built on
This is known as a higher layer split given implementation of eCPRI maps to an option virtualised hardware and therefore a
its location within the protocol stack. The 7 split. It is likely that both CPRI and eCPRI vEPC+. A NGC is necessary to realise the
interface between the CU and DU has been interfaces will be supported between DU and full feature set of 5G including the
designated “F1” (Figure 5); this will be AAU as there are pros and cons to both important concept of network slicing. The
supported by an IP transport network layer approaches. probable early deployment of 5G in the
which will be carried over an underlying 3.5GHz band will require support from
Carrier Ethernet network. Given the chosen The interface between the DU and AAU is lower frequency bands to extend the range
location of the functional split there are no often referred to as the F2 interface of the uplink to match the achievable
exacting latency requirements on the F1 (although this isn’t a formal 3GPP term, it downlink given effective Isotropic Radiated
interface; in fact it’s likely that the latency may be adopted in the future). This may be Power gains from beam-forming of signals
constraints applied to the F1 interface will local to the cell site or could be extended to enabled through the use of massive-MIMO
be derived from the target service based form a more coordinated RAN. The antenna systems.
latency. The data rate required for the challenge with extending this interface
option 2 F1 interface is very similar to that across a wide-area is the exacting The initial enhanced uplink support is likely
of traditional backhaul (LTE S1 interface as performance requirements in terms of to come from LTE via a feature known as
a reference) for a given amount of ultra-low latency and extremely high data dual-connectivity although there are other
spectrum multiplied by the improved transmission rates, particularly in the case NR-oriented proposals being studied within
spectral efficiency of NR. of CPRI; eCPRI does benefit from some 3GPP, including 5G NR Carrier Aggregation
compression to reduce the data rate. and Supplemental Uplink. The functional
5G will build on the trend towards separate decomposition of the RAN is an important
BaseBand Unit (BBU) and Remote Radio Unit The theme of decoupling control and user aspect of the 5G network architecture; the
(RRU) as increasingly deployed in today’s plane is central to 5G network architecture location of DU and CU along with any
mobile networks. Additionally, 5G will development and therefore it is natural that potential split of CU-c and CU-u functions
introduce massive-MIMO antenna systems this should be considered for the F1 will require careful consideration to ensure
which will integrate the RRU functionality interface. an optimised network performance. It is

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5G NETWORK ARCHITECTURE 15

possible to co-locate all RAN functions and ABBReviATioNS


create a traditional fully distributed 5G base 3GPP 3rd Generation Partnership  mMTC Massive Machine Type
station (gNB) if particular use cases or Project Communications
deployment scenarios require this.
AAU Active Antenna Unit NEF Network Exposure Function
The increasing demands for ever higher AF Application Function NGC Next Generation Core
peak and average data rates, greater area
capacity density, lower-latency and AMF Access and Mobility NR New Radio
enhanced performance will drive a more management Function
NRF Network Repository Function
distributed next-generation core network. ARQ Automatic Repeat request
NSA Non-Standalone
As functions of the RAN moves towards the
AUSF Authentication Server
core, certain core functions will move NSSF Network Slice Selection
Function
towards the RAN to facilitate services Function
which are enabled from on-net BBU BaseBand Unit
PCF Policy Control Function
infrastructure such as distributed user
CP-OFDM Cyclic Prefix-Orthogonal
plane functions, Multi-Access Edge PDCP Packet Data Convergence
Frequency Division Multiplex
Computing and content distribution Protocol
networks. CPRI Evolved CPRI
QoS Quality of Service
CU Centralised Unit
Chipset vendors are indicating that 5G NR- RAN Radio Access Network
capable smartphones will be available from DN Data Network
RLC Radio Link Control
some manufacturers during mid-to-late DU Distributed Unit
2019 and therefore it’s likely that RRC Radio Resource Control
mainstream mobile-centric 5G network eCPRI Evolved CPRI
RRU Remote Radio Unit
services will commence in many markets eMBB Enhanced Mobile Broadband
in and around the year 2020. SBA Service Based Architecture
EPC Evolved Packet Core
SDAP Service Data Adaptation
ABoUT THe AUTHoR FDD Frequency Division Duplex Protocol
gNB next Generation Node B SMF Session Management
Andy Sutton is a
Function
Principal Network gNB-CU gNB-Centralised Unit
Architect within BT TDD Time Division Duplex
gNB-DU gNB-Distributed Unit
where he is responsible TNL Transport Network Layer
for 5G network GPRS General Packet Radio Service
architecture. He has UDM Unified Data Management
GSM Global System for Mobile
over 30 years of experience within the Communications UE User Equipment
industry and is also engaged in the history
and heritage of telecommunications. Andy LTE Long Term Evolution UPF User Plane Function
holds an MSc in mobile communications MAC Medium Access Control URLLC Ultra-Reliable and Low
and is a Visiting Professor with the School Latency Communications
of Computing, Science and Engineering at MIMO Multiple Input, Multiple Output
the University of Salford, he is also a
research mentor to the 5G Innovation
Centre at the University of Surrey. Andy is a
Chartered Engineer, Fellow of the IET,
Fellow of the ITP and is a member of the
Editorial Board for the ITP Journal. Join us at BT Centre on 16 May to hear more from Andy and other esteemed
speakers on 5G. See page 7 of Telecoms Professional for more information.
Acknowledgments
The author would like to thank Maria
iTP AUTHoRS
Cuevas, Kevin Holley, Iain Stanbridge and
Want to know more? To contact the authors email your name, company name and
John Whittington, all from BT TSO, for their
email address to thejournal@theitp.org
valuable input to this paper.

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