The head of PCIA – The Wireless Infrastructure Association sat down AGL Media Group Senior Editor Ernest Worthman at the HetNet Expo 2015 in October in Houston
Worthman: As with any emerging technology, different people define the Internet of Things (IoT) differently. Tell me what is your definition, your view, of the IoT?
Adelstein: Today, we had some discussion around that, at the conference, actually. To me, it’s about the connectivity of devices that really aren’t human-to-device, or human-to-human. It’s basically the next level of machine-to-machine (M2M). There are so many connections emerging, already. Connected cars, for example. Today, at the conference, we learned that AT&T has already connected 1 million cars.
I had no idea there are that many connected cars out there; and that is just one carrier. And, that’s expected to grow to the tens of millions shortly. I’ve got a connected car myself, and I found it remarkable because I can get Google maps after years of frustration with various navigation systems. Suddenly my car is able to connect to the internet directly. I’m benefitting so directly from the IoT by not getting lost, and by getting information to get rerouted if there’s a traffic problem. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It goes on and on to connected homes, smart cities, infrastructures, and more.
The IoT is transforming the way we live our lives. I think for the better. But it’s going to take a lot of bandwidth to make that possible.
Worthman: What role do you see HetNets playing in the IoT?
Adelstein: Well, the IoT is going to require so many more connections, of which, a vast number of them are going to ride over various wireless platforms. Some of them will be cellular network platforms, some will be Wi-Fi, some will be dedicated spectrum and dedicated networks. All of them are going to require infrastructure of some sort and backhaul to the network as well, in most cases.
Extrapolating that, we are going to be in a boom business at some point, given the size of this market which is predicted to be up to, if one believes the forecasts, 50 billion devices by 2025. And there are estimates that range from 25 to 75 billion, as well. That’s how much we don’t know about how many devices there’s going to be, and how vast it could be. But none of the estimates are for a low number.
Existing networks are already getting strained by rapid growth in data demand, so there is a lot of traction for getting new networks, such as HetNets, up and running. While the new networks that have to be setup in the past few years are using bands that might be underutilized now, but in a few years, they’ll be filled up with data as well, and there will be a need to identify more spectrum for streaming hi-def, real-time video, over-the-top services, big data and other data services.
All of this bodes well for our industry. It’s just a matter of time, in terms of the HetNets, until is it really going to take off. And, of course, the explosion is always just around the corner. I don’t know when that corner will turn, but HetNets are going to be essential because a lot of this will not go over the macro network. Some will go to the macro network and some will go over smaller cells, but the very nature of it lends itself to smaller wireless facilities and antenna systems.
Worthman: Give me your definition of HetNet. Tell me what you think it looks like or is going to look like in the next few years.
Adelstein: The HetNet involves every antenna system working together from the macro to the small cell, to the DAS, to the picocell and to the femtocell. They all really interact. We often think of HetNet as being anything that’s not nailed to a tower. But in fact, the HetNet does include tower-based communications and works seamlessly with it, ideally. If it doesn’t work seamlessly with it, then there’s a problem that can happen because trying to coordinate so many different antennas and making sure they don’t cause harmful interference is a monumental task. Because as the network densifies further and further, the smaller antenna systems that aren’t nailed to a tower are really what people think of as the HetNet.
So, the HetNet really represents getting the antennas closer to the end-user as the network gets denser. However, that creates more opportunities for harmful interference, and an elevated need for coordination, because everything has to work together seamlessly. There are a lot of technical challenges involved, a lot of challenges in how you deal with spectrum, and how you get adequate spectrum to meet the growing demand. You get more throughput by densifying; you get more throughput through spectrum; and you get more throughput through technologies that create better spectral efficiency.
Here at PCIA, our focus has been on densification. Although we do try to make sure that there’s adequate spectrum in order for our systems to have reached their full potential.
Worthman: Is the HetNet going to be one big network throughout the globe, or is it going to be a number of different disparate networks that come together to form, for lack of a better term, a cloud of interconnect?
Adelstein: I think it’s a number of disparate wireless systems that may or may not interact. Each community might have its own HetNet. I don’t think it’s one global HetNet. I think of it usually as serving individual communities, or individual devices in the case of IoT. So, it could be a completely different system in one city, or one part of one city, than in another. It really depends on what the particular carriers needs are, how the deployments are placed, and what the historical patterns of the deployments are.
So, you’re going to see a whole array of different solutions that deal with the particular problems of that particular community, as well as solutions that have evolved over time, based on the technology that was available. Eventually, I do think, they will become more and more consistent, however.
We are really in the early stage of the industry, where people are trying to find out what the best solutions are, and there is an array of them. We see so many different great technologies here at the HetNet Expo at the exhibit hall which has been packed with people that are interested in finding out what the latest technologies are, and how they work, and comparing them.
In the old days, the only way to do that was to come to a trade show and look at the different booths. Now, of course, we have the Internet. But still, we find that the traffic on the floor has been really dense because people are still trying to figure this out. I don’t think there’s been a one-size-fits-all solution yet, and that’s why you see so many contrasting versions of the HetNet in different communities.
Worthman: How do you think HetNets will change the wireless landscape in terms of developing technology?
Adelstein: Well, HetNets really are the future. The need for more bandwidth is driving everything. And the necessity to, basically, shrink the antenna size, and get closer to the end-user, is going to be paramount in meeting the level of demand. And, the IoT, on top of it, is creating an incredible demand on these networks. That is going to drive newer and more advanced technologies that are become more and more efficient.
Of course, the HetNets evolved with the broader generations from 3G to 4G to 5G. But even within those different generations of wireless technology, there is an array of particular antenna systems, in backhaul and fronthaul systems, that are being experimented with and developed. There is no real time frame as to exactly where it’s going to go, but it just keeps getting better and better in dealing with some of the problems that we see in the field. Then there are the self-optimizing networks and software-defined networks with smarter and smarter antennas that can be adjusted, sometimes remotely, sometimes not. But the point is that they are better in communicating with each other, so that they know how to avoid causing harmful interference.
But, even with all of this next-generation technology, there are still huge challenges left. You have different carriers; you have Wi-Fi; you have other types of devices, with other wireless technologies that are being put on the network, all of which can interfere with one another.
So, having these smart networks is essential as we get to a more congested spectrum environment. The lord is not making any more spectrum, so we better do more with what we were given. The way to do that is to re-use these frequencies as often as possible. But there are physical limits on how far you can go without these systems basically bumping into one another. I also believe the software element it is going to continue to evolve along with the hardware to deal with the complexity.
It’s going to require a trained workforce, as well. We’re thinking ahead about this because just there aren’t enough people right now to deal with this in the field. Thinking about it in your own home. How often your own Wi-Fi system goes out? Imagine having a Wi-Fi system on steroids, with four different carriers, in some building, somewhere. Who’s going to adjust it? Who’s going to maintain it? Who’s going to install it in the first place? If they don’t install it right, someone has got to come back. There’s going to be more and more demand on the workforce. We’d better make sure we have these people trained on how to do it, and do it right the first time.
Worthman: What is your vision of the IoT, 5G
Adelstein: Every aspect of our lives is going to be available wirelessly, whether it’s driving, keeping in touch with our family and our friends, dealing with our homes or connecting to our work. Everywhere we go, we’re going to be, basically, in touch with this web of both people and material things in a way that can’t imagine today.
I don’t think I could’ve imagined 4G when I was growing up. That I can walk anywhere and watch video. And get any crazy question I have answered about the type of flowers I just came across, or what is that particular noise? Imagine when you can connect with your home, your car, your work on such a deep level of communication instantaneously, it will really transform the way we live our lives, and make it more efficient. We won’t waste nearly as much time, hopefully We’ll have access to healthcare solutions that are unparalleled, with constant monitoring, and the availability of professionals anywhere, as well as the ability to monitor various health statistics, and health metrics.
I think the human family, hopefully, will grow closer, as a result of this, because we’ll be so interconnected. Of course, there’s always the possibility of technology breaking us apart too. It’s not always a good thing but I think in the end, we’ll find ways to make it lift up humanity, and lead to more economic productivity, better education opportunities, better healthcare, better public safety and improve any number of things.
The possibilities are really limitless. I think as people find them, and there’s more and more applications it’s just going to develop on its own into a vast eco-system that will transform the world, and it begins with that.