Pierre Dubois: “One of our main objectives: helping accelerate the drive towards convergence, with access to high-speed internet, whatever the situation, for as many people as possible”
To bring very high-speed broadband to European homes, Orange has chosen to focus on fibre. With 25 million connectable households, the European market leader is once again accelerating the deployment of very high-speed internet. However, in certain suburban areas, it can be difficult to deploy fibre all the way through to end customers, with technicians facing a range of technical challenges that can prove to be particularly time-consuming. To develop complementary offers and bring very-high speed broadband to its customers, Orange is looking into new solutions, such as fixed-line web access with 5G.
This is certainly not a new idea: mobile phone networks (3G, 4G) have already been used in the past to offer fixed internet access. What is new is the use of very high frequencies (26 GHz), making it possible to deploy a network with properties that combine very low latency and ground-breaking bandwidth: it can be up to 10 times higher than what is available with 4G today.
In concrete terms, this involves providing end customers with a rapidly deployed wireless solution offering the same technical features as very high-speed fibre broadband. The technical progress made by Orange’s partners Samsung and Cisco, (who are the first firms on the market to offer end-to-end 5G solutions capable of using very high frequencies), enables to organise a full-scale test for this solution.
This is a strategic project because it will make it possible to demonstrate the technical viability of fixed-line web access with 5G, while laying the foundations for a new ecosystem within which everything still needs to be built. From the network’s deployment to hardware that can connect with this new frequency and a regulatory framework that will enable its use throughout Europe, Orange is paving the way forward to structure Europe’s future telecommunications market. The experience gained through this first test will make it possible to manage the strategic and technical stakes involved with the internet of the future more effectively, serving as many people as possible.
Pierre Dubois, head of Orange’s Research and Development unit, and Iulian Gimiga, Transmission Architect with Orange Romania, answer our questions about this project.
What will the test in Romania specifically involve?
Iulian Gimiga: It involves inviting selected customers to test out fixed-line web access with 5G as a means of accessing very high-speed internet at two different locations. This operation will take place over three months this summer: two months to put everything in place and then remove it and one month for the test itself.
Why is it important to focus on this technology today?
Pierre Dubois: One of our main objectives is to help accelerate the drive towards convergence, with access to high-speed internet, whatever the situation, for as many people as possible. However, when you move away from highly dense buildings or urban centres to suburban locations or the countryside, the deployment of the FTTH network, i.e. fibre up to the home, can face various technical issues. Its installation is more expensive and can take a certain amount of time because it is linked in particular to requests for building permits from municipalities.
Iulian Gimiga: With fixed-line web access with 5G we want to address this issue by deploying a wireless network with the same properties as fibre. This solution is positioned to complement our existing fibre services. It will make it possible to expand the range of solutions we can offer end customers. One of its benefits is its capability for rapid deployment: so it will also make it possible to address the issue of the “final metre” involved with fibre in certain situations and therefore reduce the costs involved.
Pierre Dubois: This test is particularly strategic. This represents a first step towards structuring an ecosystem around 5G for fixed-line access. Alongside this we will be able to capitalise on the knowledge gained through this experience for our next 5G mobile deployments.
What are the technical requirements for developing fixed-line web access with 5G?
Iulian Gimiga: We aim to get as close as possible to the performance levels and experience offered by fibre. To achieve this, we are using very high frequencies (26 GHz), which stand out by offering low latency and a bandwidth of several hundred MHz. However, with these frequencies, propagation is less optimal and the broadcasting radius is significantly lower.
Pierre Dubois: These technical characteristics represent a challenge that we can meet thanks to our partners, Samsung and CISCO. They are the first firms on the market to offer a pre-standard solution for the technology, making it possible to work with these frequencies. We are using massive MIMO (a new smart system within which several hundred antenna elements can be integrated) to focus energy. This focusing of the antenna beam notably makes it possible to offset the propagation loss.
Iulian, could you tell us more about this test that will be carried out in Romania?
Iulian Gimiga: We found that the stakes involved with convergence in Romania mean that fixed-line web access with 5G is particularly attractive. This market is very open to adopting new technologies. Another crucial factor with this decision was the fact that the 26 GHz frequency is not widely used in Romania, which is not the case everywhere.
Why is it important to test out this technology?
Pierre Dubois: The use of frequencies just mentioned by Iulian is a critical point for the deployment of fixed-line web access with 5G and 5G in general. Testing this technology under real conditions offers a way to join the discussions that are underway at the European level concerning the use of these new frequencies. Our work in Romania aims to launch an entire ecosystem in Europe!
Iulian Gimiga: The ecosystem idea is particularly important. We are working with new frequency bands, which has a number of implications in addition to the regulatory framework. We need to apply new rules in order to correctly size this new network. These tests will enable us to effectively understand, thanks to our partners and teams, the specific features involved with using these new frequencies. We will also be dealing with the specific aspects of a network architecture that is very different, because it is virtualised…Another ambitious challenge!
Pierre Dubois: This will also enable mobile and connected objects manufacturers to create “products” with the capability to connect to this network, while opening up extensive possibilities on this new market. This represents a first step forward in an area where everything still needs to be built…which is fascinating!