Engineers with Freescale and Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs are working together to develop a programmable universal access device that can be used for any combination of wireless and wireline connections.
The project is part of an expansion of a years-long working relationship between the two companies that is entering its third phase, according to Tareq Bustami, vice president of product management for Freescale's Digital Networking division. The effort to develop the access device, which was announced Feb. 18, is driven by such trends as the Internet of things (IoT), Bustami told eWEEK.
Cisco Systems officials are forecasting that the number of connected devices worldwide—from smartphones and tablets to cars, home appliances and industrial systems—will balloon from 25 billion last year to more than 50 billion by 2020. The IoT will grow the number of network endpoints and drive up the demand for both wired and wireless connectivity, he said. In addition, access nodes in the future will be placed increasingly closer to the end user, and with the growth of small cells and other technologies, the number of remote nodes will increase tenfold in the coming years, according to Peter Vetter, head of the Fixed Networks Program at Bell Labs.
Service providers are going to be under increasing pressure to increase bandwidth and ramp up the quality of service in their networks, while also trying to drive down capital and operational costs, Vetter said.
What Freescale and Bell Labs engineers are looking to do is enable service providers to leverage a single access device that can be used with both wireline and 5G wireless and is programmable—the device can be configured to meet the any combination of wireline and wireless needs. Bustami and Vetter said they wanted to replicate what the technology has done with data center infrastructures, where resources can be deployed and redeployed depending on workload demand.
A universal and programmable access device for both wireline and wireless needs will give service providers that same kind of flexibility to meet rapidly changing demands on their networks, they said.
"From street corner to street corner, the configurations [of the access devices] will be different," Vetter told eWEEK, noting the importance of programmability. "There will be different network needs of different service providers."
In addition, having a single device that can be optimized and programmed to address particular needs will help service providers keep their expenses down. For their part, end users won't care one way or the other, as long as they get the connectivity they demand, he said.
Like 5G itself, the move to develop the universal access device will take time, according to Freescale's Bustami.
"This is really for the network of 2020," he said.
The companies will take the next two years to develop the access device, with plans to unveil a proof-of-concept in the first quarter of 2017. The vendors are hoping to leverage Freescale's expertise in networking silicon and software and Bell Labs' background in systems to build the access node.
The idea of 5G is getting a lot of attention, despite 4G only getting under way over the past few years. Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in October called for a study looking into whether the existing high-band spectrum could work with next-generation 5G services.