Ericsson software promises consistent low latency for public, private 5G

Ericsson is targeting time-critical applications that depend on consistent low latency with a new software suite designed for both public and private 5G network deployments.

Introduced Monday, the product is called Time-Critical for Critical IoT and aims to deliver dependable low latency that’s reliable enough to support use cases – across consumer, enterprise and public sector – where lag time can’t fluctuate.

The software is already trialing with customers and commercial availability is slated for the first quarter of 2022, according to Ericsson’s Marie Hogan, who said the vendor feels confident in the ability to bring the features to market.

Time-critical applications have different needs from the mobile broadband and fixed wireless access focus of 5G seen today, explained Hogan, who is in charge of mobile broadband and IoT strategic product management for 4G and 5G RAN at Ericsson. Whereas data throughput is the main star and latency is still part of the picture, the latter is not guaranteed at specified levels in a way that new use cases require.

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“For these types of applications we call time-critical, data throughput isn’t necessarily the priority but having a very consistent latency delivered reliably is very important,” Hogan told Fierce. “That means being able to deliver data at a sort of selected delay window with a certain level of reliability according to the application need.”

The software is meant to eliminate or reduce lag glitches in the RAN that hurt latency from a consistency standpoint. She called out things like congestion, mobility (hand-overs from base station to base station); trade-offs like optimizing for low-powered battery devices, among others.

The time-critical application software promises stable low latency between 50ms down to 1ms (for extreme use cases) end-to-end, at specified guaranteed levels up to five 9’s reliability (99.9% to 99.999%). It incorporates 3GPP Ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) standard together with Ericsson-built innovation and features.

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Some of the Ericsson bells and whistles relate to scheduling and link adaptation, according to Hogan, the latter which helps handle a radio environment more efficiently by changing links depending on the environment.

Ensuring constant levels of low latency opens the door for emerging use cases in wide area or local networks, and the potential for service providers to spin up new services or offer application-specific service tiers. The software can be deployed on any 5G frequency band.

Cloud gaming near-term opportunity

Hogan described how public and private network scenarios are the main targets of the two RAN-focused products that launched Monday.

The software is flexible enough to address low lag time across a wide range (50ms – 1 ms), citing around 50-20ms guaranteed latency for a wide-area network and 50ms down to 5ms in a local area.

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Public network use cases could comparatively have slightly less demanding latency needs, Hogan noted, but consistency is still the name of the game. She called cloud mobile gaming as a consumer application, something that exists in 4G networks but can be enhanced if blips that interrupt a seamless experience are addressed.

Ericsson has already performed trials with partners Deutsche Telekom and Australia’s Telstra. DT showed off a speedboat racing game, where reducing latency hiccups with congestion controls and capacity management resulted in less jitter with a much smoother and more realistic gaming experience. The demo applied the precommercial L4S (Low Latency Low Loss Scalable) feature, a managed low latency technology (based on the IETF standardization) available in the vendor’s new software toolkit.

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“[L4S] handles trade-off depending where congestion is and prioritizes consistency in the latency that will give it a better performance, which is something we hear that our mobile gaming community is very willing to pay for,” Hogan said.

To that end, it’s something Ericsson sees as a lead-in to new kinds of smartphone subscriptions in the consumer space, like a cloud mobile gaming tier.

“If you can implement these time-critical communication services then you can actually offer new experiences as well,” Hogan added. Cloud gaming is one of the very near-term opportunities for this, she said, with expectations to see it in 2022.

Another example for wide area networks to leverage consistent low latency is for societal connectivity needs, such as related to transport or traffic monitoring.

Private network environment

Ericsson’s second software focus is on a more latency-specific environment, like a local private network or a smart factory, industrial environment or port – where requirements become more stringent.

In those dedicated setups one could push for more extreme levels low latency, such 5ms, because there isn’t a concern about coexisting with public services like mobile broadband, Hogan noted.

Think of robots that communicate in an industrial site or factory, which have specialized protocols and need to talk to each other within specific time windows – with for example, 8ms or 16ms lag time.

“If you miss that kind of boundary then you could actually break connectivity in the assembly line and that’s pretty high-cost impact,” Hogan said.

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Another time-critical application could be a 3D virtual digital twin, enabling two engineering teams working in different locations to collaborate in real-time to update models via VR.

Rockwell Automation is one of a number of industry partners Ericsson has been trialing 5G for time-critical applications in different deployment scenarios, including pre-commercial experiments for industrial.

“Time-Critical Communication with 5G can change the industrial automation sector by reducing cables, increasing flexibility and agility, enhancing visibility, and enabling new digital applications with mobility,” said Dave Vasko, director of Advanced Technology at Rockwell, in a statement. “The ability to deliver consistent low latency with high reliability will be crucial for wirelessly connecting XR, sensors, controllers, and actuators – boosting productivity and efficiency of industrial operations.”

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BT, Telia, ABB, and Audi, have been among other trial partners. Ericsson also brought on chipset partners like MediaTek – proving that 5G can deliver consistent low latency of 1ms with 99.99% reliability in both uplink and downlink on mmWave spectrum.

In the enterprise space Ericsson recently called out plans for a more focused push, where it sees up to a $25 billion market opportunity by 2025.  

And while reliable low latency has been a key promise of 5G systems, it will require more than just Ericsson to deliver on.

“If it’s just Ericsson promoting this, that’s not enough obviously,” Hogan said, adding that the vendor is seeing the market starting to embrace and roll out support for consistent low latency capabilities. “We see chipset partners and industry partners and consumer partners are starting to include the first supports for this in their commercial products now starting next year” but that as with any complicated technology it will take a few years to get everything in place.  

That said, Ericsson is confident on its end to bring guaranteed levels of low latency to the commercial market and start scaling up, according to Hogan.