Why IT’s wish-list just got a little longer…
When the IT department starts shopping around for a telecommunication services provider, it has a lot of things on its mind. It’s looking at connectivity requirements: Wi-Fi on the shop floor, mobile phones for the sales team, wired Ethernet in the office. Then come the critical applications it needs to run the business: soft-phones, on-line collaboration, and network analytics. Finally, it is balancing quality against price before laying down the cash. What does quality mean to the IT department today? Coverage. Throughput. Reliability. Chances are that low latency is not on the list…yet.
Pretty soon, low latency is going to move its way up to one of the important factors influencing telecom purchase decisions – especially for enterprises whose businesses are becoming simpler and more productive thanks to 5G.
The standards are promising…
The 5G standards promised low latency (75% lower than LTE) but that’s just the beginning: 6G is coming up with even more drastic targets (1 microsecond in the radio portion!). When businesses start to revolutionize their operations with wireless connectivity and new services such as Augmented or Virtual Reality (think assisted trouble-shooting and virtual training experiences), latency problems in the network are going to become glaringly obvious – and potentially damaging to the bottom line.
…but what about the reality?
Operators have mostly been deploying a first version of 5G – anchoring the radio to LTE and using the LTE core network (called Non-Standalone, or NSA). But even with these early-technology deployments there is evidence that wireless network latency is creeping down.
In an August 2021 paper, researchers from the Universities of Minnesota and Michigan performed tests of commercial 5G networks and were able to demonstrate that 5G improved round-trip latency by between 6 and 15ms, depending on the radio band.
Rootmetrics performed other 5G network benchmarking and measured latencies of between 22 to 42 ms in Seoul and 46 to 127 ms latencies in Los Angeles. To put this is in context, a decent cloud gaming experience needs a latency of between 10 and 50ms. Let say there’s still room for improvement! In a bid to help commercial networks reduce their end-to-end latency, new technologies are being deployed and tested in leading edge labs across the world.
In Montreal’s outdoor 5G lab, Encqor, LatenceTech recently performed latency tests with experimental mmWave spectrum. The results from late 2021 demonstrate a sustained average ultra-low latency of 10ms measured from the device to the edge, using ICMP. The application-level latency was also measured using TCP/UDP and HTTP and averaged about 17ms, all while offering over 1Gbps of throughput as shown below:
The results highlight the great performance of mmWave. These high frequency bands are above 20 Ghz and have a lower end-to-end delay than the low bands because of wider carriers and shorter transmission time intervals. (For a more in-depth discussion on why, check out this blog).
Not all countries have auctioned off their mmWave spectrum yet, but as the research paper from the Universities of Minnesota and Michigan discovered, commercial deployment of these high frequency bands can make a real difference. They found that mmWave provided a six to eight millisecond reduction compared to a low-band 5G deployment. Qualcomm estimates that there are over 120 5G mmWave devices, including smartphones, PCs, CPEs and hotspot devices.
Meanwhile, there are other cutting-edge technologies that will soon lower 5G latency even further, fueling both critical business applications and the cloud-gamer experience.
Closer is better
Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) involves installing computing resources at distributed geographical locations, closer to where the users need their service. When some of the critical data processing is done near the end-user, network response times become lower. It is still early days and both the technology and the business case for MEC need to be fine-tuned. StarlingX is a great example of an initiative (from the Open Infrastructure Foundation) designed to solve the technical problems with delivering ultra-low-latency use cases on a virtualized edge infrastructure.
Streamlining and optimizing
To be “truly 5G” operators are going to move away from the LTE network and deploy 5G Stand-Alone (SA) Cores. In fact, T-Mobile and Rogers already have, but since it also requires support in the handset, the impact on end-users has been mitigated so far. The standalone core will allow for network slicing, or the dedication of network processing to services with similar traffic profiles. This means that low-latency services can make use of network functions optimized for their strict performance requirements. During testing, T-Mobile stated that they were able to obtain 40% improvements in latency on their SA core.
What gets measured gets…. paid
Of course, this latency revolution means more than just gluing together a bunch of technical acronyms. Companies whose critical operations depend on low-latency communications need consistent performance from one end of the pipe to the other and they need it at the application layer. Most importantly they need proof that the service they are paying for is delivering the quality they were promised: the throughput, the up-time, and the end-to-end latency. Measuring and reporting on these performance indicators is going to be an important piece of the solution. Says Benoit Gendron, CEO of LatenceTech, “with cutting-edge AI technologies we can identify trends in 5G latency which will help operators apply predictive maintenance and resolve issues before they become apparent. Ultimately, being able to measure, predict and report on latency will allow operators to sell it more effectively, and enterprises will be able to trust that the network can deliver the performance they need”.
 A. Narayanan et al., “A variegated look at 5G in the wild: performance, power, and QoE implications,” in Proceedings of the 2021 ACM SIGCOMM 2021 Conference, Virtual Event USA, Aug. 2021, pp. 610–625. doi: 10.1145/3452296.3472923.
 “RootMetrics_South_Korea-5G_report-1H-2021-final.pdf.” Accessed: Mar. 14, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://assets.ctfassets.net/ob7bbcsqy5m2/5iBWRRoiEgnEVxVp9WcXMK/59725d8bb80c3240b2d9ea1c382ccbea/RootMetrics_South_Korea-5G_report-1H-2021-final.pdf
 “RootMetrics_Gaming_Report_Final.pdf.” Accessed: Jan. 11, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://downloads.ctfassets.net/ob7bbcsqy5m2/4xIeqsGvxfw4fejLt2ChdV/e07972594acb5f9f86b4cfac322d4cee/RootMetrics_Gaming_Report_Final.pdf
 “Open Source Edge Cloud Computing Architecture – StarlingX.” https://starlingx.io/ (accessed Mar. 14, 2022).
 “T-Mobile Launches World’s First Nationwide Standalone 5G Network,” Aug. 04, 2020. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200804005636/en/T-Mobile-Launches-World%E2%80%99s-First-Nationwide-Standalone-5G-Network (accessed Jan. 11, 2022).
 Qualcomm, Fierce Wireless, “Millimeter wave is the missing piece of the 5G puzzle,” Jan. 25, 2022.