Interview with Prof. Dr. Erich Zielinski

Prof. Dr. Zielinski reports on the activities of the association.


Professor Dr. Erich Zielinski is Chairman of the Board of 5G Berlin e. V., of which MicroNova is also a member. The editorial staff of InNOVAtion talked to him about the association’s activities and test site as well as the Berlin 5G network.

InNOVAtion: Mister Zielinski, the 5G Berlin e. V. association was founded in September 2018. What have the association and its members – now a good one and a half years’ later – been able to achieve?

EZ: A lot has happened, both in the acquisition of new projects as well as in the proof of concepts and networking. Among the new projects referred to above, it is worth mentioning that 5G Berlin is now an associate partner in the ‘OTB-5G+’ project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. This involved the joint development of 5G infrastructure on the campus of the TU Berlin and the Heinrich Hertz Institute, which also goes by the abbreviation HHI. We are currently planning the implementation of application scenarios for the smart city. In addition, we have started an industrial project with a well-known cloud company, where 5G infrastructure has also already been set up on the campus of the Fraunhofer Institute IPK in Berlin. Specifically, one 5G macro and a number of metro stations were set up. Initial trials were concerned with the implementation of industrial application scenarios, for example in the field of controlling automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and the use of artificial intelligence for video inspection.

InNOVAtion: These are indeed exciting projects – you also mentioned proof of concepts at the beginning?

EZ: At this juncture I can report on two proof of concepts. The first involves drone control via a 5G radio link in preparation for fire-fighting and emergency operations, with video streams transmitted using end-to-end encryption. The second aims to evaluate the connectivity of emergency vehicles and the transmission of patient data over a 4G/5G infrastructure. As you can see, these are very practical approaches that quickly h many people could benefit from.

InNOVAtion: These are indeed exciting projects – you also mentioned proof of concepts at the beginning?

EZ: With regard to networking, 5G Berlin e. V. arranged a session for the first time as part of #Berlin5GWeek, which took place at Fraunhofer HHI on November 5, 2019. HHI hosted the workshop ‘Machine Learning for 5G and Beyond’ which was organized by the ‘ITU-T Focus Group on Machine Learning for Future Networks including 5G’. The session with 5G Berlin offered members the opportunity to present their own topics. One of these topics was the OpenRAN Alliance, which is committed to establishing open interfaces within a 5G network.

We were also able to conclude a cooperation agreement with the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance, and we are planning to participate in the NGMN Industry Conference & Exhibition 2020 in Paris in September, if it takes place. One of the things we would like to do there is to present the activities of 5G Berlin e. V. at a joint stand with the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft. In addition, we were the speakers at the 15th Tagesspiegel ‘Data Debates’ with the topic ‘5G-Laboratory Berlin: How smart will the capital be’.

As you can see, we are quite an active association, which is also reflected in the increased number of members. Especially in the 5G Core competence area, the association was able to gain new members spanning a multitude of interfaces. These approaches will also be incorporated into the aforementioned OTB-5G+ project, resulting in a flexible infrastructure.

InNOVAtion: The 5G Berlin e.V. provides a fully-fledged 5G network where new use cases can be developed and tested under real conditions. What role do you think the automated configuration and optimization of networks via software plays, and to what extent will this be supported?

EZ: 5G Berlin e. V. is building a fully-fledged 5G network in the sense that the essential network components specified in the 3GPP releases are used, thus enabling application scenarios to be implemented. We are pursuing an open approach: the radio network consists of commercial solutions supplemented by an open source stack and proprietary hardware development. The optical network is made up of disaggregated optical networks and hardware that was also developed in-house. The whole thing is complemented by open source virtualization solutions such as OSM/ONAP and the software-defined transport network SDN.

Automated configuration and optimization of networks via software will play an extremely important role in the future, as this is a service-oriented architecture. A prerequisite for network slicing, for example, is the availability of stand-alone base stations. We expect solutions here in the second half of 2020.

InNOVAtion: The use cases will take a close look at “Vehicle to Everything” (V2X) with a focus on autonomous driving. Can you give us some insights into the current status quo and the next steps?

EZ: With regard to the networking of vehicles, 5G Berlin is pursuing two different application scenarios, namely automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and – potentially autonomous – vehicles in public spaces. The aforementioned AGVs are usually connected to 5G campus networks. Technical challenges are very precise positioning, safe and reliable radio connection, and service continuity when changing radio cells or roaming. The infrastructure for this application scenario is currently being procured and a first proof of concept is expected in the third quarter.

Besides the installation of appropriate slices, radio coverage naturally plays a crucial role in the secure and reliable networking of vehicles in public areas. Here, 5G macro cells will be supplemented by small radio cells, for example on street lights; these so-called small cells will operate at much higher frequencies than ‘normal’ mobile radio, at about 26 GHz. This will result in greater reliability and larger bandwidths. Extensions to the public infrastructure will be necessary for these application scenarios, for example in terms of the modification of street lighting masts. A proof of concept will therefore probably be available in 2021.

InNOVAtion: Security-critical applications from Industry 4.0 in particular are driving up demand for in-house network solutions, which is why the “non-public networks” or campus networks you mentioned are becoming increasingly important. How do you assess this development and how does the 5G Berlin e. V. consider possible use cases?

EZ: It has been possible to apply for frequencies for 5G campus networks from the “Bundesnetzagentur”, Germany’s Federal Network Agency, since the end of last year. The costs can be easily calculated and are very manageable. It is important to distinguish between a number of different operator models. The first is the acquisition of a local 5G frequency to build a dedicated infrastructure and operate a dedicated network. This option requires a deep understanding of 5G technology and network operations in order to realize the potential benefits of secure operations. This operator model is being implemented by 5G Berlin in connection with the above-mentioned use cases. The second model consists of renting a virtual slice from a public network operator, which is also responsible for network operation. And finally, there are hybrid solutions, for example shared RAN, with the operation of a separate core network or other partitioning. All operator models have their own specific advantages.

InNOVAtion: After this detailed information, what are your plans for 2020 onwards beyond the technological aspect? Is the association intending to continue to grow? Do you plan to expand the test network?

EZ: The direction for 2020 is clear. While the focus in 2019 was mainly on conceptual work and project acquisition, in 2020 it will be on implementation and development of the infrastructure. At the same time, a number of software-based tasks are pending, such as the integration of the 5G core network, ONAP interfaces, and management interfaces. Regardless of that, 5G Berlin is of course open for further project proposals from its members. The association’s working groups are very active in this respect, and we have set ourselves the goal of implementing a proof of concept every quarter. Of course, all of this is subject to some reservation regarding possible restrictions intended to deal with the effects of the coronavirus crisis. It is important to remember that mobile communications and network technology have made us less dependent on fixed locations – in this respect, the importance of our activities is evident even here.

InNOVAtion: Mr. Zielinski, thank you very much for talking to us.

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