SK Telecom’s Fronthaul Technology for 5G Adopted as Korean National Standard

SK Telecom has developed a specification for 5G fronthaul networks that has been adopted as a Korean national standard by the Telecommunications Technology Association (TTA).

In 5G networks, a base station is separated into a central unit and a distributed unit containing the antennas. The main digital controllers are nested in a central unit for processing, whereas a distributed unit is located at cell sites. This separation makes it easier to manage the quality of service and the level of maintenance as the central units are gathered in a single location. Fronthaul is the wired connection between the central units and the distributed ones.

When compared with LTE networks, 5G networks require a higher base station density with a higher capacity for data processing. These requirements emphasize the significant role of fronthaul in transmitting the radio signals received from cell sites to the central units.

What makes the newly developed specifications of fronthaul notable is its openness. In case of LTE fronthaul, major vendors have used their own specifications since there was no official standard. Such a variety has served as a barrier to entry for small and mid-sized vendors and start-ups to the market.

With its 5G fronthaul specifications set as a national standard, SK Telecom's approach to an open standard is likely to add momentum to their effort to join the 5G ecosystem in Korea. They plan to work with local small and mid-sized vendors to develop network equipment which meets the fronthaul specifications set by the TTA standard. Also, they will seek out opportunities for further collaboration with stakeholders, both locally and internationally, to accelerate the adoption of the specifications as a 3GPP standard.

In the world of 5G, where data transmission volume goes large along with a dramatic increase in the types of services available on the network, open standard-based fronthaul architecture is critical.