5G demos take centre stage at MWC

Tuesday 23 February 2016 | 15:12 CET | Background

All the major network vendors are showing at Mobile World Congress prototype 5G equipment and working demonstrations of the still-to-be-standardised technology. 5G is presented as a total concept, for networks that offer a not-seen-before combination of qualities available everywhere, at any time. 

5G networks will have capacity from several tens to hundreds of gigabits per cell, while latency is reduced to a millisecond. The third major addition is M2M, with support for a massive amount of connected devices, up to hundred of thousands per cell. All these characteristics will be supported simultaneously, or in any number of combinations.

The industry is already developing a continuum of 4.5G and 5G services, according to Phil Twist, Nokia VP mobile networks marketing. Some M2M services require very little bandwidth and do not have critical latency needs. For this, the NB-IoT standard is being developed. Others need more bandwidth and will use the Cat 0 and Cat M standards, alongside EC-GSM.


At the other end of the spectrum are services that require a great deal of bandwidth and very little latency, such as virtual reality. Nokia showed in Barcelona a virtual classroom that uses the Oculus VR headset to illustrate the stars in an astronomy lesson. A number of demonstrations at MWC also feature industrial robots running over 5G networks.

Demanding services are also often strongly location dependent. For example, a connected car requires significant bandwidth, but is present at a certain point only momentarily. For this the latest standards incorporate the concept network slicing. The network automatically checks each time how much capacity an application needs and the latency required. ZTE has incorporated this into its technology, and Deutsche Telekom is experimenting with network slicing. 

For robots and other autonomous systems, latency is extremely important. A way to reduce latency is to bring data back from the centralised cloud environment to the base stations. 

Nokia is working with Deutsche Telekom, auto supplier Continental and Here to develop mobile coverage along motorways. These base stations will have the computing capacity to make autonomous driving possible. With many expecting driverless cars to be a success, Ericsson is also targeting the industry and claims already that one in five connected cars run over its platform. 

Many of these new features included in LTE-Advanced Pro will also be used for 5G. LTE technology is adopting new features such as Massive or Multi-User MIMO, with 128 antennas on a single mast. 5G development is starting more modestly, with 2x2 MIMO.

5G will also require much more spectrum. The search for new frequencies has centred on the 3.4-3.8 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands. Higher frequencies, such as 28 GHz (centimeter waves) and 60 GHz (millimeter waves) are also in development. One of the problems here is the ability for radio signals to penetrate. A signal runs across routes with a high level of variation, with packets reflected off objects to break through. Ericsson is working hard to get this right. The first deadline for the 5G services is the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea in 2018.

Ericsson and Huawei are both focusing on the development of 5G radio technology. Nokia is taking a broader approach, including exploring some of the more promising industrial applications for 5G. The company is investing directly and through a venture fund in potential new services over 5G.

And finally the new services much be secure, in order to support mission-critical and public-sector communications. This is one of the areas where governments are expected to take interest

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