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Wireless

5G vision focuses on technological building blocks

Tuesday 3 March 2015 | 11:36 CET | Background

The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona offers manufacturers the chance to present the latest smartphones, but it's also a place to launch network innovations. This year there is much talk of 5G, the latest mobile standard, so new that it doesn't even have a technical acronym yet, such as GSM (2G), UMTS (3G) or LTE (4G). For the moment, 5G is still just a concept: more bandwidth, speed and reliability, and less latency. In figures, speeds should go to 1 Gbps, the latency drop to just 1 ms and 5G networks reach the market around 2020. While the latest announcements on 5G focus on cooperations and speed records, we look at the building blocks of the next generation of mobile networks.

4.5G

Speeds in practice are always much lower than what is theoretically achievable, but Huawei encouragingly has shown already with a 4.5G system (an enhancement of LTE) speeds of 1 Gbps and latency of less than 10 ms. It plans to launch a 5G test network with Megafon for the World Cup in Russia in 2018. Australian carrier Telstra, already a pioneer in LTE, will work in the coming months with Ericsson on 4G enhancements (LTE-Advanced, LTE-Broadcast, voice-over-LTE, video-calls-over-LTE and also voice-over-WiFi) and aims to launch 5G in 2020. RAN market leaders Ericsson and Huawei, as well as others such as Nokia Networks, are showing a number of advancements in Barcelona, including both the evolution of 4G (4.5G) as well as preparations for 5G.

Standards

After an initial conception of 5G (speed and latency), the GSMA introduced in December 2014 two visions for 5G. According to the first, it's all about the result, the 'hyperconnected world', built on M2M communications and the Internet of Things. This is also called the Tactile Internet. The other vision concentrates on the technology, for the radio access network (RAN). The major areas for research, according to the GSMA, are bit rate, latency, network densification, coverage, availability, opex reduction and devices.

A number of other parties followed with their own visions for what should make 5G:
  • MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), or the use of multiple antennas. Nokia is showing 4x4 MIMO, which uses two blocks of 20 MHz. This supports up to 150 Mbps over each 10 MHz. This is sometimes called 'massive MIMO'. ZTE aims to use the concept to increase throughput by 3-5 times compared to 4G. 
  • Phased-array antennas. Ericsson and IBM are researching this.
  • Using very high frequencies, over 6 GHz. This contributes to reduced latency.
  • Beam forming.
  • Docomo is demonstrating multi-element antenna and circuit integration technology.
  • Ericsson talks of multipoint connectivity, where a device connects to two base stations simultaneously.
Other familiar concepts will also play a part in 5G, such as spectrum sharing, carrier aggregation, small cells and seamless handover to 4G.

A number of organisational efforts are also under way:

  • A 5G lab was set up in Kazakhstan to conduct research on MIMO.
  • Ericsson is working with the Chinese Academy of Information and Communications Technology on RAN research. Ericsson is also working with IBM on antenna technology and with SingTel on the demands of 5G.
  • The 5G World Alliance was formed at MWC and will concentrate on ensuring interoperability and spectrum harmonisation.
  • ZTE is doubling its 5G research budget to CNY 400 million and 1,600 engineers this year.

The activity has resulted in a number of new speed records:

  • Nokia's 4x4 MIMO achieved 600 Mbps.
  • Samsung and SK Telecom have shown 7.5 Gbps with beamforming.
  • The 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey even reached 1 Tbps over a distance of 100m.

NGMN

While 4G development is still in full swing, 5G is already becoming an important issue. Scientific research, patents and gaining an advantage on the competition are driving the development. Among the main vendors, Huawei, Ericsson, Qualcomm, ZTE, Samsung and Nokia are busy building their reputation in 5G, while the operators joining the movement are mainly in the far east: SingTel, Telstra, DoCoMo, SK Telecom. The start of the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance's work on 5G in 2014 shows many other companies, from Apple to Ziggo, are also interested in developing 5G. The NGMN will release at MWC a white paper on 5G showing how far the technological vision has evolved. 



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