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Non-coherent Massive MIMO for High-Mobility Communications

7 Jul

While driving on a highway in Europe (as a passenger), I tried my smartphone’s 4G-LTE connection and the best I got was 30 Mbps downlink, 10 Mbps uplink, with latency around 50 msec. This is not bad for many of the applications we use today, but it is clearly insufficient for many low latency/low jitter mobile applications such as autonomous driving or high-quality video while on the move.

At higher speeds, passengers of ultra-fast trains may enjoy the travel while working. Their 4G-LTE connections are often good enough to read or send emails and browse the internet. But would a train passenger be able to have a video conference call with good quality? Would we ever be able to experience virtual reality or augmented reality in such a high mobility environment?

How to achieve intelligent transport systems enabling vehicles to communicate with each other has been the subject of several papers and reports. Many telecommunications professionals are looking to 5G for a solution, but it is not at all certain that the IMT 2020 performance requirements specified in ITU-R M.2410 for low latency with high speed mobility will be met anytime soon (by either 3GPP Release 16 or IMT 2020 compliant specifications).  

Editor’s Note: In ITU-R M.2410, the minimum requirements for user plane latency are: 4 ms for eMBB and 1 ms for URLLC.

The fundamental reason why we do not experience high data rates using 4G-LTE lies in the signal format. That did not change much with 3GPP’s “5G NR,” which is the leading candidate IMT 2020 Radio Interface Technology (RIT).

In coherent detection, a local carrier mixes with the received radio frequency (RF) signal to generate a product term. As a result, the received RF signal can be frequency translated and demodulated. When using coherent detection, we need to estimate the channel (frequency band). The amount of overhead strongly depends on the channel variations. That is, the faster we are moving, the higher the overhead. Therefore, the only way to obtain higher data rates in these circumstances is to increase the allocated bandwidth (e.g. with carrier aggregation for a particular connection, which is obviously a non-scalable solution.

Coherent Communications, CSI, and OFDM Explained:

A coherent receiver creates a replica of the transmitted carrier, as perfectly synchronized (using the same frequency and the same phase) as possible. Combining coherent detection with the received signal, the baseband data is recovered with additive noise being the only impairment.

However, the propagation channel usually introduces some additional negative effects that distorts the amplitude and phase of the received signal (when compared to the transmitted signal)Hence, the need to estimate the channel characteristics and remove the total distortion. In wireless communications, channel state information (CSI) refers to known channel properties of a communication link, i.e. the channel characteristics. CSI needs to be estimated at the receiver and is usually quantized and sent back to the transmitter.

Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) is a method of digital signal modulation in which a single data stream is split across several separate narrowband channels at different frequencies to reduce interference and crosstalk. Modern communications systems using OFDM carefully design reference signals to be able to estimate the CSI as accurately as possible. That requires pilot signals in the composite Physical layer frame (in addition to the digital information being transmitted) in order to estimate the CSI. The frequency of those reference signals and the corresponding amount of overhead depends on the characteristics of the channel that we would like to estimate from some (hopefully) reduced number of samples.

Wireless communications were not always based on coherent detection. At the time of the initial amplitude modulation (AM) and frequency modulation (FM), the receivers obtained an estimate of the transmitted data by detecting the amplitude or frequency variations of the received signal without creating a local replica of the carrier. But their performance was very limited. Indeed, coherent receivers were a break-through to achieve high quality communications.

Other Methods of Signal Detection:

More recently, there are two popular ways of non-coherently detecting the transmitted data correctly at the receiver.

  1. One way is to perform energy or frequency detection in a similar way to the initial AM and FM receivers.

  2. In differential encoding, we encode the information in the phase shifts (or phase differences) of the transmitted carrier. Then, the absolute phase is not important, but just its transitions from one symbol to the other. The differential receivers are much simpler than the coherent ones, but their performance is worse since noise is increased in the detection process.

Communications systems that prioritize simple and inexpensive receivers, such as Bluetooth, use non-coherent receivers. Also, differential encoding is an added feature in some standards, such as Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB). The latter was one of the first, if not the first standard, to use OFDM in wireless communicationsIt increases the robustness to mitigate phase distortions, caused by the propagation channel for mobile, portable or fixed receivers.

However, the vast majority of contemporary wireless communications systems use coherent detection. That is true for 4G-LTE and “5G NR.”

Combining non-coherent communications with massive MIMO:

Massive MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) groups together antennas at the transmitter and receiver to provide better throughput and better spectrum efficiency. When massive MIMO is used, obtaining and sharing CSI threatened to become a bottleneck, because of the large number of channels that need to be estimated because there are a very large number of antennas.

A Universidad Carlos III de Madrid research group started looking at a combination of massive MIMO with non-coherent receivers as a possible solution for good quality (user experience) high speed mobile communications. It is an interesting combination. The improvement of performance brought by the excess of antennas may counteract the fundamental performance loss of non-coherent schemes (usually 3 dB signal-to-noise ratio loss).

Indeed, our research showed that if we take into account the overhead caused by CSI estimation in coherent schemes, we have shown several cases in which non-coherent massive MIMO performs better than its coherent counterpart. There are even cases where coherent schemes do not work at all, at least with the overheads considered by 4G-LTE and 5G (IMT 2020) standards. Yet non-coherent detection usually works well under those conditions. These latter cases are most prevalent in high-mobility environments.

Editor’s Note:  In ITU-R M.2410, high speed vehicular communications (120 km/hr to 500 km/hr) is mainly envisioned for high speed trains.  No “dead zones” are permitted as the “minimum” mobility interruption time is 0 ms!

When to use non-coherent massive MIMO?

Clearly in those situations where coherent schemes work well with a reasonable pilot signal overhead, we do not need to search for alternatives. However, there are other scenarios of interest where non-coherent schemes may substitute or complement the coherent ones. These are cases when the propagation channel is very frequency selective and/or very time-varying. In these situations, estimating the CSI is very costly in terms of resources that need to be used as pilots for the estimation. Alternatives that do not require channel estimation are often more efficient.

An interesting combination of non-coherent and coherent data streams is presented in reference, where the non-coherent stream is used at the same time to transmit data and to estimate the CSI for the coherent stream. This is an example of how coherent and non-coherent approaches are complementary and the best combination can be chosen depending on the scenario. Such a hybrid scheme is depicted in the figure below.

Figure 1. Suitability of coherent (C), non-coherent (NC) and hybrid schemes (from reference [5])


What about Millimeter Waves and Beam Steering?

The advantage of millimeter waves (very high frequencies) is the spectrum availability and high speedsThe disadvantages are short distances and line of sight communications required.

Compensating for the overhead by adding more bandwidth, may be a viable solution. However, the high propagation loss that characterizes these millimeter wave high frequency bands creates the need for highly directive antennasSuch antennas would need to create narrow beams and then steer them towards the user’s position. This is easy when the user equipment is fixed or slowly moving, but doing it in a high speed environment is a real challenge.

Note that the beam searching and tracking systems that are proposed in today’s wireless communications standards, won’t work in high speed mobile communications when the User Endpoint (UE) has moved to the coverage of another base station at the time the steering beams are aligned! There is certainly a lot of research to be done here.

In summary, the combination of non-coherent techniques with massive MIMO does not present any additional problems when they are carried out in millimeter wave frequencies. For example how a non-coherent scheme can be combined with beamforming, provided the beamforming is performed by a beam tracking procedure. However, the problem of how to achieve fast beam alignment remains to be solved.

Concluding Remarks:

Non-coherent massive MIMO makes sense in wireless communications systems that need to have very low complexity or that need to work in scenarios with high mobility. Its advantage is that it makes possible communications in places or circumstances where the classical coherent communications fail. However, this scheme will not perform as well as coherent schemes under normal conditions.

Most probably, non-coherent massive MIMO will be used in the future as a complement to well-understood and (usually) well-performing coherent systems. This will happen when there are clear market opportunities for high mobility, high speed, low latency use cases and applications.

Source: 07 07 20

5G millimeter wave tutorial | what is 5G millimeter wave

24 Nov

This 5G millimeter wave tutorial covers basic features of 5G millimeter wave technology, 5G mm wave advantages and disadvantages and 5G millimeter wave frame structure. It mentions links to 5G mm wave frequency band and 5G channel sounding.

About 5G: To achieve higher data rate requirement in the order of 10 Gbps, 5G technology has been developed. The specifications are published in the 3GPP Release 15 and beyond. 5G has different frequency ranges sub 6 GHz (5G macro optimized), 3-30 GHz (5G E small cells) and 30-100 GHz (5G Ultra Dense).

About millimeter wave: The frequency bands which lies between 30 GHz to 300 GHz is known as millimeter wave. This is due to the fact that wavelength of electro-magnetic wave will be in millimeter range at these frequencies. There are many advantages and disadvantages of mm wave.

Due to growth of large number of mobile data subscribers, need for larger bandwidth arises. The fact is bandwidth is limited in the available mobile frequency spectrum which is below the mm wave band. Due to this millimeter wave band has been explored as mobile frequency spectrum by operators due to its support for larger bandwidth. Though penetration loss is higher at these mm wave frequencies as these frequencies can not penetrate walls and certain objects in the buildings. Moreover mm wave frequencies get attenuated due to rain. After careful inclusion of all these factors in the RF link budget calculation, mm wave can be strong future for the mobile data broadband market.

About 5G millimeter wave: The millimeter wave frequencies which are used for 5G mobile technology is known as 5G millimeter wave.

5G millimeter wave technology features

Following table mentions features of 5G millimeter wave technology.


Features Description
Data rate 10 Gbps or higher
Frequency Bands The bands are split into <40 GHz and >40GHz upto 100 GHz frequency
Frequency Bands➤
Bandwidths • 10 subcarriers of 100 MHz each can provide 1GHz BW due to carrier aggregation at <40 GHz • 500 MHz to 2 GHz BW can be achieved without carrier aggregation at >40GHz
Distance coverage 2 meters (indoor) to 300 meters (outdoor)
Modulation types CP-OFDMA <40GHz
SC >40GHz
Frame topology TDD
latency About 1 ms
MIMO type Massive MIMO is supported. Antennas are physically small and hence there will be approx. 16 antenna array available in 1 square inch. Hence 5G mm wave compliant eNBs support 128 to 1000 antenna arrays. These are used to increase the capacity and coverage both. Refer Massive MIMO basics➤.


For frequencies above 40 GHz, Single carrier modulation is used to permit higher PA efficiency and efficient beamforming. It minimizes switching overhead too. In Null CP SC type, regular CPs are replaced with null CPs. This provides constant envelope in the modulated waveform.

5G millimeter wave frame structure | 5G mm wave frame

5G millimeter wave frame structure

The figure-1 depicts proposed 5G mm wave frame structure. As shown DL refers to downlink transmission from eNB to UEs and UL refers to uplink transmission from UEs to eNB. As shown control and data planes are separate, which helps in achieving lesser latency requirements. This is due to the fact that processing of control and data parts can run in parallel.
Refer 5G mm wave frame➤.

Symbol Table or numerology used in 5G

Following table mentions probable numerology for two FFT points used in 5G millimeter wave technology viz. 1024, 2048 and 4096.


FFT Size 1024 FFT Point (70 GHz) 2048 FFT Point (3 to 40GHz) 4096 FFT Point
Carrier Bandwidth 2000 MHz 200 MHz 200 MHz
Subcarrier spacing 1.5 MHz 120 KHz 60 KHz
Symbol Length 666.7 ns 8.335 µs 16.67 µs
Number of syms/frame 14 14 14
CP (Cyclic Prefix) duration 10.4 ns 0.6 µs 1 µs


Advantages of 5G millimeter wave

Following are the advantages/merits of the 5G millimeter wave. These benefits make 5G in millimeter wave as one of the strong contender for the future of mobile wireless communication domain.
• Provides larger bandwidth and hence more number of subscribers can be accommodated.
• Due to less bandwidth in millimeter range, it is more favourable for smaller cell deployment.
• Coverage is not limited to line of sight as first order scatter paths are viable.
• channel sounding feature is employed to take care of different types of losses at mm wave frequencies so that 5G network works satisfactorily. Channel sounding refers to measurement or estimation of channel characteristics which helps in successful design, development and deployment of 5G network with necessary quality requirements.
• Antenna size is physically small and hence large number of antennas are packed in small size. This leads to use of massive MIMO in eNB/AP to enhance the capacity.
• Dynamic beamforming is employed and hence it mitigates higher path loss at mm wave frequencies.
• 5G millimeter wave networks support multi-gigabit backhaul upto 400 meters and cellular access upto 200-300 meters.

Due to these benefits, 5G mm wave is suitable for mobile communication over sub-6GHz wireless technologies.

Disadvantages of 5G mm wave

Following are the disadvantages/demerits of the 5G millimeter wave.
• Millimeter wave goes through different losses such as penetration, rain attenuation etc. This limits distance coverage requirement of mm wave in 5G based cellular mobile deployment. Moreover path loss at mm is proportional to square of the frequency. It supports 2 meters in indoors and about 200-300 meters in outdoors based on channel conditions and AP/eNB height above the ground.
• Supports only LOS (Line of Sight) propagation. Hence coverage is limited to LOS.
• Foliage loss is significant at such mm wave frequencies.
• Power consumption is higher at millimeter wave due to more number of RF modules due to more number of antennas. To avoid this drawback, hybrid architecture which has fewer RF chains than number of antennas need to be used at the receiver. Moreover low power analog processing circuits are designed in mm wave hardware.
These disadvantages need to be considered during 5G millimeter wave link budget calculation. This is very much essential for successful 5G millimeter wave deployment.


Note: As the 5G mm wave standards have been under development there might be changes to the numerology and frame structure mentioned on this page. We request to kindly refer latest updates on 5G specifications as available from 3GPP and related sites as mentioned below.

24 11 19

The race for 5G and what you need to know

2 Sep

Since cellular service first popped up for consumers four decades ago, it’s been all about phones – from brick phones to flip phones to smartphones to today’s 4G LTE handsets that stream music and video, deliver pinpoint directions and hail a ride from Uber.

Now fifth-generation 5G wireless technology is rolling out in the U.S. and elsewhere globally. These much-hyped networks are still about phones, especially in early deployments when the emphasis is on faster speeds for high-definition video streaming and instant access to workplace apps via the Internet cloud.

But as 5G matures, it’s about connecting a lot more than just smartphones. The technology has been designed to create a fabric for fast, reliable and secure connectivity to things ranging from driver assisted cars to health-care devices to smart cities infrastructure.

“There is probably no technology right now that is more talked about in terms of what impact it will have on the future than 5G because all the things we want to do are dependent on connectivity, and right now it is the fastest, most reliable connectivity being built,” said Daniel Newman, principal analyst at industry consulting firm Futurum Research.

Out of the gate, 5G is expected to deliver peak speeds up to five times faster than today’s 4G LTE. Over the long haul, 5G aims to deliver speeds 20 times faster.

And it promises to eventually deliver a 10-fold improvement in transmission lag times, enabling cellular to power things sensitive to delays such as virtual-reality headsets, immersive mobile gaming and industrial robots.

“As I sit here in my office on my mobile phone with 4G, I get 175 megabits per second with 20 milliseconds latency, so if you deliver me a gigabit per second with 10 milliseconds latency, am I going to notice the difference? Probably not,” said Richard Windsor, publisher of Radio Free Mobile and a longtime wireless industry analyst. “Which means why would I pay for it?”

The promise of 5G

With 5G, connected power grids could tap cloud computing to create artificial intelligence algorithms so when a tree falls on a line, the grid automatically adjusts to minimize outages and heal itself.

5G connected cars could sync to stoplights and other infrastructure to improve traffic flow, while vehicles automatically track the movements of other cars and pedestrians nearby to help avoid accidents.

Factories could leverage 5G to more easily reconfigure equipment to produce different products – boosting efficiency and lowering costs. Connected assembly line robots could instantly reposition an off-center part. Massive cranes at ports could adjust on the fly to the weight of cargo being loaded on ships.

Logistics, fleet management, education, video security with facial recognition, medical imaging, enterprise storage as a service and even retail are some of the industries that could mine the speed, bandwidth, reliability and low latency of 5G to disrupt the status quo.

For consumers, the lure of 5G in initial rollouts is video. Streaming 4K movies could become as seamless as streaming music is today on 4G. At a sporting event or concert, everyone with a smartphone could become a live broadcaster.

The low lag times of 5G – or latency – also could spark mobile gaming that’s on par with console gaming, and new services that don’t exist today could emerge from the bells and whistles that come with 5G.

“I think we are going to see some killer applications that take advantage of this low latency with 5G,” said Will Townsend, senior analyst with industry research firm Moor Insights & Strategy. “We couldn’t get to the ride sharing disruption of the taxi industry until we had 4G. Look at how that changed our lives. We are going to see the same thing happen with 5G.”

How does it work?

In some ways, 5G is similar to 4G. It uses the same Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplex (OFDM) air interface encoding system to cram as many data packets as possible onto each megahertz of airwave spectrum.

One thing that’s new, however, is 5G has been tailored to take advantage of millimeter wave spectrum – high-frequency bands above 24 gigahertz that have never been used for cellular communications.

Millimeter wave frequencies serve up vast swaths of uncrowded airwaves to deliver uber-fast speeds and massive data capacity. With millimeter wave, cellular operators aren’t just adding a few extra lanes to the existing cellular data highway. They’re opening up big new freeways.

But millimeter wave bands have drawbacks. Signals don’t travel very far. They don’t penetrate buildings and can be blocked by foliage and even rain. They require complex beam forming, beam tracking and beam switching technologies to work.

San Diego-based Qualcomm and others believe they have cracked the code for getting millimeter waves to function for smartphones, particularly in dense cities.

In San Francisco, for example, Qualcomm says 70% of mobile outdoor data traffic could be handled by millimeter wave without installing any additional cell towers.

Off-loading that traffic improves performance on the rest of the network, including on non-millimeter wave, mid-band frequencies earmarked for 5G – those between 1 gigahertz and 6 gigahertz.

These mid-band frequencies, which already are used for wireless, penetrate buildings and travel farther than millimeter wave. But they don’t deliver the speeds or wide open capacity available with millimeter wave.

“It is a network structure that allows operators to see a step-function decline in the cost per bit,” he said. “When you look at the consumption of data, the gigabits per month continues to climb. We are already at an inflection point where it is uneconomical to do (unlimited plans) with 4G.”

Qualcomm estimates that with 5G, network operators can achieve a 30-fold reduction in their cost per gigabit by 2025. Much of this cost benefit stems from tapping into millimeter wave spectrum, though 5G does boost data traffic flow in mid-band frequencies as well.

Up and running

About 20 operators worldwide are expected to light up 5G networks this year or next, although coverage won’t be everywhere at first.

Smartphone and mobile hotspot makers are lining up to support 5G. Samsung, LG, Motorola and others already have devices on the market.

Qualcomm has signed deals to supply 5G chips to 150 devices, which is double the backlog of just three months before.

In the U.S., Verizon has 5G up and running in parts of Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver and Providence, R.I., with another 30 cities in the pipeline, including San Diego. Verizon expects three-quarters of the phones that launch on its network next year will be 5G.

AT&T has 5G wave in parts of 21 cities, with an initial focus on business customers rather than consumers. It plans to add nine additional cities by year end, including San Diego. The company is on track for nationwide 5G coverage in mid-2020.

Globally, 5G networks are operating in South Korea, Australia and a few countries in Europe. Japan is expected to launch 5G early next year. In China, the three state-supported mobile operators plan to install 100,000 5G base stations by the end of this year.

The race to 5G

Because 5G has the potential to connect infrastructure and transform industries, it has emerged as a bit of an arms race among nations, particularly the U.S. and China.

The technology has been at the center of the Trump administration’s national security concerns over the growth of Chinese-made equipment in telecommunications networks globally, which it believes could be used for cyber espionage.

China was mostly on the sidelines during the 3G and 4G cellular standard setting process, where Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung were among the major players contributing technologies used in networks globally.

But Chinese companies have been much more active in standard setting for 5G.

In an internal memo seen by Bloomberg News, Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei said the Chinese company’s dominance in 5G has been cited as motivation for a U.S. campaign to contain its growth.

“The U.S. doesn’t use the most advanced 5G technology,” wrote Zhengfei in the memo quoted by Bloomberg. “That may leave it lagging behind in the artificial intelligence sector.”

But Qualcomm and Samsung were the first companies to deliver 5G silicon to devices on the market today. Qualcomm’s chips support both millimeter wave and mid-band 5G frequencies.

Huawei’s self-make 5G silicon is 50% larger than Qualcomm’s first generation 5G chip, according to industry research firm IHS Market. Huawei 5G chips don’t support millimeter wave.

Not all contributions to standard-setting organizations are created equal, according to analysts. Qualcomm has been working on 5G for nearly a decade. The company says it has developed many foundational technologies that are part of the 5G standard.

“5G is the (cellular) transition that everyone should pay attention to,” said Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf. “Qualcomm’s focus on 5G has not only provided others with the 5G foundation to build on top of and capitalize on, but we have put ourselves in a strong position.”


Antenna Design for 5G Communications

7 Jun

With the rollout of the 5th generation mobile network around the corner, technology exploration is in full swing. The new 5G requirements (e.g. 1000x increase in capacity, 10x higher data rates, etc.) will create opportunities for diverse new applications, including automotive, healthcare, industrial and gaming. But to make these requirements technically feasible, higher communication frequencies are needed. For example, the 26 and 28 GHz frequency bands have been allocated for Europe and the USA respectively – more than 10x higher than typical 4G frequencies. Other advancement will include carrier aggregation to increase bandwidth and the use of massive MIMO antenna arrays to separate users through beamforming and spatial multiplexing.

Driving Innovation Through Simulation

The combination of these technology developments will create new challenges that impact design methodologies applied to mobile and base station antennas currently. Higher gain antennas will be needed to sustain communications in the millimeter wavelength band due to the increase in propagation losses. While this can be achieved by using multi-element antenna arrays, it comes at the cost of increased design complexity, reduced beamwidth and sophisticated feed circuits.

Simulation will pave the way to innovate these new antenna designs through rigorous optimization and tradeoff analysis. Altair’s FEKO™ is a comprehensive electromagnetic simulation suite ideal for these type of designs: offering MoM, FEM and FDTD solvers for preliminary antenna simulations, and specialized tools for efficient simulation of large array antennas.

Mobile Devices

In a mobile phone, antenna real estate is typically a very limited commodity, and in most cases, a tradeoff between antenna size and performance is made. In the millimeter band the antenna footprint will be much smaller, and optimization of the antenna geometry will ensure the best antenna performance is achieved for the space that is allocated, also for higher order MIMO configurations.

At these frequencies, the mobile device is also tens of wavelengths in size and the antenna integration process now becomes more like an antenna placement problem – an area where FEKO is well known to excel. When considering MIMO strategies, it is also easier to achieve good isolation between the MIMO elements, due to larger spatial separation that can be achieved at higher frequencies. Similarly, it is more straightforward to achieve good pattern diversity strategies.



Base Station

FEKO’s high performance solvers and specialized toolsets are well suited for the simulation massive MIMO antenna arrays for 5G base stations. During the design of these arrays, a 2×2 subsection can be optimized to achieve good matching, maximize gain and minimize isolation with neighboring elements –a very efficient approach to minimize nearest neighbor coupling. The design can then be extrapolated up to the large array configurations for final analysis. Farming of the optimization tasks enables these multi-variable and multi-goal to be solved in only a few hours. Analysis of the full array geometry can be efficiently solved with FEKO’s FDTD or MLFMM method: while FDTD is extremely efficient (1.5 hrs for 16×16 planar array), MLFMM might also be a good choice depending on the specific antenna geometry.



The 5G Channel and Network Deployment

The mobile and base station antenna patterns that are simulated in FEKO, can used in WinProp™ for high-level system analysis of the 5G radio network coverage and to determine channel statistics for urban, rural and indoor scenarios.



WinProp is already extensively used for 4G/LTE network planning. However, the use cases for 5G networks will be even more relevant largely due to the different factors that occur in the millimeter band. These include higher path loss from atmospheric absorption and rainfall, minimal penetration into walls and stronger effects due to surface roughness.

In addition to being able to calculate the angular and delay spread, WinProp also provides a platform to analyze and compare the performance of different MIMO configurations while taking beamforming into account.


The Road to 5G

While some of the challenges that lie ahead to meet the 5G requirements may still seem daunting, simulation can already be used today to develop understanding and explore innovative solutions. FEKO offers comprehensive solutions for device and base station antenna design, while WinProp will determine the requirements for successful network deployment.



What is mm wave and how does it fit into 5G?

16 Aug

Extremely high frequency’ means extremely fast 5G speeds

Millimeter wave, also known as extremely high frequency, is the band of spectrum between 30 gigahertzand 300 GHz. Wedged between microwave and infrared waves, this spectrum can be used for high-speed wireless communications as seen with the latest 802.11ad Wi-Fi standard (operating at 60 GHz). It is being considered by standards organization, the Federal Communications Commission and researchers as the way to bring “5G” into the future by allocating more bandwidth to deliver faster, higher-quality video, and multimedia content and services.

source: NI

Source: National Instruments

Earlier this year, Ted Rappaport, founding director of NYU Wireless, said mobile data traffic is projected to rise 53% each year into the “foreseeable future,” and over the last 40 years, computer clock speeds and memory sizes rose by as much as six orders of magnitude. We need higher frequency spectrum to accommodate the increases in data usage, and one of the greatest and most important uses of millimeter waves is in transmitting large amounts of data.

source: NI

Source: National Instruments

Today, mmWave frequencies are being utilized for applications such as streaming high-resolution video indoors. Traditionally however, these higher frequencies were not strong enough for indoor broadband applications due to high propagation loss and susceptibility to blockage from buildings as well asabsorption from rain drops. These problems made mmWave impossible for mobile broadband.

Too good to be true?

High frequency means narrow wavelengths, and for mmWaves that sits in the range of 10 millimeters to 1 millimeter. It’s strength can be reduced due to its vulnerabilities against gases, rain and humidity absorption. And to make things even less appealing, due to those factors, millimeter wavelengths only reach out to a few kilometers.

source: Microsoft

Source: Microsoft

Just a few years ago mmWave was not being put to use because few electronic components could receive millimeter waves. Now, thanks to new technologies, it is on the brink of being an integral part of the next-generation network.

The solutions

Thankfully, the same characteristics that make mmWave so difficult to implement can be used to combat its shortcomings.

Short transmission paths and high propagation losses allows for spectrum reuse by limiting the amount of interference between adjacent cells, according to Robert W. Heath, professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. In addition, where longer paths are desired, the extremely short wavelengths of mmWave signals make it feasible for very small antennas to concentrate signals into highly focused beams with enough gain to overcome propagation losses. The short wavelengths of mmWave signals also make it possible to build multielement, dynamic beamforming antennas that will be small enough to fit into handsets.

source: UT Austin

Source: UT Austin

How mmWave spectrum is being handled

Last October the FCC proposed new rules for wireless broadband in wireless frequencies above 24 gigahertz. According to the government organization, these proposed rules “are an opportunity to move forward on creating a regulatory environment in which these emerging next-generation mobile technologies – such as so-called 5G mobile service – can potentially take hold and deliver benefits to consumers, businesses, and the U.S. economy.”

According to the FCC, the organization is “taking steps to unlock the mobile broadband and unlicensed potential of spectrum at the frontier above 24 GHz.”

Service operators have begun investigating mmWave technology to evaluate the best candidate frequencies for use in mobile applications. The International Telecommunication Union and 3GPP have aligned on a plan for two phases of research for 5G standards. The first phase, completing September 2018, defines a period of research for frequencies less than 40 GHz to address the more urgent subset of the commercial needs. The second phase is slated to begin in 2018 and complete in December 2019 to address the KPIs outlined by IMT 2020. This second phase focuses on frequencies up to 100 GHz, according to National Instruments.

In an report titled Millimeter-wave for 5G: Unifying Communication and Sensing, Xinyu Zhang, assistant professor of the electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wisconsin, detailed the mmWave bands being considered:

  • 57 GHz to 64 GHz unlicensed;
  • 7 GHz in total 28 GHz/38 GHz licensed but underutilized; and
  • 3.4 GHz in total 71 GHz/81 GHz/92GHz Light-licensed band: 12.9 GHz in total
source: National Instruments

Source: National Instruments

The ITU released a list of proposed globally viable frequencies between 24 GHz and 86 GHz after the most recent World Radiocommunications Conference:

24.25–27.5GHz                                        31.8–33.4GHz

37–40.5GHz                                             40.5–42.5GHz

45.5–50.2GHz                                           50.4–52.6GHz

66–76GHz                                                      81–86GHz


Smart Antennae: Critical for 5G

14 Jan

The 5G Network of Tomorrow is coming to mobile broadband, and like SDN/NFV, it will generate new network operating models.While avant-garde operators will quickly adopt, further cementing their market leading positions, 5G will open the door to non-traditional network operators and infrastructure vendors for networks in unlicensed and shared licensed spectrum. Notably, the Radio Access Network will experience a major change, as the nature of 5G frequencies will change the design and operation of cellular networks.Knowing that 5G is a major change for operators with a legacy mindset, the development community is trying to deliver the maximum utility and longevity with a platform that should last for 10 years and avoid operators’ buyer remorse of “I wish we had known…”

What are the differences with 5G frequencies, and what can we expect from them? Today’s cellular frequencies range from 450 MHz to more than 3000 MHz—technical terms that have important physical and economic implications, and traditionally licensed spectrum. With 5G multi-connectivity, operators can use unlicensed spectrum for added capacity or develop isolated networks for enterprise and industrial applications.Because of the physics of electromagnetic radio waves, the lower numbered frequencies are able to reach farther and cover more area for less cost than the higher numbered frequencies. However, it is not a free lunch, because as more subscribers sign up, cell sites using the lower numbered frequencies will have too many subscribers for each base station, causing slow data rates and delivering a poor user experience. Operators can buy more radio spectrum (if available) and/or put up more cell sites, including small cells, to meet wireless broadband data demand. Smarter antenna systems will also improve network performance and capacity beyond what is capable with today’s standard 2×2 and 4×4 MIMO deployments in 4G LTE.

For cellular networks, the signal quality matters most for the user experience, and as a simple rule of thumb, a stronger signal (relative to the surrounding electronic noise) leads to a better user experience withfaster data rates.In the digital realm, blazing speed correlates with mass-market capacity, as all subscribers in a cell share the total data rate. Obtaining stronger signals with 5G involves smarter antenna technology, more radio spectrum, and smaller cells. The physics of 5G spectrum changes the economics for antenna solutions, as the higher frequencies equate to packing more antennae into a smaller space and remaining cost effective. The higher numbered frequencies are promising, because there is a lot of radio space available, which will help support a 1000x increase in traffic. Smaller cells and smart antennae offset the propagation physics that would otherwise mean a very short range and poor user experience.

5G will encompass a wide range of spectrum, but my primary interest is new frequencies above 6 GHz.At 28 GHz, for example, a single antenna, called a “half wavelength dipole,” is about 0.2 inches—not big at all.The small size spurs creative engineers to do many clever things, like beamforming.An array of antennae, say 128 elements, is still very small, but the right digital signal processing can generate a very focused beam from the base station to the mobile.This is necessary for the cellular signals to overcome the energy losses due to distance, buildings, trees, rain, or people.

At a recent 5G workshop, Qualcomm demonstrated a 28 GHz test setup with a 128 element antenna representing a base station, and a mock-up mobile with a smaller set of selectable antennae (read about the demo).The 128 element base station antenna was about 6”x8” and the ability to focus a radio beam was demonstrated under a variety of orientations. An antenna designed the same way for today’s LTE frequencies at 700 MHz would be about 20’x30’ and not feasible. An operator can hang an abundance of 6”x8” antennae in a place like Times Square, which leads back to another aspect of 5G—Massive MIMO (Multiple-Input, Multiple Output – who thinks up these names?). Massive MIMO essentially means that the network uses multiple antenna beams from multiple base stations to deliver the fastest data to your mobile.

The tiny smart antennae demonstrated by Qualcomm had about 27 db gain, about 10–12 more db than a typical cellular base station antenna. 10 db more means that antenna could put 10x more signal power on a mobile than a legacy cellular antenna. An analogy to this effect is like using a candle to light up a dark room versus using a flashlight. This focused approach also extends to the many antennae that might be deployed, that is several base stations with lots of antennae may deliver the signal to your mobile, hence Massive.The net effect is to provide you a stronger signal with less interference, or noise, from all the other mobiles nearby. The relative signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) limits how fast the network can deliver the data, and a bigger ratio is better. Beam Forming Smart Antennae makes for a larger signal value at the top of the ratio fraction, and smaller noise value at the bottom for a double boost to SNR.

A second aspect, and just as critical as the base station antenna, are mobile antennae. Qualcomm demonstrated a facsimile of a mobile, a Form Factor Accurate device, with antenna in the case edges, front and back, top and bottom.Many antennae are needed to make sure that at least some are unobstructed by your hand or other body parts. I expect that there are best practices in mobile antenna design that will come from this, so that 5G handset vendors will not have Antennagate déjà vu all over again.

A third critical aspect of a 5G cellular network will be multi-connectivity. 5G multi-connectivity means that while your network is delivering an outstanding data experience in the uber-fast 6 GHz (and higher) frequencies, it maintains additional connections with 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution – seriously, where do they get these names?). In spite of the multiple beam forming antennae that puts your device in the spotlight, there will be occasional times where the 28 GHz signal is blocked. Rather than drop off the network, the network maintains the connection through the wider coverage of 4G LTE until the 28 GHz signal returns.

The bigger picture of 5G is more than just the spectrum, antennae, anda faster-better-cheaper mobile broadband. The 5G Network of Tomorrow is about designing and operating the networks with the forethought and flexibility to last through 2030. The 5G network will bring to fruition the aspirations of the connected society, that is the Internet of Everything. Of course, none of this is simple to implement, but by connecting the dots among 4G, 5G, and millimeter wave smart antennae research, we have a good idea for key components of a 5G network. The creative geniuses at companies like Qualcomm are working diligently to make this happen.




LTE like you have never seen before, or you will never see at all…

19 Jun

We can be sure that the hunger for data transmission will grow rapidly and that the mobile networks will not be able to deliver the expected capacity. On top of the current avalanche of the data created and consumed by humans we will soon see a completely different order of magnitude of the traffic Not only traffic generated by the machines in so-called Internet of Things or Internet of Everything.

A year ago, 3GPP consortium was approached by the mighty Qualcomm with the proposal to include in the next release of the 3GPP specs the extensions of LTE Advanced framework into two very interesting options promising both dramatic increase of networks capacity and the local peering interfaces.

Promised land

The most rare resource in the mobile world are the frequencies operators can use to build their networks. Based on the old paradigm of licensing, giving the exclusivity of the spectrum usage to a certain entity are in fact the foundation of cellular carriers business model. They pay fortunes for the license and are the only landlords of the assigned band. Also the protocols running there (GSM/3G/4G/LTE) behave like the only kid on the block expecting no interference in the area and enforcing the exclusivity rights.

Quality of service predictability is linked to the exclusivity and the binary access to a given spectrum resource, at a given location and a given time.”

However the licensing model assigns very small spectrum to an operator. Those can be even highly-priced 5 MHz pieces! Very often the frequencies are fragmented and do not allow aggregation of the transmission channels which is vital to increase the data throughout. And since rarely operators decide to merge their frequency assets (like formation of Everything Everywhere by Orange and T-Mobile in the UK or NetworkS! in Poland), there seems to be no way out from the spectrum trap.

But wait a minute! There is a great open field out there – the unlicensed bands. Originating back from back in 1985, when so-called “junk bands” of 2.4 and 5.8 GHz were declared free to use by anyone, they are right now occupied mostly by WiFi (IEEE 802.11). Subsequently the set of the unlicensed frequencies got expanded and right now almost entire 5 GHz range is available – 775 MHZ of continuous spectrum. Recently released TV broadcasting bands (sub 1 GHz) are tested for long-range rural internet access and 60 GHz (massive 7 GHz cluster) is already used as either point-to-point connectivity or short-range multimedia streaming at home (802.11ad standard).

The free spectrum is not only home for WiFi, but also a place of co-existence of many other protocols – Bluetooth, Zigbee. Over time the base rules of the game were defined to guarantee problem-free common usage of the frequencies with good neighbours trying to limit the impact of their actions on the others lives.

How will a selfish kid like LTE behave in this good neighbourhood? It’s not like having a racetrack just for yourself. It’s more like driving a car in the city, where streets are available to everyone who is able to understand the rules and play by those rules. Will LTE learn the traffic or crash spectacularily?

The key to success

The proposal from Qualcomm defines LTE-U extension to use the U-NII-3 part of the 5 GHz band, which has highest EIRP emission power allowed. While in 2.4 GHz regulatory bodies limit EIRP to 100 mW (Europe) or 200 mW (USA), the U-NII-3 enjoys the rights to go as high as 1000 mW outdoors.
Yes – 1 watt of power…

However, the LTE will not move entirely to the unlicensed area. The postulate is to keep the control channel still operational in the reserved frequency so that “the crucial signaling information is always communicated properly.” Which also means that only true MNO will be able to deploy the technology. It’s a big goodbye kiss to the enterprises hoping they could build private LTE networks without licensing cost…

In fact the LTE-U proposal is built on another LTE Advanced standard extension called “carrier aggregation”. It allows using multiple communication channels to transfer data in parallel. Originally it was designed to solve the problem of the “frequency mosaic”. Instead of exchanging and merging the frequencies with the other players to gain higher bandwidths, mobile operators will be able to use the radio resource they have right now “as-is”. LTE-U is simply saying that instead of the owned frequencies, some channels will be formed in the 5 GHz band. Carrier aggregation is pretty adaptive structure, so we can end up in multiple, dynamically changing topologies where all links work in licensed channels, all work in unlicensed spectrum or we have a mixture. System shall adapt to the congestion of the mobile network and availability of the unlicensed frequencies.

Here is the key to the co-existence of the selfish LTE kid with WiFi – effective sensing of available resources without pre-empting all of them. Qualcomm argues that there will be no noticeable degradation of the competing WiFi networks, while allegedly more efficient LTE-U encoding will deliver larger capacity than neighboring 802.11 systems.

Feasibility of the LTE-U

Control channel for LTE-U still needs to be realized via licensed band so the technology is possible to be implemented only in the existing LTE coverage areas. Carriers already struggle with the overwhelming investments that are necessary for LTE rollouts. Will they be willing to add more money to the budget for the promised added capacity, seamless aggregation the unlicensed downlink channels and ability to transition VoLTE calls? Especially that in order to use the LTE-U, their subscribers will need to have fully-compatible terminal with newest chipset, which will not happen overnight.

It might be a good choice for the smaller players on the market strangled by the lack of spectrum and pressured by the quality demand from their customers. That could be a good selling point for them without otherwise unavoidable huge license fees infrastructure expenses.

On the other hand why shall they wait for the specification to be finalized and equipment to be available, while already they can build WiFi networks delivering the same added capacity, seamless roaming between radio networks and even voice transitioning from VoLTE to VoWiFi and back? Maybe because the intention is to make WiFi and other wireless technologies obsolete and take over full control over previously free area? Another Qualcomm extension to LTE Advanced seems to be a step into such direction.

Direct communication – reinvented

The future uber-connected world with everybody and everything talking to each other will likely consume all possible centralized network resources. Not only licensed , but also the previously mentioned unlicensed spectrum. Hence the concept of direct device-to-device communication without engaging of central management seems to be the way forward for some specific types of applications, like location of devices or social media check-ins or individual/group messaging.

Nowadays such applications are based either on modified Bluetooth protocols or exisiting blanket coverage WiFi networks. Using the characteristics of those systems and add-on modules in the operating systems of our smartphones or tablets, it is possible to locate the user in the indoor environment and trigger some action.

Typical example is the shopping assistance. Wandering in the vast public venue like a shopping mall frequently requires some “indoor navigation” aid. Positioning of the customer gives also the opportunity to analyze the behavior of the visitors and pushing to them marketing messages when they enter certain zones (eg. promo messages when passing by a shop which paid for such advertisement). All based on the assumption that the user has got his WiFi and Bluetooth modules active and his terminal is equipped with the application able to receive such information.

LTE Direct proposed by Qualcomm taps on this opportunity by replacing WiFi/BT communication with yet another LTE Advanced extension. It is using as little as <1% of the network signaling, yet provides direct messaging between user devices. There are two types of messages defined – public and private expressions.

Public expressions are exactly matching the Bluetooth iBeacon functionality. They can be used to locate the user and push any kind of message to his device. The messages are not filtered and do not require applications to be presented to the customer. Excellent marketing tool with larger than iBeacon range (ca. 500 meters instead of 50), promised lower power consumption and better accuracy. Moreover working both outdoors and under roof.

Private expressions are linked with particular messaging/presence app and can be subject to special filtering and privacy settings enforced already on the device chipset level. They can be used to communicate with friends wishing to join the party, seek for people with the same interests at an event or simply as next generation social messaging with geo-location context.

In order to work, LTE Direct still needs licensed spectrum and the LTE control channel. It means that, just like LTE-U, its applicability is strongly dedicated to the mobile carriers and not the enterprises. Exactly opposite to the current beneficiaries of location based services, which are public venues of different kinds: shopping malls, transportation hubs or hospitality properties. One might even interpret such definition of the standard as an attempt to bring back to the operators the opportunity to tap on the revenues right now leaking to such enterprises or OTT (over the top) application owners like Facebook or Google. Bringing back human-to-human communication management (and payments) to the carriers. Especially in the context of classical texting and phone call role diminishing. Finally they could charge again for the actual usage of the network and not just deliver the capacity.

However, there are still some unresolved issues with LTE Direct. While WiFi and Bluetooth work in “neutral host” mode and serve all the user devices, irrespectively of the actual mobile operator and even the ones which are not equipped with cellular interface, LTE Direct requires one common signaling band. The open question remains if the operators will be able to agree on one shared control frequency and under which conditions. Especially that such arrangement shall work for their entire coverage area in order for this extension to be a valid upsell option.

Busines case

Both extensions are part of the new 3GPP releases and expected to approved and possible to implement in 2015-2016 timeframe. As part of the LTE Advanced rollout effort, they require substantial investment in the infrastructure (order of magnitude more expensive than WiFi), but above all – compatible user devices. Low number of termials might limit the business feasibility of such “unlicensed offload” or added-value services, while WiFi and BT are already present in all mobile phones (standard supported globally) and are usable immediately. Also majority of tablets, mobile computers and the expected Internet of Everything devices are SIM-less. This dooms LTE-U/Direct to be just an auxiliary, “nice to have” service for years and only few most desperate operators will decide to go their way.

The WiFi revolution seems to be progressing faster than LTE-A and can make a lot of the mobile carrier business obsolete? We already spend 85% of our time in the coverage of WiFi. Do we really need SIM cards for communication? Do we really need phone calls to talk? Maybe it’s time to kill the phone call? SIM-less future?

Pictures and diagrams are from Qualcomm and Aptilo materials.



5 Years to 5G: Enabling Rapid 5G System Development

13 Feb

As we look to 2020 for widespread 5G deployment, it is likely that most OEMs will sell production equipment based on FPGAs.

5G round-up: Everything you need to know

30 Jan

Universities, governments and telecoms companies are investing stupendous amounts of time and money into the development of 5G, but what is it and how will it benefit us over and above what both 3G and 4G networks are currently able to deliver? How will it change the mobile industry and when can we expect to start using it?

The past: the birth of mobile internet

5G is purported to deliver data speeds that are literally thousands of times faster than 4G

What is 5G?

Unsurprisingly, it’s the next generation after 4G

5G is the next generation of mobile technology. A new generation of mobile standards has appeared roughly every 10 years since analogue systems – which later became known as 1G – were introduced in 1981.

2G was the first to use digital radio signals and introduced data services, including SMS text messages; 3G brought us mobile internet access and video calls; 4G, which has been rolled out in the UK since 2012, provides faster and more reliable mobile broadband internet access.

It will use higher frequency spectrum than current networks

5G, like its predecessors, is a wireless technology that will use specific radio wavelengths, or spectrum. Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, has become involved early in its development and has asked mobile operators to help lay the foundations for the technology. That’s because in order to achieve the best possible speeds, it will need large swathes of this high-frequency spectrum, some of which is already being used by other applications, including the military.

The frequencies in question are above 6GHz – currently used for satellite broadcasting, weather monitoring and scientific research.

What will I be able to do on 5G?

Download a film in under a minute

Fifth generation networks will feature improved web browsing speeds as well as faster download and upload speeds. O2 told that 5G will offer “higher speed data communication” than 4G, allowing users to “download a film in under a minute, add lower latency (the time lag between an action and a response) and reduce buffering and add more capacity”.

According to Ericsson, 5G will help to create more reliable and simpler networks that will open up a world of practical uses such as the remote control of excavating equipment or even remote surgery using a robot.

Vice president Magnus Furustam, head of product area cloud systems, speaking to at the Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam, said: “What 5G will bring is even more reliable networks, better latency, you will see networks penetrating into areas they previously haven’t.

“You will see smaller cells [network transmitters or masts], you will see higher bandwidth, you will see more frequencies being used, you will basically see mobile broadband networks reaching further out, both from a coverage perspective as well as from a device perspective.”

5G will give the impression of infinite capacity

Speaking to at the International Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, Ramneek Bali, a technical solutions manager for Ericsson, said 5G “is going to enable the networked society.

“When we say networked society, basically you’ve heard of the internet of things, connected devices, connected cars, even high throughput – 5G is going to enable all that.”

The University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC), meanwhile, which is working alongside companies including Huawei, Vodafone and Fujitsu, has set the 5G network a target of ‘always having sufficient rate to give the user the impression of infinite capacity’ by understanding the demands of the user and allocating resources where they are needed.

The past: the birth of mobile internet

5G will deliver the low latency and reliability needed for operations to be carried out remotely using robotic arms

How fast will 5G be?

5G will be 3,333 times faster than 4G

5G is expected to deliver data speeds of between 10 and 50Gbps, compared to the average 4G download speed which is currently 15Mbps.

Huawei’s report ‘5G: A Technology Vision’ says a 5G network will be required to deliver data rates of at least 1Gbps to support ultra HD video and virtual reality applications, and 10Gbps data rates for mobile cloud services.

5G will have ‘near-zero’ latency

Latency will be so low – less than one millisecond – that it will be imperceptible to humans and the switching time between different radio access technologies (cellular networks, wi-fi and so on) will take a maximum of 10 milliseconds.

Ericsson has trialled 5G technology with Japanese carrier NTT Docomo, announcing that its “pre-standard” technology had already achieved speeds of 5Gbps. Samsung announced in October 2014 it had achieved speeds of 7.5Gbps, the fastest-ever 5G data transmission rate in a stationary environment. It also achieved a stable connection at 1.2Gbps in a vehicle travelling at over 100km/h.

When will I be able to get 5G?

The first 5G handsets could arrive as early as 2017

Speaking exclusively to, Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment maker, said that the first 5G smartphones are set to appear in 2017.

The Chinese telecoms giant said the focus for mobile companies would shift away from 4G over the next two years.

“4G LTE is definitely a big thing for us and we’re working with some of the big adopters for 5G as well,” said Huawei Device USA’s training manager Jack Borg, talking to at International CES.

5G on the horizon

“Carriers are taking the current 4G we have and they’re giving it some boost and they’re adding to it and changing it. Liberty Global, Verizon and AT&T have all done that recently in different markets in the US.

“So I think we’re going to see that and ride that for a while but then 5G will definitely be on the horizon. I would say probably in the next year-and-a-half to two years.”

Huawei plans to build a 5G mobile network for the FIFA World Cup in 2018 alongside Russian mobile operator Megafon. The trials will run across the 11 cities that will be hosting matches and will serve fans as well as providing a platform for devices to connect to each other.

SK Telecom has teamed up with Nokia to build a 5G test bed at its R&D centre in Bundang, South Korea. They hope to launch a 5G network in 2018 and commercialise it by 2020.

The past: the birth of mobile internet

The first 5G smartphones could arrive as early as 2017

50 billion devices connected to 5G by 2020

Speaking to, Ericsson has said that by 2020, 5G networks are going to be serving 50 billion connected devices around the world.

“The technology has to handle a thousand times more volume than what we have today,” Ramneek Bali said.

“We are looking at handling more capacity in 5G because we’re seeing more and more devices will be connected.

“It’s exciting, it’s a platform we are going to provide to everyone to basically connect everything, anywhere. That’s the vision we have for 5G.”

Will 5G come to the UK before other countries?

The general consensus seems to be that the UK is still a few years away from introducing 5G networks to any greater extent than an initially testing/prototypical one.

O2 told that “some countries have earlier demands and industrial policies that may lead to earlier adoption of 5G”, even though the UK is playing a leading role in the development of the technology, including at the University of Surrey’s 5GIC.

5G test network

The innovation centre is expected to provide a 5G test network to the university campus by the beginning of 2018, and London mayor Boris Johnson has promised to bring 5G connectivity to the capital by 2020.

Will 5G replace 3G and 4G?

5G promises a seamless network experience undeliverable by current tech

It has taken a number of years for 3G networks to get anywhere near to 100% coverage and the UK’s 4G coverage varies considerably depending on the operator, but is generally limited to the big cities.

Bruce Girdlestone, senior businesses development manager at Virgin Media Business, told that 5G is one of a number of technologies that together should be able to provide a “seamless” experience to consumers.

“I think what will happen is small cells, 4G and 5G, and wi-fi will improve and it will become much more seamless to the end user.

The past: the birth of mobile internet

Mobile phones will roam seamlessly between wi-fi and cellular services

Customers won’t know what service they are using

“So they will just consume data over the spectrum and they won’t even know whether it’s over wi-fi or cellular services.

“With that and with 4G and then ultimately 5G from like 2020 going forwards you’ll start to see much more seamless service and much more data being consumed which will then need to be ported on our fibre network.

“It’s going to be a very interesting three or four years as we see how these different technologies develop and overlap with each other as people start to roll these networks out.”


The development of 5G is at such an early stage that the standards by which it is measured are yet to be agreed. What we do know is that it will be fast. Very fast. So fast that many will ask why you would ever need such a fast data speed on a mobile network. They could be missing the point slightly.

The continued rollout of 4G should cater for most of our current mobile broadband needs. But as we’ve seen with other advances in technology, having the ability to do more increases our expectations and before we know it, things that once seemed like science fiction become ‘the norm’. As our expectations increase we put more strain on the networks underpinning this technology.

We can’t predict what demands we will be placing on mobile networks in 10 or 20 years’ time but the idea behind 5G is that it will be fast enough and reliable enough to cope with whatever we can throw at it, that it will feel like a network with infinite capacity – that is why the 5GIC has been given millions of pounds of public money to research it and why companies like Ericsson and Huawei are investing huge sums in the technology.

The first 5G networks should start appearing over the next few years and if they really do deliver a user experience that is effectively limitless, we may find ourselves asking if there will be a need for 6G.


Laying the foundations for 5G mobile

23 Jan

5g mobile hologram

So-called ‘5G’ mobile communications will use a very high frequency part of the spectrum above 6 GHz. This could support a variety of new uses including holographic projections and 3D medical imaging, with the potential to support very high demand users in busy areas, such as city centres. 5G mobile is expected to deliver extremely fast data speeds – perhaps 10 to 50 Gbit/s – compared with today’s average 4G download speed of 15 Mbit/s. 5G services are likely to use large blocks of spectrum to achieve these speeds, which are difficult to find at lower frequencies.

The timeframe for the launch of 5G services is uncertain, although commercial applications could emerge by 2020, subject to research and development and international agreements for aligning frequency bands. Ofcom says it is important to do the groundwork now, to understand how these frequencies might be used to serve citizens and consumers in the future. The regulator is therefore asking industry to help plan for the spectrum and bandwidth requirements of 5G.

The spectrum above 6 GHz currently supports various uses – from scientific research, to satellite broadcasting and weather monitoring. One of Ofcom’s core roles is to manage the limited supply of spectrum, taking into account the current and future demands to allow these different services to exist alongside each other.


1g 2g 3g 4g 5g mobile technology timeline


Steve Unger, Ofcom’s Acting Chief Executive: “We want the UK to be a leader in the next generation of wireless communications. Working with industry, we want to lay the foundations for the UK’s next generation of wireless communications.

“5G must deliver a further step change in the capacity of wireless networks – over and above that currently being delivered by 4G. No network has infinite capacity, but we need to move closer to the ideal of there always being sufficient capacity to meet consumers’ needs.”

Philip Marnick, Ofcom Spectrum Group Director, comments: “We want to explore how high frequency spectrum could potentially offer significant capacity for extremely fast 5G mobile data. This could pave the way for innovative new mobile services for UK consumers and businesses.”

These innovations, according to Ofcom, might include real-time holographic technologies, allowing relatives to virtually attend family gatherings. Or they could enable specialist surgeons to oversee hospital operations while located on the other side of the world, using 3D medical imaging.

Ofcom is seeking views on the use of spectrum above 6 GHz that might be suitable for future mobile communication services. The closing date for responses is 27th February 2015.



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