Preparing For 5G

The fifth generation of wireless communications technology is proceeding without established standards and a lack of global consensus on spectrum use.

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If you like 4G LTE, you’re going to love 5G.

The next-generation wireless communications technology will offer faster data transmission speeds and lower latency, providing the processing power to drive augmented-reality and virtual-reality applications for mobile devices and dedicated headsets.

There is a caveat, though. The world needs to develop a consensus on what the 5G spectrum will be and agree on international standards.

Telecommunications companies around the world and the Federal Communications Commission aren’t waiting for consensus and standards. Asian carriers in particular are hotly pursuing 5G tech ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. The FCC last month unanimously voted to set aside 10.85 GHz of spectrum above 24 GHz for 5G, satisfying the requests of AT&T, Verizon Communications, and T-Mobile US for regulatory clarity on proceeding with 5G testing.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said before the vote, “By becoming the first nation to identify high-band spectrum, the United States is ushering in the 5G era of high-capacity, high-speed, low-latency wireless networks.”

Large-scale commercial deployments of 5G are expected to begin in 2020. Reportsnreports.com estimates that more than $6 billion will be spent on 5G R&D and technology trials between 2015 and 2020. In its report, The 5G Wireless Ecosystem: 2016-2030 – Technologies, Applications, Verticals, Strategies & Forecasts, the research house forecasts 5G networks will will produce annual service revenue of almost $250 billion by 2025.

At the NIWeek 2016 conference last week in Austin, Texas, 5G was a hot topic of discussion. James Kimery, NI’s senior product marketing manager for RF & Communications, said 5G will improve capacity, data speeds, and latency, compared with 4G Long-Term Evolution wireless service. It will offer streaming rates of 10 gigabits per second for AR/VR, making use of software-defined radios, he noted. And Matt Ettus of Ettus Research, NI’s software-defined radio subsidiary, spoke about the proposed 5G standard known as very large multiple-input-multiple-output, or massive MIMO.

The program featured speakers from the U.K.’s University of Bristol, AT&T, Bell Labs, Facebook, and the FCC. Researchers at the University of Bristol and Sweden’s Lund University said 5G can increase spectral efficiency by 20 times compared with 4G, and transmit 20 times the data LTE networks can provide with the same amount of spectrum.

“We were able to prove the potential of massive MIMO as a candidate technology for 5G by setting world records in spectral efficiency,” said Andrew Nix, dean of engineering at the University of Bristol.

The subject of 5G has come up at virtually every vendor user group and industry conference this year, and the din is growing louder. At CDNLive this spring, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said there is still a huge gap between the level of data people want and what they are able to get.

“We need cars talking to each other and the cloud reliably,” said Mollenkopf. “It will be very difficult to enable new use cases without broad technology. That will be true in 5G, where you have multi-mode. It will enable a lot of industries to take advantage of mobile.”

Also at that conference, Sanjay Jha, GlobalFoundries CEO, predicted that “5G will be as disruptive to the data industry as data was to the wireless industry.”

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