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Connect-World’s eLetter February 2015 25th February 2015
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5G – Mobile’s next stride 

Ten years from now, today’s best mobile technology will have run out of steam; the fourth generation, 4G, technology operators are now pushing to deploy to handle the current, astounding, growth of data-driven applications, will no longer be able to keep up with the demand for better, faster and cheaper mobile services. 

By 2020, 4G data services will be struggling to keep up with the growth of current data-intensive app usage. In addition to this burden, networks will have to handle the data generated by the roll-out of machine-to-machine data communications, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud-based systems and data, virtual reality apps, smart cities, automotive applications (including driverless cars), healthcare systems that monitor patients at their homes in real-time and a host of other yet to be invented  data intensive applications.

So, mobile hardware suppliers, software developers, the ITU and other stakeholders are all in a desperate race to define the technology, the standards and their plans for the launch of the next generation, the fifth generation – 5G – of mobile services.

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Each of the past mobile generations began to lose steam after ten years or so. The first generation rolled out in 1981, the second in 1991, the third generation was introduced in 2001 and 4G was standardised around 2012. There was a number of ‘halfway’, compromise, solutions marketed between each generation that offered somewhat better performance.

It will not be easy. It will still take several years for the ITU’s working group to define the standards for 5G.  The ITU-R working group is currently developing an updated version of the IMT – International Mobile Telecommunication – system that will incorporates the much more robust requirements of 5G.  

The ITU-R’s ‘Working Party 5D’ group is now working on two reports for June of this year. The first report will deal with the long-term structural vision and objectives for the development of 5G for deployment in the decade 2020. The second report due in June will cover the technical feasibility of IMT in the 6 GHz frequency band. 

Within two years of these reports (2016-2017), the Working Party will issue another report detailing 5G performance requirements and the methodology and rating criteria for the new IMT radio interface at the core of the 5G specifications and issue a call for the delivery of technical proposals in 2018.  

The ITU expects the Working Party will complete their draft of their 5G recommendations by 2020. It will be a tough job; the recommendations provide detailed specifications for the radio interfaces at the heart of the system. This is more than a strictly technical question – in addition to traffic and radio spectrum related questions, they will need to look into user needs – the market and applications that 5G will have to support or at least be compatible with.

The 5G spec will certainly be a lot faster, need larger channel bandwidths and new, possibly ‘millimetre’ band (20-60 GHz), spectrum but many industry analysts are wondering where the larger bandwidth channels needed for 1 to 10 GHz transmission velocity will come from. In addition to the expected bit-rate upgrade, it will have to support a greater number of simultaneous connections, offer much lower latencies and make use of the available spectrum much more efficiently. Just to make the challenge more interesting, it all has to be more reliable, cheaper to buy, rollout, manage and maintain than anything we can manage today. I almost forgot; 5G has to be easier on batteries as well.

Given 5G’s need for high performance and the propagation characteristics of the spectrum 5G is likely to occupy, tomorrow’s networks will have to provide a level of throughput well above any in use today. Software Defined Networks, SDN, will no doubt play a role and other technologies such as, perhaps, Demand Attentive Network (DAN), Dynamic Spectrum Access, and heterogeneous – merged fibre and wireless technologies – as well.

A tall order, but 5G will need to provide a gargantuan increase in capacity to deal with the stupendous volume of data expected by 2020 and beyond. Older technologies – HSPA, LTE, etc. – will remain in use for some time and will continue to handle a good part of the traffic until 5G is fully deployed, so these legacy networks will have to be seamlessly integrated with 5G.

New ways to meet the demand for additional capacity include:

•dense deployment of fibre-connected wireless pico-cells and femto-cells to enhance mobile capacity, 

•devoting new spectrum, quite likely in the region of 20-60GHz where wide bandwidths capable to handle very high data rates are available; and

• improving spectral efficiency by using  multi-antenna technology, spectrum sharing and sophisticated enhancements of MIMO (multiple input multiple output) antenna performance

Many industry experts feel that the overwhelming growth of network complexity brought by 5G will only be manageable by software-driven autonomous network controls that dynamically monitor and reconfigure not only network traffic, but network energy usage as well. 

Fifth generation mobile networks will also call for new wired, core, network designs with much greater capacity and flexibility. Dynamic, software-driven, core networks will deal more efficiently with constantly shifting traffic flows on a moment-by-moment basis; they will also facilitate the introduction of new features, new solutions, virtual devices and additional physical capacity. 

 

There are years of work ahead for the ITU working group, hardware, software and content providers – indeed, the entire mobile industry stakeholder universe, so despite the 2020 timeframe publicised by the ITU, I would not expect the 5G revolution to consolidate on a wide scale much earlier than 2025.

 

Fred Morris

Fred Morris
Editor-in-Chief
Connect-World Magazines
United Kingdom
Email: editor@connect-world.com
Web: www.connect-world.com
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