The road to 5G is progressing rapidly, but prototyping is essential

September 21, 2015 //By Jean-Pierre Joosting
5G networks hold a lot of promise in providing 1 to 10 Gbps throughput anywhere with complete transparency at lower power requirements than today’s networks and handsets, while offering strict levels of latency for critical applications.

Such networks by nature will be software defined so that they can be configured on the fly to cater for changing demand dynamics and to allocate resources quickly where needed. Separation of the control and data planes is essential to achieve this aim as well as to lower costs through virtualisation and to implement strict latency requirements for critical applications. Further, network intelligence needs to be pushed out to the edge as well and protocols for more efficient local routing implemented, for example, enabling direct routing between handsets.

Researchers are working on multiple fronts and at the moment are jostling to get their ideas accepted into the standards. For example, at the recent NI Week in Austin Texas, Samsung demonstrated a commercially viable Full Dimensional (FD) MIMO for spectrum bands currently in use in an attempt to be first to market with 5G capabilities. FD MIMO increases the number of antennas in a basestation enabling more users to be supported with high data rates and reliability. Samsung achieved this by implementing 3D beam forming, which enables beam energy to be directed to specific users in 3D space, and is not limited to the 2D plane as in currently the case in 4G.

James Kimery, Director of Product Marketing for RF at NI says, “FD MIMO is a first step to Massive MIMO and will probably be incorporated into LTE by 3GPP.”

James contends that 3GPP, which was created to deliver world harmonisation, is where the debate and most of the standardisation of 5G will take place. He expects that Massive MIMO will be a key part of the 5G standard with the promise of delivering a ten-fold boost to throughput.

To be 5G or 4G, that is the question

It is expected that as progress is made towards systems that are fundamentally different in architecture to 4G, that these elements will form the basis of the 5G standard. When bodies such as 3GPP eventually sign off on 5G, there will be many blurred lines between 4G implementations and early 5G proposals, in much the way 3G stole some of 4G’s thunder.

However, the key here is that a fundamental rethink on the architecture of the network to the way antennas are implemented as well as spectrum that is used needs to take place. To get 10x and 100x increases in throughput require radical re-engineering of the way wireless networks are built is required. To ensure latency and throughput improvements in the sub-6 GHz part of the spectrum Massive MIMO at the moment holds the key and represents an architectural shift in antenna design.

Anite, recently acquired by Keysight, has joined the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey (“5GIC”), the largest UK academic research centre dedicated to the development of the next generation of mobile and wireless communications.

Professor Rahim Tafazolli Director of 5GIC and Institute of Communication Systems had this to say, “5G will intelligently understand the demands of users in real time, dynamically allocating network resources depending on whether the connected device needed voice or data connectivity.”

Rahim adds, “Anite’s contribution to our 5G research programme will enable the development and testing of future technologies in a real environment and in an end to end manner.”

At the heart of the 5GIC, which is backed by both the UK government and leading global industry players, is a state-of-the-art test-bed for trialling emerging 5G ideas, proving concepts, validating standards and vendor inter-operability testing.

James Goodwin at Anite expects the air interface of 5G to be different to 4G and unlikely before 2020, although some elements will end up in 4G.

James adds, “5G will include mmWave but it is expected to appear in later variants of 5G. This is new technology and there are cost challenges in handsets to be addressed, but more importantly a unified spectrum plan is required. The WRC meeting in 2019 is the first opportunity to discuss mmWave frequencies on a global basis.”

Earlier this year, Anite announced that the Anite-led task group within the METIS project finalised the first 5G radio channel models, which will help to accelerate the development of 5G radio access technologies and future mobile industry standards.


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