As we march towards the dawn of a new wireless era, where connectivity and computing converge to enable a fully-connected and interactive world, working together to define global standards is critical. Standards will become the foundation for solving the growing data capacity challenge, producing new radio technologies for global use with economies of scale, and forging new partnerships and collaborations across disparate verticals and industries.
Billions of devices and sensors will be coming online in the next few years, placing unprecedented demands on wireless networks. And yet, the tried and true methods of addressing growing data needs are hitting their basic limits. If we think of spectrum as supporting a series of pipes that transfer data from Point A to Point B—the pipes we’ve traditionally used for wireless communications (sub-6 gigahertz, aka “the beachfront property”) have all been allocated or sold, and are nearing full capacity.
So how do we get more data between Point A and Point B? The first approach is to incent communications service providers to share those pipes using a standards-based approach referred to as Coordinated Spectrum Sharing (CSS). In the U.S, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently opened up 150 Megahertz of valuable spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band for CSS. CSS helps service providers address the scarcity issue, densify their networks, and extend their capacity to meet the coming demands of 5G, while minimizing the impact to incumbent providers.
The second approach is to put pipes into operation that already exist, but are currently underutilized for wireless communications due to their unique characteristics. For example, those in the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectral bands. Recently, the FCC allocated 3.85 GHz of licensed mmWave spectrum for 5G services, and an additional 7 GHz for unlicensed use, and that’s just in the United States. mmWave spectrum not only offers the benefit of delivering data rates in the tens of gigabytes per second, an essential attribute for many 5G services, but it is also widely available across many geographies.
Deploying high-bandwidth 5G services and solutions in mmWave, however, requires making some adjustments. The laws of physics for mmWave spectrum usage differ dramatically from those traditionally used for cellular operations. Therefore, standards-based technologies must be deployed to solve these challenges.
At MWC 2017’s Global 5G Test Summit, Intel and many other companies declared a joint commitment to promoting unified, global 5G standards and an end-to-end (E2E) 5G ecosystem through testing, trials, and cooperation. Together, industry stakeholders pledged to establish a singular 3GPP 5G specification by June 2018 for Release-15, and December 2019 for Release-16, that will enable seamless roaming, and economies of scale worldwide.
Shortly afterward, industry leaders also committed to a work plan to accelerate the specification for Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G New Radio (NR). This proposal will enable specific 5G use cases by 2019 – a full year in advance of when official Release-15 5G NR deployments are expected.
Of course, the development of these 5G NR standards, specifications, and technologies is another challenge the industry must work together to solve. With the advent of 5G, the very nature of how we define a device must and will fundamentally shift, and with it, the way we access and use the aforementioned data pipes.
Today’s mobile world was built for smartphones. In tomorrow’s world, everything will be mobile. A device will no longer be a terminal, but rather one of billions of nodes, communicating via an intelligent network that surrounds us. 5G NR will need to account not only for a device’s ability to connect through an expanded range of access technologies operating in different spectral ranges, but also its ability to communicate with a shifting mix of devices in a more systematic fashion, forming de facto networks on the go at the mobile edge. For example, autonomous vehicles (devices in and of themselves) will communicate directly with other vehicles (V2V), traffic lights, parking meters, and more, sharing and processing information in real time.
This simply cannot be achieved without the right standards and technologies in place. As part of the effort, Intel is using our 2nd Generation 5G Mobile Trial Platform as a tool to help evolve the standards, create specifications, prepare networks, and develop technologies that will accelerate the launch of interoperable 5G solutions and services.
Perhaps the most interesting challenge we must solve as an industry as we approach the launch of 5G will be the shifting nature of the wireless ecosystem itself. Once comprised mostly of telecommunications and technology service providers, and equipment manufacturers—5G will expand the wireless ecosystem to include new entrants from vertical markets, opening the floodgates of innovation to solve some of the world’s greatest problems. Many industries that once were standalone—wireless, automotive, health, industrial, and more—will now be tasked with working together to develop, test, and implement complex systems, each with unique requirements.
We must work together to implement best-practices and define standards that combine our collective expertise to produce life-and-market-changing technologies. It’s an exciting time to be a member of the wireless community, I look forward to these collaborations as we set in place the standards and plans. Let’s forge a new path forward, faster, together.
Asha Keddy is Vice President of the Communication and Devices Group and General Manager of Next Generation and Standards at Intel.