It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that the Olympics has been dominating the airwaves. Usain Bolt won his ninth gold, Michael Phelps his 24th, Simone Biles was amazing and Ryan Lochte disappointing for all the wrong reasons.
But, more importantly, with the closing ceremony now finished in Rio, the handover to the 2020 host, Tokyo, has happened and with it the four-year countdown gets underway.
This is one of the key moments in the evolution of 5G, which will rely on millimetre wave technologies to deliver great throughputs over cellular networks.
Like the last Japanese Olympics, held in 1964, this event promises to be a showcase of technology as well as sporting prowess. Then it was the bullet train and the overseas colour broadcasts via satellite (then a world first), now it’s self-driving cars, 5G networks and 8K broadcasts.
Back in 2013, when the city won the right to host the Games they made the promise – to have a cellular network 100 times faster than LTE.
And already Panasonic has announced it is launching “experimental demonstrations” at Narita, Japan’s biggest airport. For these demonstrations, Panasonic has set up WiGig networks in the airport. The announcement states that visitors will be able to “experience high-definition video download over a next-generation WLAN connection onto a dedicated terminal.”
Millimetre Wave: The Key to 5G
5G will use millimetre wave (mmWave) technologies (like WiGig) to transmit the data – using both licensed and unlicensed spectrum.
Indeed, there is a school of thought in several countries (including Japan), where WiGig is seen as a 5G light technology. And while the usage in Japan is slightly different to those in other countries, it was telling that just a couple of weeks before the Rio Games got underway, the US’s FCC voted unanimously to approve the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding and make spectrum bands above 24 GHz available for 5G.
In doing so, the regulator opened almost 11 GHz of high-frequency spectrum for mobile and fixed-use broadband – with 28 GHz (27.5-28.35 GHz), 37 GHz (37-38.6 GHz), and 39 GHz (38.6-40 GHz) bands being freed for licensed use and a new unlicensed band at 64- 71 GHz created (adding this to the existing WiGig band from 57-64 GHz to create 14 GHz of contiguous unlicensed spectra). This, in short, creates significant opportunities for those working in this sector.
As we said in our recent blog, this puts the US in a leading position in deploying 5G technologies and its UK counterpart, Ofcom, has also followed suit.
Rolling Out mmWave Frequencies for 5G
Using mmWave as the new radio modem, which is the big difference from 4G, should have three key phases.
In the short to medium term – i.e. over the next 2-3 years – we see the use of mmWave frequencies being used to deliver 5G infrastructure. The reason for this is that in order to get data to the customer, you first need to get data to the base station – and that means backhaul.
There are already several projects going on for this, some of which we’re working on to deliver backhaul and access. These projects will lead to technologies that can be deployed rapidly to enhance capacity, and in some cases direct services to customers.
Verizon, for example, is already talking about millimetre wave mesh technology and this is very similar to what we’re doing.
Self-optimization, through methods like open flow, will obviously play a pivotal role in managing these networks.
Beyond that, so in the medium to long term (3-5 years) we’ll see these mmWave technologies getting onto end-customer devices. WiGig, being the most established of the mmWave technologies, will happen first.
If you look to beyond 2020, you will see 28 GHz technology arrive in handsets. Samsung, for example, has spent a lot of time developing technology for this and will find its way into handsets in due course.
I think we’ll also see the wider unlicensed band being exploited for even more sophisticated user-style technologies. If you look at what is happening in the WiGig world, the next set of standards from the IEEE is the 802.11ay standard, which gives data rates in the tens and twenties of gigabits. We’ll also see 4k and 8k streaming technologies being deployed as well.
We’re tracking that with our baseband technology as .11ay begins to mature. Importantly, 11ad moving to 11ay in the same time that 5G becomes mature and begins to exploit mmWave technologies, means we’re likely to see a cross over here in user devices – probably around 2020.
The Data Rate Roadmap
As 28 GHz frequencies begin to be adopted by handsets, users will see a significant improvement in performance.
Using 28 GHz cellular connections will mean that 1Gbps is eminently achievable, and companies like Samsung have already delivered more than this. As you go up to the higher frequencies, WiGig R1 operates up to 4Gb. Wave 2 will go to 8Gb, which is where our baseband (using 64 QAM technology) delivers.
If we move to .11ay this doubles the bandwidth and capacity using MIMO, delivering in the region of 30Gbps.
To stream 4K video from services like Netflix, you can use compression technologies – H.264. Through this you can deliver 4K-like resolution on ultra HD TVs over a 50Mbps connection. H.265 allows you to deliver maximum quality (still compressed) video at 200Mbps.
The problem with compression, however, is latency. For video that’s not an issue, but it is for gaming. Typically, an H.265 decode stream can be 30-40ms, which is unsuitable for gaming. If you then look at uncompressed 4K video for gaming, then you get interesting bit rates – in the order of 10-20 Gbps transmission being needed. You also need a much lower error rate to cope, around four or five orders of magnitude lower. This creates more challenges for the radio and the baseband.
5G is the cohesive structure that will allow a huge range of wireless and wired technologies to integrate seamlessly with improved quality of service (speed, availability, latency) over what’s available today.
2016 is playing a key role in the evolution of the technology and as such, an updated WiGig certification is set to be published later next month, and take on board new developments such as 802.11ay.