5G: the next big driver of change
01 September 2019
2019 is the year 5G finally begins to deliver on its promises. Services are already available in some US cities, and another 80 operators in 46 countries plan to launch 5G services between now & 2022. In the UK, all current mobile network operators have announced they will roll out 5G networks this year.
This article was originally featured as the cover story in the September 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.
South Korea, China and Japan are all planning service launches in 2019, and most European operators expect to be live with 5G by 2020, when at least 37 networks are currently scheduled to be turned on.
Here, Sam Darwish, Telecoms Sales Manager at T&M equipment rental & leasing specialist, Microlease explains why 5G will be the next big driver of change – and how Microlease can offer vital flexibility to both mobile network operators & 5G equipment manufacturers as they address the emerging next mobile standard.
5G promises to transform our personal and business lives, enabling a wide range of applications including augmented reality (AR), smart cities and autonomous vehicles, as well as supporting the connection of billions of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and devices. The step-change in network performance levels that will be delivered by 5G promises to unlock currently unforeseen use cases and applications that will have a fundamental impact on the global economy.
But what is 5G, why will it bring so much change to our lives and when can we expect to see these changes arrive? Let’s take a look...
5G – Why, what and when?
In 2015, as it became apparent that existing wireless cellular networks would not be able to meet the exponential growth in bandwidth demands forecast by many analysts, the International Telecommunications Union, (ITU), released the specification for next generation of mobile communications networks – 5G.
The demanding requirements defined in IMT2020 include peak data rates of up to 20 GB/s (10 to 20 times faster than 4G rates), ultra-low latencies of 1 mSec, (30 – 50 mSec for 4G) and connection densities of 1000 devices per square kilometre (100 times more than 4G).
Since 2015, 3GPP, the global standards body, has been working on the standards for 5G, releasing them in phases, enabling a transition path from 4G/LTE to 5G. This work is due to complete by the end of 2019, with Release 16, in time to meet the ITU’s 2020 deadline.
Unlike the previous evolutionary steps between network generations, 5G represents a revolution in wireless network design, employing a range of innovative technologies to deliver the performance levels required by
Radio spectrum usage
5G is designed to support application requirements ranging from low-power, low data-rate to high-bandwidth with real-time response. To do so, 5G networks will use a wide range of spectrum, from 1 GHz, all the way up to 30 GHz and above – the mmWave frequencies which will enable the high data rates and low latencies. The 5G NR (New Radio) interface transmits using orthogonal frequency division multiplexing, (OFDM), which uses radio spectrum extremely efficiently.
Beamforming & MU-MIMO
With beamforming, the signal transmitted from the 5G base station is directed towards an individual end-user mobile device, allowing transmission power to be optimised against interference with nearby mobile devices.
Multi-User-MIMO (MU-MIMO) uses a large number – up to 64 – of antennas in the base station to communicate with multiple devices concurrently and independently.
Using beamforming and MU-MIMO together (see Figure 1), 5G is able support an order of magnitude (>1000) more connected devices than 4G, transmitting high-speed, low-latency data to many more users.
Network slicing creates multiple virtual networks on top of a common physical infrastructure by using software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) techniques. The resultant virtual networks can be customised to meet the specific needs of applications, services, devices, customers or operators.
5G undoubtedly offers significant opportunities for network operators but, at the same time, they must balance the required investments against existing cash-flows. 3GPP’s 5G release schedule recognises this and supports a seamless transition by prioritising the development of 5G non-stand-alone (NSA) specifications. 5G NSA enables operators to leverage existing investments in 4G/LTE networks, offering low-to mid-band 5G services. Operators can also minimise their up-front investments by re-using spectrum freed up by obsolete 2G/3G services and upgrading existing infrastructure with massive MIMO. Adoption of these strategies enables early revenue generation, while delaying construction of the denser networks required by the higher-band services.
Indeed, the roll-out plans of many operators in China, Japan and Europe indicate that this is a popular approach, with the initial 5G plans of companies such as Japan’s KDDI and Softbank, as well as EE and Vodafone in the UK, based on spectrum in the 3.5 – 4.5 GHz bands.
Latent demand for 5G’s capabilities is building within applications across a wide range of sectors. Figure 2 shows how the requirements of various applications map to the three broad use cases defined in the ITU’s IMT2020 specification.
In the automotive sector, for example, the viability of the new C-V2X (cellular vehicle to everything), connecting everything on the roads, including vehicles, traffic lights, gantries, lamp posts, and so on, will depend on the speeds and latencies of 5G. In the industrial sector, existing hard-wired networks are unable to support the needs of smart Industry 4.0 factories, where flexible, modular and versatile production techniques are based on a combination of automated systems and human expertise. The latencies of current wireless cellular networks are unsuitable for many factory processes, which must react in real-time, therefore 5G promises to enable a new generation of smart factory applications.
From their initial base on the factory production line, robotic applications are being developed across a wide range of verticals, including healthcare, logistics, guidance, security and surveillance, education and entertainment. In tandem, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are further increasing the capabilities of robots. However, to be cost effective, the compute-intensive ‘heavy lifting’ needs to be offloaded from the robot itself, driving the emergence of cloud robotics. 5G promises to remove the network performance barrier which has thus far inhibited the growth of cloud robotics, which requires that video capture, video coding, network transmission, cloud decoding and visual AI be achieved within a delay of 100 mSec.
In other sectors, such as smart cities and smart buildings, IoT sensors are used in applications including surveillance systems, access systems, fire detection, smart lighting and many more. Many of these sensors are required to operate remotely on battery power, or even harvested energy, and therefore require low-power network protocols. Also, since these applications may integrate a vast number of sensors within a small geographic area, the high connection density of 5G is essential to their performance.
5G and Microlease
A whole new ecosystem is emerging to support the deployment of 5G networks, and operators will be challenged to roll-out quickly, while not compromising on quality and effective testing.
The complex waveforms and wide bandwidths of 5G networks bring new test challenges for 5G signal generation and analysis. To capture market opportunity 5G innovators will need solutions for quick and flexible access to equipment, without the need for large capital investment. Equipment rental is ideal, always ensuring access to the latest equipment.
As a global market leader in electronic test and measurement equipment, and now part of the Electro Rent Corporation, Microlease is well placed to support 5G development with a range of solutions from leading manufacturers, such as Keysight and Rhode & Schwarz. By investing heavily in their test equipment inventory for 5G, Microlease is ensuring customers have access to all the test equipment they need, from R&D to installation and commissioning.
As part of the Electro Rent Corporation, with a portfolio of tens of thousands of items of test equipment and a team of 400 specialists across the globe, Microlease offers exceptional levels of support. Meanwhile, equipment rental, leasing and other flexible solutions help customers keep within budget.
5G is here and taking off, driven by latent demand from a wide range of applications across almost all sectors of industry and business. Although initial service deployments are happening now, much development work lies ahead to enable the full capabilities of the IMT2020 specification. The 5G NR interface is at the heart of 5G and employs innovative radio frequency (RF) techniques to power 5G’s capabilities over a wide frequency spectrum. Ongoing 5G research and development activities will require flexible and up-to-date test solutions, and Microlease is well-placed to be a partner to designers and developers in the 5G ecosystem.
For more info, read Microlease’s 5G white paper at: https://goemail.microlease.com/5G-WP
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