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Outlook 2019 - On the cusp of the 5G revolution

Neil Tyler

Talk to analysts, academics, industry bodies and those in the commercial space, and 2019 looks set to see the arrival of 5G. But whether the commercial roll outs planned for next year prove successful, or not, it is now possible to see 5G becoming a reality. And, as such, it brings with it enormous commercial implications and opportunities.

The first 5G New Radio (NR) specifications were approved earlier this year and a number of countries have started the process of allocating spectrum – in April this year the UK’s biggest operators spent £1.4billion to secure spectrum to launch next generation 5G services.

For operators, 5G is seen as becoming an economic and financial necessity, especially as a growing number of countries look to roll out 5G services over the coming decade.

So, with the appetite for the connectivity, bandwidth and advanced high-speed and low latency networks growing rapidly, the race to start delivering next generation 5G services has started in earnest.

5G will deliver communications systems which will be fast - up to 100 times faster than 4G and 10 times faster than the average broadband connection. At the same time, they will be supporting the next wave of technological innovation.

The first 5G phones are expected to appear in 2019 with Samsung and Apple expected to lead the way – Apple engineers are said to be ‘engaging’ with Intel as they look at adding 5G capabilities into a future iPhone – and new 5G-enabled models are likely to start appearing at next year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Recent months have certainly seen increased activity on the device side and there have been significant new developments around the issue of interoperability, which will be crucial if phones and 5G enabled technology are to operate with different infrastructure network platforms.

The finalising of the 5G new radio (NR) standard has been crucial in establishing an interoperability framework.

When it comes to the technological requirements, 5G will use different kinds of antennas, operate on different radio spectrum frequencies, connect many more devices to the internet and deliver ultra-fast speeds, so these latest standard specifications will present some significant challenges for the designers of 5G systems.

Because 5G uses higher frequencies it will introduce new complexity that will require different baseband algorithms and radio architectures.

While developments are ongoing real devices can actually be found in factories and are being tested – in fact numerous trials are already underway around the world to test 5G.

One important issue that rollout brings is where about on the spectrum 5G will sit.

While 4G occupies 5MHz to 20MHz when it comes to Korea, the US and Japan the optimum frequency to support 5G is thought to be 28GHz; in Europe it’s seen as between 24GHz and 27GHz.

As a result, companies will need to incorporate the entire range into their new chipsets so that 5G is able to work in different countries.

Another issue is the cost of deploying 5G. Because of the higher frequencies required to support 5G, signals will not be able to travel as far which will mean that more antennas will be required, which will raise the cost of implementation as the network is rolled out.

Despite the technological challenges associated with 5G, it is expected to account for as many as 1.4billion connections by 2025 according to the GSM Association which suggests that 5G networks are likely to cover one-third of the world’s population by then.

Analysts suggest that 5G’s economic potential could be enormous and that infrastructure spending on 5G might exceed $326billion by 2025.

That investment is expected to concentrate on: data centres; edge computing; network transformation and 5G network protocols and modems. Data centre component suppliers, those who are involved in helping companies upgrade their networks and modem and IP suppliers are expected to benefit significantly from the move to 5G.

As 5G is rolled out both end-user devices and base stations will need to be able to manage multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) and beam-steering technologies which will have an impact in that they will require more channels and expanded demand for bulk acoustic wave (BAW) filters, antennae, power management and other devices.

The absorption of high-frequency 5G signals will require the transmission beam to be electronically "steered" if losses are to be reduced and the transmission efficiency of the system optimised.

The issue of power management is crucial and these systems are expected to employ more sophisticated envelope-tracking technologies.

With the roll-out of 5G and the increased speeds that it is expected to bring, envelope-tracking technologies are likely to shift from employing laterally diffused metal oxide semiconductor (LDMOS) and gallium arsenide (GaAs) to gallium nitride (GaN) to better manage the need for higher power and higher switching speeds.

In order for 5G to succeed, however, it will rely on new semiconductor technologies to support ground-breaking innovations and while the technical challenges facing 5G shouldn’t be downplayed there are plenty of researchers and technologist working to solve those challenges.

Recently, a UK 5G testbed was launched in Brighton to showcase some of the region’s latest innovation and immersive technology companies.

Driven by the UK’s Digital Catapult, it’s hoped that the new 5G testbed will allow local small businesses to benefit from 5G mobile wireless communications as well as provide a space to test and explore the potential applications of 5G.

The facility looks to provide an environment where start-ups and scaleups will be able to access "the most advanced digital technology solutions", including an Immersive Lab, designed to help these businesses grow faster.

As 5G testbeds appear, so more companies will be able to experiment with new applications and services which take advantage of the unique nature of 5G and this has to be seen as a major step forward.

The wider roll out of this advanced technology and will help to take the technology out of university laboratories and into the market.

5G represents so much more than just providing a faster connection to the internet, it’s the first mobile technology that will enable free standing setup in individual locations, offer new companies the opportunity to control their own networks, and enable operators to manage computing at the edge as a new business model for the future.

Many of the articles in this year’s edition of Outlook look at the technology underpinning applications that will deliver enhanced services and process the massive amounts of data generated by the advent of the Internet of Things.

All of these developments will put pressure on communications infrastructure, but with the arrival of 5G many of the issues may well be solved.

The speed of evolution in the electronics industry continues to accelerate and we hope that Outlook 2019 will inform and guide you in terms of the choices and decisions you make.

Author
Neil Tyler

Related Downloads
206314/P006_NESP_OUT19.pdf

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