Outlook 2020 - This year is when 5G begins to deliver on its promises, so what can we expect?

4 mins read

2019 was the year when 5G began to deliver on some of its promises. Services are already available in some cities in the USA and another 80 operators in 46 countries plan to launch 5G between now and 2022.

5G promises to transform our personal and business lives and 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? In 2015 as it became apparent that existing wireless cellular networks would not be able to meet the exponential growth in bandwidth demands, the International Telecommunications Union, (ITU), released the specification for next generation of mobile communications networks – 5G.

The 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, (c.f. 30 – 50 mSec for 4G) and connection densities of 1000 devices per square kilometre, (100 times more than 4G).

Since the release 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.

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 and 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, 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: 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 offers significant opportunities for network operators but 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.

The adoption of these strategies will enable early revenue generation, whilst delaying construction of the denser networks required by the higher-band services.

Many operators have indicated 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.

Hot applications
Latent demand for 5G’s capabilities is building within applications across a wide range of sectors. In the automotive sector, the viability of the new C-V2X (cellular vehicle to everything), connecting everything on the roads, including vehicles, traffic lights, gantries, lampposts, etc will depend on the speeds and latencies of 5G.

In the industrial sector, existing hard-wired networks are unable to support the needs of the smart, Industry 4.0 factory, 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.

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 any 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, whilst 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 need solutions for quick and flexible access to equipment without the need for large capital investment. Equipment rental is an ideal, always ensuring access to the latest equipment.

As a global 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 and Schwarz. By investing heavily in their test equipment inventory for 5G they ensure their customers have access to all the 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 an exceptional level of support. While equipment rental, and their other flexible solutions, help to keep within budget.

5G is being 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 still 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.

Author details:

Sam Darwish, UK & I Sales Manager, Microlease