Progress has been swift since the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance published its influential 5G whitepaper at Mobile World Congress 2015. Just recently, significant steps forward were announced in the US. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to open spectrum in the millimeter wave bands for 5G development, and the White House announced a new Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, of which CommScope is participating. As we reach these milestones, I’d like to reflect back on the progress made so far and what is yet to come.
In the 2015 NGMN white paper, the mobile operator community described a vision for 5G with three broad categories of use cases:
- Enhanced mobile broadband
- Massive Internet of Things (IoT)
- Low latency-high reliability applications
The paper described key performance requirements and took a view that the network architecture should be based on network function virtualization and software-defined networking (NFV/SDN) technologies and be dynamically reconfigurable to enable the rapid introduction of new services.
In September 2015, the 3GPP standards body committed to two phases for the initial standardization of 5G with Phase 1 to be targeted for completion by the middle of 2018. Phase 2 is anticipated to be completed by December 2019 and will be the formal mobile technology for the IMT 2020 submission. It will address all identified use cases and requirements for 5G.
More recently, the 3GPP has published the formal performance requirements and associated deployment scenarios to be used for the design of the 5G radio system technology. The work on studying and evaluating various technologies as building blocks for the New Radio (NR) is underway. In the last standards meeting, it was decided that for Phase 1, the NR will be capable of working with or without LTE and will support sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. The enhanced mobile broadband and low latency-high reliability use cases will be supported.
Progress has been made on 5G spectrum, too. The World Radiocommunication Council (WRC) met in November 2015 and set aside various global frequency bands for 5G such as 700 MHz and 3.5 GHz. The council has begun work on evaluating 11 mmWave frequency bands for harmonization at the next WRC meeting in 2019. The mmWave spectrum has been a priority in the US with several operators announcing imminent trials at 28 GHz. As mentioned, the FCC just opened up high-band, millimeter wave spectrum for next generation networks and technologies, making the US the first country to do so.
Some operators are deploying NFV/SDN technology in support of 4G networks; it is seen as a key to the end-to-end architecture of 5G. The virtualization of network functionality will also include part of the radio access network in addition to the core. To support the low latency use cases, technologies such as mobile edge computing are being developed and standardized. Work in the System Architecture group at the 3GPP on the next generation core network has begun, and the technical specification on requirements is due in March 2017.
A Look Ahead
In anticipation of the upcoming trials of 5G technology, test beds are being planned globally by governments, operators, universities and suppliers. Leading industry organizations continue to help marshal resources while painting the 5G vision and roadmap for getting there. CommScope is involved in a number of these groups, including:
- The U.S. Advanced Wireless Industry Consortium – Announced recently by the White House, this consortium includes more than 20 companies and organizations who will contribute resources for four city-scale 5G wireless research platforms. These platforms will provide opportunities for researchers to collaboratively shape and focus fundamental research in areas such as millimeter wave, dynamic spectrum, 5G architectures and white space. CommScope will contribute connectivity solutions such as antennas, RF cabling, cabinets, small cells, and fiber optics.
- 5GAmericas – CommScope is a long-time member of the Board of Governors of 5G Americas (formerly 4G Americas), the influential industry trade organization composed of leading telecommunications service providers and manufacturers.
Considering that all the activity I just described has happened in the last 1.5 years, it is amazing to see how far 5G development has come. There is more work to be done, as we start sorting out how to turn 5G ideas into real-world 5G networks. The bridge to 5G will include the evolution of LTE, which will be the workhorse of the wireless industry for many years to come. Indeed, 5G will only suceed in applications where it can offer significant advantages over LTE; however, there is an entire industry endeavoring to make that happen.