5G technology has promised to support high-speed mobile operations in the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum bands, thus allowing operators to raise their peak network speeds from around 100Mbit/s to above 1Gbit/s.
As previously noted by Mike Dano, Light Reading's editorial director for 5G and wireless, the problem is that transmissions in mmWave spectrum can't travel more than a few thousand feet, and often cannot penetrate glass or trees. Transmissions in traditional, low-band cellular spectrum bands, such as 800MHz or 1900MHz, can often travel miles and reach deep inside buildings.
Dano also noted that most industry observers nevertheless believe operations in mmWave spectrum will eventually find a place within a bigger 5G network. For example, mmWave 5G might never cover entire neighborhoods, but it might be widely available in destinations like restaurants or offices.
Indeed, enterprise networks, private 5G networks and fixed wireless access (FWA) appear to be regarded as among the primary use cases for mmWave. But propagation issues remain: since mmWave requires line-of-sight to operate, signals can easily be disrupted by obstacles both inside or outside the home or office. That kind of coverage will likely require new technologies that dramatically cut down the cost of mmWave deployments.
Going full circle
Step forward Nokia, which has just announced what it describes as a novel approach to make 5G mmWave fixed wireless access viable.
The Finnish vendor unveiled a technology called 360 High Gain, which it claims overcomes the inherent propagation challenge of mmWave by both amplifying available signals and "dynamically finding" the strongest connection.
Nokia further explained that the technology captures a 360 mmWave fingerprint of the indoor environment, picks up direct and reflected signals from any direction, and adapts to the changing environment, through advanced analytics. As things stand, Nokia said it has validated the 360 High Gain 5G mmWave FWA technology in its research labs, and technology trials are ongoing in various urban environments.
Volume deployments will start in 2023 and are expected to focus initially on operators with subscribers in dense urban environments where high speeds and high capacity is essential for market penetration, the vendor said.
Gabriel Brown, principal analyst at Heavy Reading (a sister publication of Light Reading), noted that fixed wireless service experience and economics are largely determined by the performance and cost of customer equipment. "Advanced CPE antenna technologies, such as this 360° field of view algorithm, can increase the link budget and extend mmWave coverage to larger numbers of indoor, self-install customers," Brown said.
Sandy Motley, president, fixed networks at Nokia said making indoor, self-installable mmWave FWA viable in an urban indoor environment is crucial for FWA growth. "The addition of mmWave to the 5G FWA market will deliver the five to ten times more capacity that is needed to support the ever more demanding subscribers and services," Motley said.
— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading