5G Will Give Operators Massive Headaches – Bell Labs

The Massive MIMO antennas expected to be at the heart of so-called 5G next-gen mobile networks will come with some major challenges because of their huge size, according to Tod Sizer, head of access technologies research at Bell Labs , part of the Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) empire. (See AlcaLu Breathes New Life Into Bell Labs and Prepare for a 5G Onslaught.)

He says operators will face a creative challenge in deploying 5G basestations in downtown areas.

"They're very flat, they're very large, and they'll never go on top of the big towers because there's too much wind blowing," Sizer said. "But you can hide them in the facades, say, right behind advertising billboards or on the side of walls or buildings."

Of course, even before they are deployed, there's no shortage of technical hurdles to be overcome to build antennas of that power and complexity.

No more than six MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antennas are deployed in a 4G basestation, but 5G MIMO will likely involve hundreds, Sizer predicts.

"If you want to make 100 antennas work together, you need to get the costs to the point and the size and the weight and the power to be low enough so it's economic to deploy. The challenges we have in the digital processing are as severe as the heat and size issues."

Sizer said Massive MIMO would be likely deployed only in high-density urban areas. He describes it as "a wonderful technology for Singapore," where most people live in a high-rise, but wouldn't be required for medium-density suburbs.

He said that whereas 4G was primarily about the radio, the big challenge for 5G would be to create a user- or application-aware network with a focus on end-to-end performance.

"We know what the application is, we know what the network is. How can the network adapt to that particular woman, with that particular application, in that particular place?"

As well as the obvious issues of bandwidth and latency, 5G would also have to provide "responsivity," which Sizer describes as the ability to create a session, complete the operation quickly, and shut it down.

"For an app like search, that's critical… if I can create a connection, use it and then shut down the connection, that allows me to use the network less. That has impacts on the capacity of the network; it also impacts battery life."

He says the industry will need to get creative to acquire the spectrum resources necessary for 5G, such as millimeter waves or the use of LTE unlicensed spectrum through carrier aggregation.

He also points to under-used 5GHz bands used for radar surveillance near airports. "We're working with the federal government and the FCC to share that spectrum. If you're not within 100 kilometers of an airport, why can't I use it? Or use it when the radar is pointed in other directions?" asks the Bell Labs man.

Keep up to date with 5G views and developments at Light Reading's dedicated 5G track.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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MikeP688 7/1/2014 | 12:40:50 AM
Re: LTE2 Excellent...the right spirit especially as we celebrate 4th of July :-)
jabailo 7/1/2014 | 12:26:41 AM
Re: LTE2 If it does happen, you will see me parading down Hollywood Boulevard in a red, green, and black liberation jumpsuit, that I have been saving...for just an occasion.

MikeP688 6/30/2014 | 11:27:00 PM
Re: LTE2 As I was reflecting upon this discourse, I remembered Gil Scott-Heron's Song, "The revolution will not be televised".    Here, we're continuing to see an evolution--and in that the Revolution is being "transmitted" even hourly!! :-) For me, the continued vibrancy of Bell Labs is gratifying to note.   This is despite the obvious technical challenges that is outlined.    How much is enough, though?   That I think is the bigger question here.  :-)
jabailo 6/30/2014 | 1:19:48 PM
Re: LTE2 You might think so, but it's not the case yet.

They definitely stopped selling the modem equipment -- hotspots and modems can only be purchased from leftover stock on Amazon and e-Bay.

I still don't know what it means when they say switch to LTE.   My use of Wimax was (is!) as my primary home Internet connection (I use it as I write this).   While there is Spark, it doesn't seem to have been rolled out to more than but a few areas in a few small cities.

There is no Sprint LTE equivalent of the always on, unlimited use, Clear Wimax style of home use.   So what comes next?   I'm not sure...

tb100 6/30/2014 | 1:08:58 PM
Re: LTE2 Maybe it was your wording--the tower may not be 'decommissioned', but it might be converted, to LTE. Isn't getting access to the Clearwire 2.6Gig band the reason Softbank bought Sprint and, by extention, Clearwire?

Hearing about WiMax is like hearing about some old actor you didn't realize was still alive. I think it has been a couple of years since they stopped selling WiMax phones, which means that everyone on contract should have switched by now.
nasimson 6/30/2014 | 11:46:01 AM
Re: LTE2 @Joe: as I see it, 4g and 5g are experiencing activities in altogether different spheres. Activity we are witnessing in 4g space is about roll out, optimization and expansion. There is more field work. On the other hand 5g is about lab work. It's in the sphere of standardisation, trials, and field tests. So talks about both make perfect sense as talks are in different spheres.
Joe Stanganelli 6/30/2014 | 1:11:45 AM
Re: the size will go down @kq4ym: IMHO, nothing that enough money from the right people/corporations can't buy if the private sector decides there's enough profit to be made there.

Yay, capitalism!
Joe Stanganelli 6/30/2014 | 1:10:31 AM
Re: LTE2 Everything is about 4G these days, and 4G/LTE tech is in such a big hurry with itself that it's tripping all over itself.  We simply don't have wide-enough adoption/accessibility/capability right now, and the technology just isn't there yet.

And now we're talking about 5G?  I mean, that's really cool and all, but maybe let's try to perfect what we have first.

But then, we still have a severe lack of Broadband adoption in many parts of the world (parts of the US included).
thebulk 6/29/2014 | 11:13:03 PM
Re: the size will go down @kq4ym, 

I agree its unlikely, but I am sure the industry lobby will do their best to "suggest" its bennifits. ;-)
kq4ym 6/29/2014 | 9:22:34 PM
Re: the size will go down It will be interesting to see how they install the huge arrays. Side of buildings, as suggested and behind billboards. Maybe they'll actually somehow make it a billboard? But, the idea of getting the 5Ghz from the FAA now used for radar seems a bit unlikely. The FAA is going to be real cautious because of the real safety issues involved in sharing that band.
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