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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jabailo 6/29/2014 | 5:21:14 PM
Re: LTE2 I was having some issues with my Sprint-Clear Wimax service two weeks ago.  I did all the home tests myself (restarting the modem, virus scan) and concluded that there was something amiss with their tower.   Over a series of chats and phone calls...yes, they said it was their tower, and reset it.  Perfect works great now.

But while I had their attention, I asked, "so...I hear that these towers will be decommissioned in 2015".   "2015?" the tech said...no...there's no such plans for that. 


thebulk 6/29/2014 | 1:52:02 PM
Re: LTE2 @Joe, I wish I had 4G here in Thailand, Other then one strip of downtown Bangkok the whole country is 3G, if you want to call it that.... 
thebulk 6/29/2014 | 1:51:03 PM
Re: the size will go down I am not sure if the size will actually go down, but they might find ways to intergrate the them into other structers 
Joe Stanganelli 6/28/2014 | 9:22:41 AM
Re: LTE2 Indeed, look how long it's taken 4G users to actually realize real 4G speeds!  (And even in some parts of the country/world, there remain issues.)
chuckj 6/28/2014 | 8:46:20 AM
Re: LTE2 LTE means we ain't going to upgrade our base stations until traffic gets so large that people start complaining. SDN means we ain't gong to upgrade our hardware but if you pay more you can have more bandwidth in the next half an hour.
R Clark 6/28/2014 | 4:55:40 AM
Re: Wings beneath my wind It does seem a reasonable bet that multiple MIMO antennas will become part of the standard.  This AlcaLu spin on it is unusual in that they've thought of something that might specifically emerge, rather than suggest that 5G will mean faster, smarter, better in some marvellous yet still incomprehensible ways.

The whopping great antenna is something more for densely-populated Asian cities than North America or Europe. In China people are worried that the air and food might kill them, so EMF seems almost benign.

China Mobile has done a mock-up of an antenna embedded in building logo, like so: http://www.electricspeech.com/journal/2014/6/16/5g-antennas-will-be-massive.html


AJ Allred 6/28/2014 | 12:39:20 AM
Re: Wings beneath my wind The elephant in the room is - -> customers pounding for wireless service and then going to NIMBY meetings.  We Americans are too expensive for our phones.  

We shouldn't love our phones and hate the cell tower. No wonder Korea is ahead.
nasimson 6/27/2014 | 11:47:21 PM
the size will go down This is the start.

I believe as technology matures & we see more and more implementations, antenna size will go down ultimately.

I think its a matter of research & time. And given the history of telecoms, both will happen sooner than later!
smkinoshita 6/27/2014 | 9:54:50 PM
Re: Wings beneath my wind @DanJones:  It sounds like a case of NIMBY, but the mention of hiding it behind billboards is interesting.  Perhaps instead of the marketing community or the tech community, perhaps what 5G needs to do is get in contact with artists to figure out creative ways to handle the antennas.  I've seen some pretty intersting illusions done with paint, maybe something along those lines?  Or sculpting, as long as it doesn't interefere.
phxdude 6/27/2014 | 3:55:52 PM
Re: Product pitches rather than views Is there a sales pitch burried in your answer?

Totall agree on the first point regarding IPR. 
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