Google's 5G Radio Ambitions Are Expanding

Dan Jones
2/5/2016

Even if wireless from solar-powered space planes garner public attention, Google's interest in 5G radio technology actually extends well beyond "Moonshot" drone projects.

The company has recently posted jobs specifically looking for candidates with experience in millimeter wave (mmWave) radio among their skillsets. One of the jobs is for a network software engineer for the "Energy and Access" team, which is "responsible for defining and implementing projects that foster Google's broader goals of open, low-cost, fast and ubiquitous wired and wireless access to the Internet."

Separately, Google Fiber Inc. is advertising for an RF engineer. The winning candidate will help design microwave and mmWave circuits and systems at 5GHz to 100GHz, the ad says.


For more on 5G, visit the dedicated 5G section here on Light Reading.


So what is mmWave radio and why is Google interested?

Millimeter wave radio resides in the 30GHz to 300GHz bands, much higher frequencies than used in the cellular wireless systems deployed today. The benefits are that there is a lot of free spectrum up there -- 9GHz in the 60GHz band alone -- and high data speeds are possible at short ranges. To eke more range out of mmWave equipment, however, it needs to be twinned with the latest multiple antenna technology and can even then still struggle to attain good indoor coverage. (See 60GHz: A Frequency to Watch.)

Google has made no real secret of its interest in 5G either. In June 2014, it bought Alpental Technologies, a startup that was working with 60GHz radio at the time. The search giant has continued to add 5G-related staff since then. (See Google Buys Alpental for Potential 5G Future and Google Searching for 5G Wireless Engineer.)

The two mmWave jobs being advertised now fulfill two very different roles. The Google Fiber job suggests that the company might be looking at the feasibility of hybrid fiber and wireless systems, with super-high speed wireless links providing backhaul.

The Network Software Engineer might be more far-reaching since that team in Google is looking for creative ways to bring low-cost Internet to more people round the world. This may seem to be altruistic goal for Google, but it also makes plain business sense for the company: The more eyeballs on the Net, the more web adds it gets to serve up, helping to drive up revenue. (See Google's Internet Balloon Project Takes Flight.)

As Google has got deeper into wireless over the last years, it also makes sense, for a company with pockets as deep as Google's are, to be at the cutting edge of mobile development. 5G work gets Google new patents and a seat at the table with others developing the new standard. (See Spectrum 2025: Google's Pragmatic Road to 5G.)

Future radio technologies aren't the only point of new mobile interest for Google either. The company is also involved in promoting the use of 3.5GHz spectrum for wireless use in the US, and has its own mobile virtual carrier -- "Project Fi" -- now operational. (See 3.5GHz Startup Gets $22M for Small Cells and Google's WiFi-First Mobile Service 'Fi' Is Here.)

The Guardian also reports that Google has been experimenting with using 28GHz radio links for its solar drones, now called "SkyBender," which would connect to the ground from a low-earth orbit. Using 28GHz centimeter radio links in space will be an even more daunting challenge than using mmWave radio in terrestrial basestations, with the paper reporting that Google could use phased array antennas with directable beams. The research, however, could have other uses for Google, as 28GHz is expected to be an important band for land-based 5G networks.

At this stage it is impossible to quantify what Google's focus on 5G-related technologies will actually result in. So far, it has largely preferred to partner with existing carriers rather than go it alone with wide-range mobile networks. All the work on mmWave and 5G, however, does indicate that Google will have more influence on the birth of 5G than it ever could have had with the creation of 4G.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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DanJones
DanJones
2/10/2016 | 3:52:25 PM
Re: Science experiment? or real world?
I can ask both Google & the FCC, although Google hasn't been very talkative in the past.
kq4ym
kq4ym
2/10/2016 | 10:27:16 AM
Re: Science experiment? or real world?
I would guess the FCC is going to regulate the output and would think it wouldn't make differening requriement for terrestial vs. space radio waves. The advantage of putting the transmitter above the earth would be a direct line of sight to the receiver assuming a highly focused antenna on the transmitter side even at low power.
TV Monitor
TV Monitor
2/9/2016 | 11:21:50 AM
Re: Science experiment? or real world?
Dan Jones

I am thinking that the signal output regulation from stratosphere maybe different from that of terrestrial environments. In other word, the google drone flying 12 miles above ground maybe allowed to output its signal at a much higher strength than terrestrial basestations are allowed.
DanJones
DanJones
2/8/2016 | 5:45:41 PM
Re: Science experiment? or real world?
Reading the Guardian article, it doesn't say that Google has cracked the range problem with 28GHz, just that it is experimenting with phased antenna arrays.
TV Monitor
TV Monitor
2/8/2016 | 12:12:48 PM
Re: Science experiment? or real world?
As for Google's 28 Ghz 5G system, I too am interested in finding out how Google overcame the range problem; even with the clear line-of-sight, the distance from the drone to the under handheld terminal is at least 12 miles, and even Samsung with its military radar derived array antena managed to reach only 1.4 miles, and this is considered to be light-years better than competitor's mmwave efforts.
TV Monitor
TV Monitor
2/8/2016 | 11:42:49 AM
Re: 5G - 28GHz - fiber or wireless
petercf

"28GHz was removed from being a candidate 5G band at WRC-15"

Yes, but its adjacent band 24.5~27.5 Ghz was selected instead, meaning the equipment developed for 28 Ghz will be able to operate in that band. So no big deal from the equipment sourcing point of view.

"60GHz as well as 5GHz expansion being 2 frequencies where new developments are making an impact."

Both are license-free bands with a maximum output of 1 watt, meaning any cellular system deployed in such license-free bands would be limited in range reaching a few hundred meters and you would not get a continous coverage, unlike Samsung's 28 Ghz 5G system with a 2 km service radius per basestation.

The thing about Samsung's 5G system that makes it superior to all other competing rival mmwave systems is its exceptional range of 2 km, which none of Samsung's rivals have been able to replicate to date. The 60~70 Ghz system demonstrated by Nokia has a range of 90 meters and is strictly a stationary system, for example.

So 5 Ghz and 60 Ghz license-free bands are pretty much useless by themselves, they need some other system serving as a primary system, be it LTE or Samsung 5G, with the sole exceptions of Chinese and Japanese who both intend to develop and deploy China and Japan only 5G systems in LTE bands due to an abundance of spectrum available below 6 Ghz there, they have literally 200 ~ 500 Mhz of bandwidth available to give to each celluar networks.
petercf
petercf
2/6/2016 | 4:49:32 AM
5G - 28GHz - fiber or wireless
Just some notes:-

 

28GHz was removed from being a candidate 5G band at WRC-15 - though US/South Korea may look to use it, regulators see satellite's Ka-band as being as important if not more so.


For 5G fibre and wireless are importnat, it will be impossible to backhaul 10's Gbps without significant imporvement in fibre capacity. Witness the spend now to increase capacity for 4G.


Wireless in the home or office is an open market and one where google could play very well, 60GHz as well as 5GHz expansion being 2 frequencies where new developments are making an impact. There is a race on to bring 60GHz to SoC level including the antenna array, transceiver, baseband, power, etc.
danielcawrey
danielcawrey
2/5/2016 | 4:39:16 PM
Re: Science experiment? or real world?
This reminds me of Google's expansion into fiber services in a lot of parts of the U.S. I wonder how much of this 5G experimentation has to do with competing with companies like Facebook, which is offering free internet in some places. Does Google benefit from possibly deploying cheap 5G wireless? 
mendyk
mendyk
2/5/2016 | 2:29:24 PM
Re: Science experiment? or real world?
In macro terms, mobile looks like it would have more attraction for these reasons: mobile data is coming to dominate the bit-moving business; building out mobile access is much less capital-intensive than overbuilding with a fiber access network; 5G truly is a greenfield play, despite the current misperception that it's basically just 4G plus 1.
Ray@LR
[email protected]
2/5/2016 | 1:46:32 PM
Re: Science experiment? or real world?
If they are serious about it then Google fiber would be part of the 5G story... it makes sense to pursue an integrated high-speed access strategy using multiple techs.

It depends on the end goal. Google fiber has its raison d'etre as a catalyust for others -- the wireless developments shold in some way fit in with some sort of IoT play rather than wireless broadband I would think.

Hard to know where they're taking it... and early Friday evening, not much is mkaing sense to me right now...  
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