Having been with Qualcomm for more than 18 years -- I've seen many changes in wireless technology -- and 5G promises to be another fundamental shift in both lower-band and high-band spectrum.
I was deeply involved in the development of CDMA/UMTS, and later led the LTE/OFDM research that enabled the transition to 4G. Each "G" enabled a different class of service. For example, moving from analog 1G to 2G was all about digital voice. With 2G to 3G, the service innovation was voice plus data. For 3G to 4G, it was all about the all-IP network-based mobile broadband.
Now enter 5G! What will the new innovative classes of service be for the next generation of mobile? It's not quite that simple, because 5G is different.
5G will expand the value of mobile networks to take on a much larger role than previous generations. In that sense, the transition to 5G will be fundamentally different in terms of scope and the ability to deliver impactful new technology innovations across diverse industries.
We envision 5G empowering new connected services across an array of use cases -- enhanced mobile broadband, massive IoT and mission-critical services -- whereas 4G initially focused on mobile broadband. 5G will need to adapt and scale to an extreme variation of services, devices and deployment types, and get the most out of every bit of spectrum across a wide array of spectrum regulatory paradigms and bands.
Will 5G be the end of 4G LTE? No. 4G LTE will expand to play a key role in this transition to 5G -- many of the fundamental wireless technologies in 4G, such as OFDM, MIMO, Carrier Aggregation, Small Cells, Dual Connectivity and usage of Unlicensed Spectrum, will be crucial to 5G’s success.
Future proofing with 5G New Radio An innovative feature of 5G is that it is being designed in a future-proof manner so we can meet the extreme network requirements for the next decade and beyond. A key component in this puzzle is the standardization of the 5G New Radio (NR), which Qualcomm Technologies and industry partners are conducting impactful demos, showcasing spec-compliant prototypes and carrying out trials in order to accelerate the deployment of 5G.
There is a lot of buzz about mmWave (especially 28GHz) right now, so one possible misconception is that 5G is only about mmWave. While it’s true that 5G mmWave is an important area of innovation that brings excellent extreme mobile broadband experiences (we previously shared our mmWave progress in a Light Reading blog), let's not forget that 5G NR (New Radio) is a unifying connectivity fabric that will support all band types -- from low bands below 1GHz, to mid bands from 1GHz to 6GHz, to high bands such as mmWave (24-40GHz and eventually 60GHz). And 5G networks and devices will also need to be able to work on licensed, shared and unlicensed spectrum, sometimes concurrently, as pioneered with LTE's Licensed Assisted Access (LAA).
So what is the importance of 5G New Radio operating in the mid and low bands (commonly referred to as "Sub-6GHz")? We are talking about enabling a large number of use cases that go way beyond just mobile broadband, and in this endeavor, spectrum bands below 6 GHz are important to ensure there is good, ubiquitous coverage, and reliability and capacity to address uses cases such as massive IoT and mission critical services, which cannot be addressed efficiently in mmWave bands. LTE is also evolving to support some of these use cases in lower bands below 6GHz, for example narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) that will serve us well in the coming years. However, 5G will further refine narrowband IoT support with innovative mesh architectures, efficient waveforms and autonomous uplink transmissions, and add support for highly reliable and secure links that enable new mission critical services.
5G NR also brings in a plethora of technologies that deliver new levels of capability and efficiency for enhanced mobile broadband in spectrum bands below 6 GHz. For example, Massive MIMO is a key aspect of sub-6 GHz mid-band deployments wherein 5G base stations use a large number of antennas (e.g.256) and perform advanced RF reciprocity-based beamforming and 3D beam-tracking to serve multiple users simultaneously. Massive MIMO can enable reuse of today’s existing macro sites in, say 2GHz deployments, and when augmented with, say 4GHz bands, improve user experience at the cell edge. Massive MIMO ultimately translates to more a uniform user experience and increased cell capacity, in addition to higher peak data rates, regardless of the spectrum band used.
Earlier this year at Mobile World Congress Shanghai, we announced our 5G NR Sub-6 GHz prototype, which operates in mid-range spectrum bands below 6 GHz. The prototype system is not only being utilized as a testbed for our innovative 5G designs, but it is also a trial platform that will track 3GPP 5G NR standardization progress closely to enable early trials and deployments with ecosystem partners, starting in 2017. The sub-6 GHz prototype platform demonstrates multi-Gbit/s data rates at significantly lower latency than is possible with LTE today. This enables a new class of smartphones, as well as other future mobile devices (e.g., head-mounted displays for immersive VR/AR). The significantly lower latency, coupled with higher reliability and security, also enables mission-critical control services such as control of drones, industrial equipment, robotics and autonomous vehicles.
More 5G breakthroughs coming from Qualcomm Want to learn how Qualcomm is making 5G NR a reality? Join us at our Technical Workshop at CTIA Super Mobility 2016, or check out our demos at the 5G Launchpad. If you can't make it to Las Vegas in the next two days, check out this video about Sub-6GHz prototype. Also learn more at our 5G site and stay tuned for our next major milestone in the journey to 5G!
— Durga Malladi, SVP, Engineering, Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)