South Korean technology giants Samsung and SK Telecom have claimed another 5G breakthrough by successfully testing "handover" between basestations operating in the 28GHz spectrum band.
While 5G announcements are coming thick and fast, this latest update merits greater attention than most others. The 28GHz band is one of several "millimeter wave" (or mmWave) bands that telcos are eyeing for use with 5G. It is also likely to be the first in which the very highest-speed services are deployed. (See DT, SK Telecom Plot 'Global' 5G Trials and SK Telecom Targets Pre-Commercial 5G Deployment In 2017.)
That's because stakeholders in Japan, South Korea and the US -- three of the world's largest and wealthiest communications markets -- are eager to bring 28GHz spectrum into 5G use in the next few years. In other regions, where those airwaves are reserved for the satellite communications industry, regulators are looking to free up other bands instead. (See Spectrum Hurdle Could Trip Europe in 5G Race.)
Not surprisingly, equipment makers, including Samsung Corp. , have been focusing their early mmWave efforts on 28GHz.
These mmWave bands are hugely important because of the amount of spectrum they contain. A new 5G air interface, requiring broad spectrum channels to provide superfast services, seems unlikely to be usable in much lower frequency bands where airwaves are in short supply.
The drawback is that signals do not travel very far in mmWave bands. Operators will need to continue relying on lower-band spectrum to cover wide areas, especially in less densely populated communities. But the "5G" air interface that gets used with these frequencies is likely to be an evolution of the 4G standard, rather than anything more radical.
What Samsung and SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) (SKT) have announced today brings the industry a step closer to the real 5G deal.
The companies had already carried out 28GHz trials back in April, using technologies such as "beamforming" to improve signal propagation.
They had not, however, performed "handover" from one basestation to another -- which will be an essential requirement for users who are moving around while using 5G services.
Besides ticking that box, Samsung and SK Telecom this week claimed to have demonstrated full HD video calling as well as Ultra HD video streaming over the mmWave 5G system.
"By securing the mmWave handover technology, which enables users to experience seamless provision of 5G services while on the move in a wide area, the two companies are now one step closer to a basis for realizing pre-5G and 5G services," said Park Jin-hyo, SKT's senior vice president and head of the operator's network R&D center, in a company statement.
Samsung went even further in its take on the latest tests, saying it had been able to realize "a network environment that is the closest by far to the real 5G network to be created in the future."
Regarded as something of a pioneer in the 28GHz area, Samsung faces 5G competition from network equipment vendors including Sweden's Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), China's Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Finland's Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK). (See Nokia's Leprince Wants to Be King of Enterprise.)
While Huawei has continued to report sales growth in a challenging market environment, Ericsson and Nokia have recently struggled and see forthcoming investments in 5G as the next big growth opportunity in mobile telecom.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading