It’s a very exciting time in the evolution of 5G. In December 2017, 3G Partnership Project (3GPP) officially announced the new standards for 5G New Radio (NR), effectively setting the stage to launch full-scale and cost-effective development of 5G networks. The approved standards include support for Non-Standalone 5G, enabling an operator with an existing 4G/LTE footprint to take advantage of the performance benefits of 5G, either in new or existing spectrum to boost capacity and user throughput.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Following this vital milestone in the realization of 5G, the industry is hitting the ground running. Although the full deployment and promised 10x to 1000x capacity value add of 5G may be further down the road, the required effort and innovation to bridge the gap between existing 4G speeds and maximizing 5G’s full potential has already begun.
Similar to previous network technologies, the evolution of 5G will see many flavors throughout its life cycle. Early deployments often use straightforward hardware partitioning, useful for demonstrating the technology but not necessarily hitting the performance points set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is responsible for defining what constitutes a new network generation, or “G”. For example, the 3GPP standards for 4G LTE were ratified in 2009, and within a year the first networks were rolling out—Telia deployed their 4G LTE network in Stockholm and Oslo by the end of that year. Although this initial deployment was considered an incremental improvement over 3G, it set into motion profound changes for the transition to 4G LTE.
In a fast-growing industry characterized by continuous evolution rather than revolution, the ITU is committed to connecting the world and their right to communicate. The ITU has set the step-by-step objectives with every network to date in an effort to keep definitions and deployment targets aligned. These key targets set to date by the ITU for 5G include a bandwidth minimum of 100 MHz, peak downlink of 20Gbit/s, latency of 4 milliseconds (ms) for extreme broadband and 1 ms for ultra-low-latency, and average downlink of 100Mbit/s and uplink of 50 Mbit/s. Naturally, these standards are not expected to be immediately and universally implemented in every initial deployment, but are considered goals for the step-by-step evolution and maturity of 5G.
The image below (Figure 1) highlights the total capacity promised by 5G throughout its evolution and maturity. Assuming demand doubles every two years—an assumption based on past experience—the capacity enhancement offered by mmW will not be required until the capacity offered by sub-6 GHz is fully utilized. Although higher frequency spectrums may be deployed earlier to address particular locations, these will be the exception rather than the rule as the evolution of 5G naturally progresses. With the world on the cusp of the evolution of 5G, it is truly an exciting time for the industry.
THE BUZZ ON 5G
As expected, carriers are already deep into 5G deployment plans. AT&T has announced their plans to deploy mobile 5G to customers in a dozen cities by the end of 2018. One could speculate to achieve this, that they will have to use existing or interim hardware solutions to bridge the gap to standard compliant chipset availability.
Verizon, largely recognized for blazing the trail with mmWave 5G, having been established as a forerunner with the 5G Technical Forum, has partnered with Samsung to develop “fixed 5G” microcell units, home routers, and mobile chip-sized modems to enable 5G service to its customers. At CES 2018, Verizon’s CEO announced the carrier plans to beat AT&T to 5G deployment.
Sprint announced last year their plans to deploy a 5G solution in the 2.5 GHz range by late 2019. T-Mobile also announced their 600 MHz spectrum last year, and is expected to use the entire band to enable a complete indoor/outdoor 5G network. 600 MHz radio waves travel twice as far and offer four times better performance around buildings/obstacles, offering a key performance advantage.
As the race toward 5G begins in full force, MACOM is positioned to take a leading role in enabling the updated infrastructure. As parallel advancements in RF and optical technologies begin to intersect and integrate, MACOM is ready with the semiconductor components, technologies and cost-effective solutions necessary to realizing the evolution of 5G (click to learn more).
Over the next few years, many flavors of 5G will begin to deploy around the world. These initial deployments may only bring incremental improvements, but over time the full capacity of 5G will be reached and deployed, bringing the promised long-term benefits with it. At full maturity, a 5G network promises customers near-zero latency, improved data speeds, low energy and increased capacity. While this ideal remains a few years off, we can all agree the wait and journey will be worth it.
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