Feature Article

February 19, 2015

Network Evolution Plans for 5G Technologies Beyond 2020

LTE and LTE-Advanced technologies are already undergoing commercial deployments in all major economies. LTE-A has just been deployed and it will address the market requirements with considerable life left for the next five years. Operators are likely to enhance their LTE networks for spectrum capabilities. However, companies have started conducting a number of trials for the new 5th Generation (5G) networks and are looking ahead to see what comes next for the evolution of the wireless communications industry.

Companies such as Keysight Technologies point out the continuous enhancements in mobile network technology and advancements into the EPC (Evolved Packet Core) network infrastructure to reduce latency and obtain massive device connectivity, and for major spectrum, higher data rate, and throughput. Research institutions are in many ways redefining the upcoming cellular technology as well as network topologies and infrastructure, looking to frequencies ranging from 28 GHz to 60 GHz and 90 GHz.

There are a number of incentives through research bodies and leading industry organizations to make significant inroads into the new field of 5G. Though 5G is at its early stages and still has no clear definition, a number of pre-standardization processes and activities for component technologies to allow new user experiences are expected to come up during the next few years.

Frost & Sullivan sees the capability to support high data rate, massive device connectivity, massive data collection, traffic-handling capacity, and lower latency as being critical factors for accelerating innovation and capabilities to meet new generation network requirements. In such a scenario, companies that are able to offer a differentiated quality of service over the network will sustain and grow in this competitive market.

Based on Keysight Technologies insights, the complexity and diversity of the next network generation infrastructure will require a combined wireless network with cell data rates of 10 GB/s and round-trip latency of 1 ms.

Today’s mobile networks focus on band frequencies lower than 3 GHz. However, operators networks are expected to have the capability to support a number of different higher frequency bands. With higher frequency bands, operators will be able will to support increasing data rates through the use of extensive bandwidths.

With the increasing enhancements of LTE/LTE-Advanced systems globally, the need for testing is on the rise. This is because a new technological framework is needed to support the higher number of wireless systems into the millimeter-wave range. There will be a need for meeting these requirements in radio access and network infrastructure.

The evolution of 5G networks is expected to create significant demand for network flexibility between the core network and base station at several places. Frost & Sullivan’s analysis predicts the need for a next self-configurable network based on a highly interconnected wireless system across applications and services.

Latest Advancements in 5G

In Japan, NTT Japan DoCoMo has started significant trials with six of the largest mobile operators across a range of frequencies with the goal of deploying 5G in the higher frequency spectrum band above 6 GHz. The results of the trials will help standardization from 2016. Samsung focuses on the 28 GHz band. Ericsson and NTT Docomo focus on the 15 GHz band. Other companies such as Fujitsu and NEC focus on the lower band between 3GHz to 6GHz.

NTT Docomo’s 5G will use a multi-element antenna with an increasing number of filters and amplifiers. According to the company, the improvement of system capacity and throughput are clearly going to require spectrum extension with small cell deployments. In the simulated 5G network, NTT Docomo has confirmed that more than 90 percent of the users have experienced data rates of more than 1 Gbps using the massive MIMO and 64 antenna elements per small cell. The company has announced plans to deploy speeds of up to 10 Gbps by 2020. Furthermore, it has announced its decision to support M2M services through the testing of radio technologies.

In October of 2014, Samsung announced successful tests reaching 7.5 Gbps on a 28 GHz network.  On the other hand, companies such as Nokia will be focusing on the 70 GHz band.

5G Deployment and New Testing Opportunities

The deployment of 5G will completely change the landscape of the market, with growing opportunities for modular instrumentation and software-defined networks. National Instruments has made significant inroads with a redesigned Labview to support 5G research activities.

From a market standpoint, the higher frequency bands in the 30 GHz to 90 GHz band spectrum will be critical for accelerating innovation and product capabilities for test equipment. In October 2014, at the 5G Global Summit, Rohde & Schwarz has presented a new powerful FSW67 vector signal generator that can cover signals in the spectrum band of up to 67 GHz with a bandwidth of 500 MHz.

In December 2014, Keysight Technologies has announced its partnership with NYU WIRELESS University Research Center to aid fresh research in new advanced testing 5G technologies supporting the millimeter-wave radio spectrum for mobile radio services.

Microwave manufacturing test equipment supporting the radio link of 5G networks will have new customer requirements and further increase test complexity.

Final Words

LTE networks have still not reached their level of maturity requirements, with considerable life left for the next five years. There are a number of speed and bandwidth challenges remaining in the deployment of these technologies. Companies have started conducting some trials for the new 5th Generation networks to bring them to the real world. However, there are still no clear standards, definition, and services required for 5G. Nevertheless, from a test and measurement market standpoint, the progression and evolution from LTE/LTE-A to 5G will generate a number of lucrative opportunities for test equipment vendors over the coming years. Leading vendors are working closely to anticipate the increasing complexities of 5G.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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