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Insights Unlocked

16 Posts authored by: Roger Nichols Employee

The tables were turned on this well-documented “5G Symposium Critic” last month. This began last spring, when I am sure I visibly flinched when our group president said, “Let’s have a 5G Summit!”

 

Despite the risks of having YA5GE (Yet Another 5G Event), I was fortunate to host a very successful inaugural Keysight 5G Tech Connect event in which we drew on the best practices of the industry, and inserted a few of our own, novel ideas.

 

This post is a tribute to events and speakers who inspired us to throw an excellent technical party. We drew upon many best practices, and here are just a few that are noteworthy:

 

Best Practice 1: Bookend with Charisma and Competence

(Inspiration: 5G North American Workshop, hosted by Ericsson and Qualcomm, San Jose, Summer 2016)

 

Innovation happens when the unconstrained mind confronts the over-constrained problem. Making 5G real will require significant innovation and the keynote speakers highlighted innovative thinking. Maryam Rofougaran, co-founder of Movandi, opened the pre-event dinner with a description of how her organizations managed these processes through unprecedented mixed-signal IC integration in a previous role at Innovent and later with Broadcom, and now new phased array antenna technology for 5G.

 

Peter Rabbeni of Global Foundries further underscored the potential of silicon technologies even in our new mmW world during his opening Keynote the next morning. And Dr. Mischa Dohler of Kings College London closed the event with an optimistic and energetic talk on the inevitability of 5G combined, enabled, and even driven by profound changes coming to networks—changes that will disrupt that business so it will ultimately not look at all like it does today.

 

Best Practice 2: Stay Technical

(Inspiration: IWPC, pretty much any event Tom Watson and team do)

 

Recall my criticism of overtly or thinly veiled commercial presentations. The 5G Tech Connect avoided this by focusing not just on technology, but on technology for measurement. Professor Gabriel Rebeiz (UCSD), Dr. YiHong Qi (GTS), and Emil Olbrich (Signals Research) introduced and led discussions on phased-array antennas, over-the-air measurement, and 5G NR device validation respectively.

 

Notwithstanding a few pleasant (and unsolicited) plugs for Keysight by Gabriel and YiHong, the discussions remained focused on key challenges in the technology. Here are some of my insights:

  • Reinforcement of my prediction of mobile commercial mmWave coming only after 2022;
  • Renewed confidence in silicon technologies making headway in 5G mmWave; and,
  • The inevitability of the uncomfortable marriage of licensed and unlicensed spectrum — starting in Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) but moving full-force in 5G.

 

Others reached additional insights which means there was technical fodder for all involved.

 

Best Practice 3: Provide Fascinating Toys for Engineers to Play With

(Inspiration: Brooklyn 5G Summit, 2017)

 

One cannot host a proper 5G event without the “show floor/demo room.” It is on this real estate that the “overt commercial” behavior often becomes crushing. So, we adopted three rules:

  1. Keep our demonstrations constrained to very newly released and cutting-edge technology, or even capabilities that have yet to see commercial exposure;
  2. Only have our deepest technical experts available to discuss these technologies; and
  3. No lead sheets within 50 miles of the venue. We ran the risk of tipping our hand too soon on some of this capability, but the animated discussions in the crowded demo room were evidence that this recipe worked.

 

The Wrap Up

I walked away from that initial discussion on hosting a “5G Summit” with a feeling of dread. Those of you who have managed such things know the work involved—the planning, finding participants and speakers, last-minute changes, panic, elation, terror, anger. And finally, relief— relief followed by pride in managing a good use of time for all involved. But pride has again been unseated by dread; we had not yet opened the post-event cocktail bar when the group president shook my hand, thanked me for an excellent experience and said, “Let’s do one of these in Asia!”

 

 

This article is an adaptation of Roger's original post published in the Next Generation Wireless Communications Blog, where you can connect with our industry and solution experts as they share their experiences, opinions and measurement tips on a number of cellular and wireless design and test topics that matter to you.

My first blog posts covering the myth and reality of 5G put everything in the framework of three intertwined drivers: Technology, Policy, and Business Model. If you ever had doubts about the impact of one of these elements on the other, consider what the ITU’s designation of the ISM bands, way back in the 1940’s, ultimately did for the microwave oven, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

 

Today’s 5G environment is filled with critical policy issues. Some, like national and international spectrum policy, are obvious to us in the radio world. Some are more indirect, but could have more impact—such as local and regional covenants and zoning for network elements. Test and measurement solutions providers, including Keysight, must pay strict attention to governmental regulations to enable our customers to validate compliance with regulation. But we also need to consider our role in ensuring our customers’ success in navigating the less-direct facets of policy. Here are a few of my direct, and not-so-direct, favorites:

 

Spectrum Band and Bandwidth are set nationally by the various government bodies around the world with acronyms like Ofcom, FCC, MIC, MIIT, etc. Another critical acronym is the ITU (International Telecommunications Union)—a branch of the United Nations (UN) that sets international treaties in the world of spectrum harmonization. Recent examples include November’s Report and Order (R&O) from the US’ FCC (regarding 24 and 47GHz bands) and MIIT’s (China) request for comment on plans to use 3.5GHz and 4.9GHz bands. Also, the ITU will meet at the World Radio Conference 2019 (WRC-19) to try and harmonize what is feasible.

 

Zoning and real-estate: The most important facet of addressing coverage gaps and spectral efficiency in 5G, is the reduction of cell size. There are three major policy hurdles to achieving 5G reality:

  1. Placement of small cells: Most operators must negotiate small-cell placement with each municipality and often with individual neighborhoods, resulting in lengthy and costly negotiations and re-negotiations with many local governments. Mobile operator coalitions are lobbying for nationally consistent legal frameworks. A proposed law for this framework was recently vetoed by the governor of California.
  2. Management of backhaul: Linking new small cells to the core network requires a cable, which are rarely installed without considering additional “dark capacity” to future proof the situation. Every cable needs a trench or a position on a standing pole. The negotiations for the rights-of-way are as traumatic as those for placement of the cell. A representative of one US operator told me that more than half of the US national average cost of $100/foot for laying fiber is for negotiation and retention of these rights-of-way.
  3. Radio flux density: The IWPC event in Bristol, held this past November, was an eye-opener for me. The sum of various operators’ radio energy in many public areas in Europe are at the legal limit for flux density (a measure of radio energy). One example was central Brussels, currently at the limit of 61V/m (~3V/m per operator) averaged over 6 minutes. Adding a cell or coverage at an additional frequency band requires the operator to reduce the average power output of their existing system.

 

National Commerce: Among the interesting examples of this are the management of inter-operator competition and related areas of managing spectrum allocation. The drastic differences in how nationalities manage these can be illustrated with a few key examples:

 

Operator-count, within the range of “Wikipedia error,” consider the following table:

Country / RegionPopulation (Millions)Number of Mobile Cellular Operators
USA3205
China14003
Japan1303
India13006
European Union500> 70

 

It may not be fair to group all the EU into one line on this table, but it does illustrate the vast difference in how EU policy has impacted the competitive landscape, which is a significant criticism from the major players in the industry.

 

Inter-operator spectrum allocation: The most impactful spectrum policy decision made in the mobile wireless industry was the FCC’s choice to auction the PCS spectrum in the early 2G days of the 1990’s. This approach, combined with “use it or lose it” policies, was copied in many nations resulting in legal and financial spectrum battles over the past 25 years. However, China and Japan have not implemented spectrum auction in any significant manner. But, while these governments apply other pressures to these entities, the operators do not have the “spectrum depreciation” line-item in their P&L statements.

 

The internet traffic generated by the leaked United States National Security Council document underscores the criticality of policy on our industry and how it impacts business management. Whether the US should nationalize its 5G network is up to the political pundits, but we at Keysight will carefully watch the discourse as we work with our customers and collaborators around the world to make 5G a global reality.

There was no celebration: in September, I attended my thirty-first public technical symposium in the guise of Keysight’s 5G program manager. From Tampa to Tel Aviv to Taipei, whether organized by IEEE, NTIA, GSMA, or IMT2020, such events have taught me a few things about myself and many more about how our 5G technology community manages social gatherings.

 

Please allow me a quick analysis. I sort these events into three buckets: “technically rich,” “overtly commercial,” and “government promotional.” Here are my snapshots of each type.

 

Technically rich: By turns exhausting or invigorating

I like technical, but these are simply not enjoyable when they drift into academic opacity. Still, many provide opportunities for rich dialogue with others in the industry. Three events come to mind: IEEE MTT/IMS; the IWPC meetings; and the recent International Symposium on Advanced Radio Technologies (ISART) convocation in Colorado. I exit these with a rejuvenated curiosity and a refreshed perspective about the amazing technical brains powering the communications business.

 

ISART was an especially impressive mix of policy makers, mobile communications experts, and satellite industry representatives. I learned a great deal about millimeter-wave (the primary topic) and gained insight into how some institutions work. I also picked up a few tidbits on spectrum policy:

 

  • News to me, part 1: The ITU is part of the United Nations, and ITU spectrum decisions are international treaties. Among UN organizations, the ITU is unique in allowing the participation of commercial entities.
  • News to me, part 2: The FCC, which gets a lot of press, and the NTIA, which gets very little, are sister organizations. The former manages (among other things) spectrum for commercial use; the latter manages spectrum for federal use.
  • The real story: I had assumed that the spectrum conflict between mobile and satellite was strictly technical, centered on the risk of interference. Not so: the most recent Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service (UMFUS) report and order (R&O) from July 2016 is the source of discord because the FCC wants to reduce the risk of interference by placing tight restrictions on the location of large ground-based satellite gateways (i.e., terrestrial links to satellite constellations). Jennifer Manner of EchoStar suggested these rules are not even practical.

 

Overtly commercial: Have you read our press release?

GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the most prominent example. While I have had excellent discussions with some of our key customers at this event, I sheepishly admit that MWC has additional appeal because it is a great excuse to explore and enjoy one of my favorite cities. On the other side of the Atlantic, the GSMA teamed up with CTIA for the first time to create Mobile World Congress Americas 2017. Although I would love to write about the event, I was not there; rather, I was in Taiwan, attending the third kind of gathering...

 

Government promo shows: Not purely self-promotion

The 4th Taipei 5G Summit was a two-day event organized by a group within the Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs. It was coupled with the 21st World Conference on Information Technology. I had the honor of speaking at this event and focused my talk on getting the audience to think about a sampling of measurement and validation challenges in 5G New Radio (NR).

 

Taiwan is an interesting case for 5G communications in that its indigenous mobile operators will be very cautious about investing in 5G—a reluctance driven particularly by the failure of Taiwan’s WiMAX business model. However, Taiwan-based multinational technology giants like Hon Hai, TSMC, WNC, Quanta, and Pegatron will all take full advantage of the global investments in 5G technologies. Based on what I saw from both National Taiwan University and National Chiao Tung University, it is clear that academia is also fully engaged in a very impressive manner.

 

Among the many highlights from the event was a presentation by Tareq Amin of Reliance Jio. Mr. Amin deftly detailed how Jio completely changed its technology investment paradigm to implement a financially stable LTE network in India, a country with an ARPU of about $2 (vs. about $60 in the USA). Ordinarily, I resent sitting through presentations that are thinly veiled sales pitches (the Taiwan Summit had a few of those). Mr. Amin did indeed talk about Jio’s success: it achieved #1 LTE penetration in the world in seven months, processing some 7 petabytes per month. However, his real message was about innovation that follows from a drastic change in perspective when confronted with unprecedented boundary conditions. It was the most inspiring talk I have heard perhaps all year.

 

What have been your experiences?

Here I expose myself to comments from those of you whom have had to listen to my talks. What inspires you at these events? Will 5G be successful in your environment? What will it take?

5G has been picking up speed faster than a downhill racer—and may seem similarly on the hairy edge of control. From Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona to the latest 3GPP meetings, the buzz is growing louder around topics ranging from fixed wireless to “what’s our next business model?” With apologies for going dark since late March, the following Top Five Hot Topics update is aimed at keeping you abreast of the latest.

 

1: Fixed-wireless systems are the first step to millimeter-wave 5G

Even with NEMs and device makers anxious to be part of the 2018 winter showcase in South Korea, the first highly visible commercialization will be Verizon’s fixed-wireless system. For two years, VZW has been stalwart in its intent to commercialize in 2017 using its “pre-5G” 5G-TF specification. However, this spec is unique and has some fundamental differences to 3GPP’s New Radio (NR), and orphaned technology is a very real risk. On the plus side, VZW is gaining a first-mover advantage by learning how to enable commercial access without introducing the complexity of mobility.

 

In response, AT&T has also stated it will deploy a 5G mmWave fixed service, one that will be based on NR. This is why AT&T pushed very hard for the acceleration of the non-standalone (NSA) version of NR.

 

2: 3GPP accelerating NSA enables NR to happen before R15

“Before R15” means late 2017. With NSA, the 5G radio access network (RAN) will be controlled by the LTE core and hence LTE can be used to set up calls, manage initial access, and even provide fallback capability if the 5G RAN link fails.

 

The combined effect of Verizon’s decisions and Korea Telecom’s push to commercialize 5G in 2019 drove the industry to ultimately agree to the acceleration. The resulting commercial play will occur somewhat sooner but, in some ways, will be more risky than originally planned.

 

3: Greenfield spectrum between 2.8 and 5.0 GHz outside the US

5G wireless technology is not just millimeter-wave. Outside the US there is open spectrum between 2.8 and 5.0 GHz that is getting serious attention from major operators in China, Japan, South Korea and several European countries.

 

Because this is ideal territory for 5G Massive MIMO, much of this will occur in TDD spectrum. It is not clear how, when, or whether, operators will reallocate 3G and 4G spectrum to NR—but the territory between 400 MHz and 3 GHz may undergo a change in the middle or late 2020s based on the relative success of NR in terms of its spectral and energy efficiency.

 

4: Rapid virtualization of networks will drive flexibility

In April 2016, AT&T announced that its evolved packet core (EPC) was all virtual. Demos at MWC suggested that virtualizing the RAN could reach all the way down to the upper MAC layer. This means network equipment becomes computers, wires (or fiber), and remote radio heads—likely with enough on-board ASIC power to manage the lower MAC, Layer 1, and PHY.

 

This can enable software-defined networks (SDN), self-organizing networks (SONs) and, further, network slicing. This last item had many compelling demos at MWC and enables operators to create, perhaps in real-time, network slices manifest as software entities. These have different KPIs, depending on what each slice will do for its associated client and business model. For example, a high-reliability slice could take network resources from other slices in order to meet service level agreement (SLA) criteria. While this will prompt serious looks at new business models, it appears to be a case of technology moving faster than policy because one could suggest this is a step towards violation of net neutrality (in those places where it still exists...).

 

5: Business cases for 5G wireless investment are still under scrutiny

There is still much skepticism about where the money will come from. Debates continue to rage about why any operator would significantly invest simply to develop better capability for a client base with declining average revenue per user (ARPU). Yet, new concepts abound: 

  • Third party pays: This is a big one that could expand mobile advertising (e.g., Google). One can envision combining this with entertainment schemes that could function only on a fifth-generation network (think “PokemonGo! 2020”).
  • Automotive/connected car: There are numerous ideas here, and many are associated with third party pays—especially those related to infotainment and entertainment. Most of the hype is related to the facilitation of real-time navigation and automated driving; however, I believe this will happen more slowly than ad- or entertainment-related applications due to policy, technology, and sociological issues.
  • Industrial or municipal: IoT can save billions for municipalities and commercial entities that need to collect data remotely on a real-time basis. This could enable machine learning to manage things even as mundane as parking and garbage management, or open the door to serious data analytics. 

Those are my Top Five Hot Topics. What other trends or developments are you seeing?

What does the collaborative power of Lennon & McCartney have to do with 5G communications? Perhaps not much—but I believe their days together yielded far more genius-level work than did their respective solo efforts.

 

From my early days at Hewlett-Packard and across five generations of wireless evolution, I have witnessed the highest levels of business success when we collaborated closely with industry leaders early in the development of the next generation of, well, anything.

 

The history of science and engineering is full of famous teams: Louis and Marie Pasteur, Pierre and Marie Curie, the Wright Brothers, and the aforementioned Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. Even seemingly self-made individuals who changed the course of our collective river—Newton, Leonardo, or Pascal—collaborated with others to exert their own special influence on humanity.

 

Why collaborate? Why put yourself into a situation that forces you to find common ground, adopt another’s pace, and perhaps share the glory? First of all, nobody has all of the answers. Wilbur needed Orville, and Bill’s technical insight needed Dave’s business acumen.

 

More important is the multiplicative benefit of teamwork: call it “synergy” or “gestalt.” With leadership and talent, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. In addition, by engaging in early collaborations, you build expertise and insight into a market while creating prototype solutions and thereby earning long-term credibility with top players. 

 

That is what makes a difference in the very complex world of 5G. This new generation will see myriad changes: digital and RF semiconductors; antenna technology; fiber-optic communications; eNB (or gNB?) design; UE/CPE design; networking and applications software; cloud and virtualization; overall system design and interference management; and even a rapidly growing body of work to augment and virtualize our view of reality.

 

Nearly 2,400 years ago, Aristotle wrote a single volume that described humankind’s complete understanding of physics. Today one person has not a chance of even reading all the books on these topics much less gaining a full understanding our collective knowledge. Even if we focus only on the applications of physics to mobile communications, we have breadth beyond what even a small group of people can embrace.

 

And so we work together! I have been involved in enough of these interactions to develop this simple recipe for success in technical collaboration: 

  1. Get involved early with the industry leaders.
  2. Ensure both parties have something unique to contribute and something important to gain. This means both parties also take on significant risk.
  3. Live up to your end of the bargain and constantly manage and reconcile expectations—nothing sours a relationship like missed commitments and other bad surprises.
  4. Put the right complementary skillsets on the program, combining brilliantly technical thinkers, rigidly pragmatic project managers, and, of course, out-of-the-box creative types.
  5. Manage a healthy balance of strategic versus commercial intent. Not all collaborations result in a commercial windfall, but good collaborations always provide significant benefit to both sides.

 

At a corporate level, also think about your overall strategy for collaboration. Our approach has been to consider the following: 

  • Stay global. 5G wireless is happening everywhere. There are differences in approach depending on geography, and the leaders may not be in your backyard.
  • Manage a variety of partners. For 5G this means a mix of university and government research; industry and national consortia; and other commercial entities.
  • Embrace a variety of technologies. 5G means everything from millimeter-wave and semiconductors to antennas and massive MIMO all the way to validation of mobile applications. This exposes you to a broader ecosystem and enables a process of developing higher-value solutions.

 

As a hobbyist musician, I always perform better when surrounded by the best. Thus, I ask you to remember the emphasis on market leaders. Whether we work with startups, 70-year-old industry icons, universities, or government researchers, our focus is on those leading the way to 5G communications. So let’s work together. Whether it is John with Paul or Bill with Dave, harmony is always richer than solo.

You are sitting down to your meeting and the precious hours you spent crafting your message to this important audience have resulted in a presentation resting safely on your laptop computer. You are dressed for success and your audience hungers for the rich fruit of your perspective.

 

The meeting starts on time... but then 15 miserable minutes pass while you and three other impromptu IT “experts” struggle to find the right port, adaptor, and monitor setting to connect your laptop to the projector. If you have never experienced this problem, allow me to suggest that you probably do not exist.

 

Verging on revolution

Are we incompetent operators of IT tools? No. We simply lack a single standard, and I have little hope for convergence. On the other hand, in 5G we are on the verge of something completely revolutionary—a single and globally deployed standard for mobile communications.

 

Since the earliest days of radio, smart people have formed standards organizations to ensure that Marconi’s magic could be applied in a manner enabling us to communicate from afar. A quick perusal of the internet will yield fascinating tales surrounding the standardization of Morse code, radio channels, distress channels (and even “SOS” itself), and spectrum management.

 

Many were developed during predecessors of today’s ITU meetings—and those meetings produced documents that read remarkably like those created today. From 2G forward, we had global standards for cellular communications, but we did not have the potential of a single standard until we reached the fourth generation—and that convergence was forced to cower while the WiMAX/LTE duality threatened the peace of the mobile world for a few tense years.

 

Patiently progressing toward 5G communications

Members of the 3GPP have been working in concert now for more than a year (and ITU for longer than that) to define a fifth-generation standard—the most ambitious development in mobile communications since the advent of analog cellular. Gaining alignment around the globe and across segments of our industry requires difficult technical work hashed out in long meetings, frustrating discussions, email rants, and legal battles. All of this is amongst a demographic of mostly engineers and mathematicians, and our little technical club is not known for its smooth social skills.

 

I do not mean to belittle standards work. Those of you who are not associated with such bodies may be surprised at their scope and breadth. 3GPP has three technical specification groups, each responsible for several technical working groups that develop the details of the specifications. This means around 1,500 people in 20 committees meeting up to eight times annually generating massive amounts of documentation distilled from tens of thousands of technical submissions.

 

Allow me to provide some perspective: a colleague who attends 3GPP RAN4 recently sent a copy of “3GPP TR 38.803 v2.0.0.” This is a 200-page, 11 MB feasibility study on the radio frequency and coexistence aspects of the new 5G wireless air interface. This work-in-progress document represents just one part of one part of one part of one part of the gestating standard: during this sub-group’s last meeting no fewer than 37 documents were submitted for consideration for just the topic of radio testability (one of my favorite topics).

 

The recent 3GPP decision to accelerate the standard comes after a yearlong argument. I will discuss the ramifications in a later post but suffice to say this was driven by a discussion of the tradeoffs relating to enabling new business models, standards “fragmentation,” and the risk of a standard that falls too far short of the 5G communications vision we see so beautifully portrayed in every company’s 5G presentation.

 

Wrestling with conflicting urges

I continue to be overwhelmed by the technical and commercial demands of creating and deploying these standards. As a consumer, I look forward to the wireless standards being as unwavering as the color of traffic lights and certainly more consistent than interfacing with various display projectors. As a supplier of simulation, design, test, and measurement solutions, I must admit that the past 20 years have created wonderful business opportunities spawned by the fragmentation of standards.

 

It is thus difficult for me to find a neutral space here. But while it will take a few years, I believe it will happen… You tell me—will we truly end up with a single global standard?

I hate trade shows. I love Barcelona. I recently found myself once again in this juxtaposition. And thus, I will expound upon “the state of the industry as seen through the eyes of the MWC attendee” and force you to read yet another review of 2017’s Mobile World Congress (MWC).

 

Scale foretells opportunity

According to Ericsson’s Mobility Report, humankind consumes eight exabytes (8´1018!!) of mobile data every month—so the massive scale of GSMA’s flagship event should not be a surprise. But even we regular attendees of the show are overwhelmed by the 100,000-plus attendee list and the breadth of business represented by the 2,300 exhibitors. And I do mean “breadth.” Even though the industry manufactures between two and three billion mobile phones every year (over 100 every second) the show is hardly dominated by those showing off new mobile devices or infrastructure.

 

According to Cheetan Sharma, over-the-top (OTT) revenues surpassed access revenues in 2014. This business opportunity in applications and content was immediately obvious in Barcelona with heavy focus on connected cars and gaming. Most of the major automotive companies and their technology supply-chain were front and center, showing 5G applications relating to connected vehicles and automated or semi-autonomous driving.

 

New and virtualized architectures impress

Virtualized and flexible mobile networks will enable these new applications and new business models. I saw very impressive demonstrations of network slicing enabled by new software architecture combined with scalable high-speed general-purpose processing hardware configurations. From my earliest days in 5G, it was obvious that the biggest part of the 5G revolution will be the new and virtualized network architectures. Even without the hype this was evident at MWC this year.

 

But there is policy-related tension on this topic. A dramatic departure from the previous US administration’s approach to net neutrality became evident during incoming FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s comments: “The private sector has spent $1.5 trillion since 1996 to deploy broadband infrastructure…We would not have seen such innovation if, during the 1990s, the government had treated broadband like a railroad or a water utility.”

 

It is not clear how this will become manifest in the US or whether other countries will follow suit; however, the implications are that operators and even their supply chains—those who will make the largest capital investments in 5G technology —could end up on better footing if they can avoid being regulated as utilities.

 

Analytic software and machine learning step forward

This emphasis on 5G “wireless” solutions based in software is growing in two other areas. There were significant demonstrations of analytic software and machine learning to be applied to the mountains of data generated by IoT. The scope of this ecosystem, made clear in the first paragraphs above, indicates ripe opportunity to leverage all that information for everything from business optimization to entirely new business models. Coupled with this was significant attention to security issues relating to protection of privacy, prevention of threats to system performance and availability, and preemption of misuse of wireless systems.

 

The (innovation) game is afoot

In a future blog post I will review William Webb’s rather skeptical book, The 5G Myth: When Vision Decoupled From Reality. At the risk of revealing my position, I will close with this: In a panel discussion involving mobile operators and their network suppliers, the CTO of one large operator was asked which one of the network equipment manufacturers would most benefit from 5G technology. He stated that such a company was not on the stage. Rather, it was a startup somewhere on the exhibit floor—one that was innovating and iterating at a pace he had not seen in prior deployment generations.

 

Virtualized network architectures and OTT business models requiring large technology investments: where will the money come from? You may recall my comments about Pokémon GO. Snap, the maker of an application used primarily by teenagers to share photos, is now public and valued at over $25 billion. Did you see that coming five years ago?

 

The scope of business models enabled by a faster, more flexible network and empowered by very sophisticated devices means opportunity for the innovative that can leverage the massive scale we see manifest at the world’s biggest show of its kind.

 

Whether you were in the throng or followed from afar, what stood out to you? Where do you think we will be when MWC 2018 rolls around?

 

You have been tasked with leading a team to go after this 5G business. Your strategic imperatives include success and leadership in 5G and you are an essential part of making it happen. Your management, your team, your C-suite, your board of directors, and perhaps even your family, are all counting on you to deliver.

 

No pressure. Just do it, right?

 

Before drawing up your battle plans and starting the assault, press pause and ask a few crucial questions. After almost 32 years in high tech, mostly in engineering management, I have found that one’s team often has a clear sense of the success-factors, enablers, and roadblocks on the road ahead. Check in and get their input. Even if you are two years down that road, there is still time to make course corrections.

 

Do you have the right background and expertise?

For many, 5G applications imply new technologies. This might mean designing for carrier frequencies and bandwidths that seem like black magic to most of your engineers. Have you considered all of the things they will have to learn or acquire? How many lessons will be acquired the hard way—by making mistakes and discovering, too late, that there will be a dreadful impact to your schedule or costs? How quickly can your team pivot when it needs to gain new or different expertise?

 

The 5th generation wireless technology may also require new business models. This could entail a foray into open-source software (or hardware) when your organization has never bothered with this sort of thing in the past. It might point you toward selling services or upgrades rather than making net-30 sales. How might you adjust your design team’s skills to suit this new paradigm?

 

Do you have the right tools?

Some of those new technical areas will require new tools for your team. Is it new hardware? Is it RF chambers of a different size? A new computer system focused on fast, efficient handling of much more data? Could you use EDA tools to reduce hardware turns? Which ones? And, with a nod to the preceding entry, how long will it take for your team to use them efficiently and effectively?

 

Are you closely connected to your key customers?

I am a fan of the agile software manifesto, especially the notion of putting designers close to their customers and providing rapid and frequent updates while embracing regular and rapid (if not capricious) changes in requirements.

 

In an industry driven by consumer fad, these elements are critical to all of your development activities—software, hardware and business. Without close ties to your most important customers (the ones with the most money, not the loudest voices) you will be too slow to address needs, anticipate changes, and respond.

 

Be sure you are talking to the right people in your key accounts. I once watched a major project fail because the team was getting its guidance from the wrong individuals. After significant investment on both sides, the ones who were really in charge appeared and unceremoniously shut down the entire program.

 

Is your timing consistent with theirs?

The recipe for a fabulously successful project is probably familiar to you: your project is synchronized with your two or three best lead customers and perfectly aligned with their project timing, and market demand is simultaneously growing. This magical combination is, to some extent, the result of luck—but we often make our own luck since the good lady “prefers the prepared mind.”

 

Do you have the support you need from your organization?

This is hardly unique to 5G, but we all need this reminder. I have occasionally been frustrated by subordinate managers who, after producing inadequate results, have said to me, “If only we would have had A or B…” to which my response was, “Why didn’t you ask?” I am embarrassed to admit I have made the same mistake myself.

 

Talk to your team and find out what they think would make the difference. They may be keenly aware of some bit of organizational support that will improve their chances of success; sometimes, it will be easy to get that help. Even if you can’t secure everything they want, the process will likely clear enough roadblocks to speed things along. (Keysight’s Sigi Gross offers a related perspective in point #3 of his 7/13/16 post.)

 

Where to go from here?

No pressure: just ask the right questions and act on the most actionable and efficacious answers. There is no substitute for the innovation associated with a well-prepared, customer-connected, and motivated team to overcome the other challenges.

 

Any other cautions, questions or stories you would care to share?

Only a few years ago, six billion hertz was plenty to manage Facebook, WeChat, and YouTube. But mobile wireless owns a fraction of that six billion so we are driving to frequencies far beyond what many of us consider our radio comfort zone.

I have seen multiple radio engineering labs coming to grips with these new frequencies. As 5G mmWave goes from obscure to elite to mainstream, the number of engineers doing component, subsystem, and radio design in these rarified wavelengths will skyrocket.

 

Many will have little experience with wavelengths no wider than their thumbs, and with bandwidths that sound like carrier frequencies. How will you set up your lab to ensure success? I offer the following questions and suggestions to those braving this territory.

 

1.  Which frequency bands are you targeting?

While 3GPP’s new radio (NR) development is aimed at carriers up to 100 GHz, I do not see a 5G wireless future in which this entire range will be used for access. So you not only have to anticipate which bands the policy groups will stipulate, you must speculate on which will be used for your target application spaces.

 

I also have doubts about 5G mobile multi-user access above 45 GHz. 802.11ad/ay will occupy the current 60 GHz band (and possibly the FCC’s extension of this band to 71 GHz). Point-to-point for backhaul, distributed antenna systems, and fronthaul will be implemented above 45 GHz. There is also early work in high-speed train communications up to 100 GHz (for on-board Wi-Fi “backhaul”).

 

Do you need to cover this entire range? Only part of it? Consider carefully because the tools and accessories become more expensive as you get closer to triple-digit gigahertz.

 

2.  What bandwidth do you need to support?

While there is talk about information bandwidths of 2 GHz, consider the following for frequencies below 45 GHz:

  •  Licensed bands will be divided between at least two licensees.
  • The widest in the FCC’s recent announcement is 425 MHz (28 GHz band)
  • The new air interface access designs are aimed at aggregating carriers modulated to no more than 200 MHz.

 

Notwithstanding your potential need to manage aggregated carriers and perhaps do work above 45 GHz, consider how wide—and thus how complex and expensive—you will want your lab to go.

 

3.  How will you connect to your device-under-test?

I have yet to see a serious design of a commercial mmWave transceiver system that includes a connector between the antenna and the amplifier. Thus, the labs I have seen all include anechoic chambers equipped with directional antennas with varying styles of positioners, and (often) open on one side. Smaller wavelengths and antenna apertures, highly directional propagation, and the lower likelihood of interfering signals allow for a different approach. But the requirement to make calibrated measurements in free space without violating regulations means a mix of enclosure, positioner, antenna, measurement equipment, and the necessary software.

 

4.  What software tools will your team need?

Your software arsenal ought to include six items: EDA; system design and simulation; EM simulation, measurement and analysis; device and test-equipment control; data manipulation and management; and mathematics tools. While the associated learning curve for your engineers is substantial, the productivity gains of working in the virtual world, particularly in the uncharted seas of small waves, quickly repay this investment. Then, the software-enabled power to generate test stimuli for radio components and systems, and analyze measurement and sample results, will give your designers new insights in time for your target release date.

 

5.  How do you future-proof your investments?

The world of commercial wireless is not for the faint of heart, and the foray into millimeter wave technology is an expensive step deeper into fraught territory. Short wavelengths mean exotic materials; tighter mechanical tolerances; and bandwidth, sampling rates, and digital speeds requiring significant CAPEX for a productive lab. CAPEX also implies these purchases must hold their value throughout and even after your depreciation period.

 

Successful organizations will future-proof these investments. Things to look for include capabilities to serve needs that arise during your depreciation period; modular software and hardware with an upgrade path; and proven vendors with technology-upgrade programs and expert support staff.

 

Wrapping up

Lastly, stay close to what is going on in the market. Your view of the considerations listed above will clarify as new policy emerges, 3GPP standardizes, and innovators make new and more capable technology available for your own building blocks.

 

Get more mmWave resources!

I hate trade shows. But this element of my role is both a curse and a blessing. Whether you call it a symposium or a circus, a convention or a carnival, events such as Globecom, EDI CON, European Microwave Week (EuMW), and Mobile World Congress mean long flights, jetlag, sore feet, and being subjected to the requisite barrage of wireless hype. But they are also an important and engaging part of staying in touch with the communications industry and the fascinating personalities therein. In the past few weeks I have added two of these events to my diary: Microwave Journal’s EDICON in Boston, and the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Industry Conference and Exhibition in Frankfurt. With a focus on 5G wireless, here are a few observations and comments.

 

At this point, we really do know what 5G is.

Most 5G presentations still start with “nobody knows what 5G will really be” followed by the ubiquitous “the vision for 5G” summary. Consecutive speakers (me too) cannot resist the urge to show and describe that “5G Vision Slide.” There is beauty in consistency. There is also boredom. I am sure there are people in the world who have not seen such presentations, but by now that group is constrained to dairy farmers and rat-poison chemists.

 

We are gaining clarity on new “vertical businesses” enabled through 5G applications.

My reference to gaming in the now-famous Pokémon GO blog post was further clarified during the NGMN event. High data-rates, ubiquitous coverage, and low latency will enable opportunities for gaming and other emerging entertainment industries (and likely some that are not quite so innocuous).

 

There also seems to be more and more compelling arguments for the automotive industry to fully embrace wireless communications. While I still believe that a relatively conservative and highly regulated industry will take its time steering in this direction, the first clear lanes ahead will be navigation aids and mobile entertainment.

 

Open source is changing the game.

The NGMN event featured compelling sessions that examined open-source software. One was in the context of new business models, and another was a rather heated exchange around different approaches to intellectual property. The business models evolving around open source infiltrating network virtualization will be driving significant change in the industry. Giving away the code your software gurus struggle to generate while guzzling gallons of Mountain Dew and Rock Star may have once seemed anathema—in some circles, it now appears to be a requirement.

 

The industry is dead serious about mmWave.

EDI CON and NGMN featured plenty of discussions and exhibits regarding 5G mmWave in mobile communications. “Gee Roger, what about the other 25 5G shows so far this year that also had plenty of mmWave?” OK, I admit that this is nothing new, but the innovation featured at EDI CON (and immediately thereafter at EuMW) was then underscored by the MNO-focused NGMN event in which AT&T, SK Telecom, KT, and of course Verizon, highlighted their mmWave trials and plans.

 

My earliest posts stated that I do not see mobile multiple-access mmWave being commercial before 2022 or so. While I still believe this to be the case, these MNOs, who are the single most important entities to determine whether or not a new air-interface technology will be commercialized, are “all in”—and when they are successful, others will rapidly follow.

 

Wrapping up and looking ahead

One final comment: panel discussions are the most useful when panelists disagree. Now I am not advocating the circus of the recent U.S. Presidential debates, but folks (especially you moderators), we do not learn much when everyone smiles and nods in these discussions. More interesting to me have been a recent academic-versus-commercial showdown on massive MIMO and a dustup around the respective merits of open-source and royalty-based business models.

 

Here’s hoping there will be more such lively discussion at IWPC’s pair of meetings in November—featuring automotive wireless and (ahem!) mmWave in 5G—and then I’m off to Globecom. I look forward to providing some serious updates regarding our favorite 5G themes, and likely some flippant remarks about still more “5G Vision” and “5G KPI” slides as well as a few more “Kumbaya” panel discussions.

 

Industry gatherings: Love them? Dread them? Why?

I recall detailed conversations during the 2G-to-3G and 3G-to-4G transitions about the elusive “killer app” that would drive the ROI for a better mobile phone system. Our transition to 5G technology is no different, and while the term killer app does not pervade the vernacular like it once did, the concept lives on. And it lives on in an environment of significant doubt. Even comments on my first post indicate significant skepticism about the justification of such a large technical push: “Why would anyone ever need <insert your favorite 5G KPI here>[i] on their mobile phone?”

 

Perhaps the most skeptical are my own family, who are often subjected to dry runs of my 5G presentations. On July 25, however, I had the good fortune to receive a very telling, if not somewhat flippant, email from my engineering-grad-student daughter (nope, not electrical engineering). I present an insightful excerpt:

 

Hi Daddy!

 

In the past two weeks, Pokémon GO has netted at least $35 million in revenue. While I haven't been able to find any analyses of how much total  mobile data it has used, most online sources agree that one person spends about 20 MB of mobile data per hour of gameplay. This number is reduced significantly if you're in a Wi-Fi-rich area (e.g., on a college campus), and can be increased significantly if you use other data-chewing apps at the same time while you wait for the Pokémon GO servers to come back up.

 

Also, I have tried the game, and it is ridiculously fun, especially when half your lab group decides to walk to lunch and catch Pokémon together. For a smartphone game, it can be surprisingly social. Also, extremely nerdy. But we're Ph.D. students, so that ship sailed ages ago.

 

If 5G wireless can make my Pokémon hunting and battling more efficient and reliable, I'd be pretty happy. It is rife with possibility for showing off 5G capabilities. Now, I don't know much about these capabilities aside from what I've learned from you making me sit through the dry runs of your keynote talks, but in case you get stuck presenting the need for 5G to a room full of people my age, you could consider arguing the merits of Keysight's test equipment solutions on the basis of:

 

  • faster communication with the app's servers, so that the millions of users playing the game can crash them that much more effectively
  • more accurate location services inside buildings and outside, so that the game populates the area around a player with Pokémon more quickly
  • device-to-device communications, enabling live Pokémon battles or trades between users
  • working well in a crowd, so that when someone is caught up in a mass of hundreds of people all trying to catch the same **** Vaporeon, nobody gets trampled and (more importantly) nobody's connection slows down or drops

 

I argue that this millennial—raised on a certain video game, television, and trading-card phenomenon—has highlighted key indicators in least one market segment of what 5G needs to address. The Pokémon GO phenomenon hardly requires 5G technology to drive the faddish behavior that created massive financial ecosystems around smartphones. But my lovely daughter, through the context of a relatively simple augmented reality (AR) game, highlights what really happens in our industry.

 

I ask my readers to simply look at the four points rostered above—all of which, with significant improvement, will enable AR games that will make Pokémon GO look like Pong. I suggest that this is the shape of things to come. And I am not alone

 

And if you think that such trivial applications like video games are perhaps not the best things to drive our industry, then take a hard look at the amount of money generated in mobile communications in general by entertainment. Some of us technical people will fret about the mountains of research, patents, prototypes, cell sites, networks, antennas, and software all apparently dedicated to little more than catching Mewtwo. Hey folks, it pays the bills.

 

[i] Choose from: 1 ms latency, 10 Gbps, device-to-device communications, 500 kmph mobility, etc., etc. (and see the NGMN White Paper for more).

Now to finish my series on predictions, let us turn to one of the more exciting concepts in 5G: the mobile and tactile wireless Internet. The terrible triumvirate of technology, policy and business model is once again aligned against this one for 2020.

 

Roger’s claim: Wireless tactile Internet will not be commercial in 2020.

 

The objective of 1 millisecond end-to-end latency for virtual reality, automated semi-autonomous vehicles, and even “remote surgery” (every policy-maker’s favorite), has the trappings of science fiction. While I believe the applications will someday reward the investment, the combination of low latency and very high reliability represents significant technical challenges at all levels of network and UE implementation: air-interface, network protocols, front-haul, and backhaul technologies all require complete redesign.

 

The industry has actually moved away from such KPIs. I do not know if anyone has noticed, but when it comes to voice, the quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE) of all of our telecommunications systems is significantly worse than it was even five years ago. The mix of latency problems and reliability problems is obvious to those of us who regularly use our employers’ systems for teleconferencing with our mobile phones. And recall my comment about VoLTE in my introductory post.

 

One could argue that the automotive industry will aggressively drive these needs as it moves to autonomous vehicles. But automakers adopt new communications technology at a deliberately slow pace, braked by a huge installed base and justifiably heavy regulation.

 

If anyone wants to see how fast the automotive industry will move to 5G, just take a quick look at two topics. First, recall the protracted delay in shutting down the AMPS cellular system in the US: launched for voice in 1983 and ultimately used also for in-vehicle roadside-assistance services, it held on like grim death until 2008—the year the first LTE standard was adopted. Second, consider Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC): today, the auto industry is slowly adopting DSRC, a technology based on circa-1999 standards. As 2016 slides past us, the US DOT is only now considering passing a rule to mandate DSRC. A compelling presentation by NXP at the recent Brooklyn 5G Summit suggested even DSRC would not be mainstream in automotive until well after 2020.

 

I can also foresee enormous challenges with business model and policy issues once companies want to take full advantage of high-reliability and low-latency mobile communications. Investments will be significant and they will likely come in unexpected ways (foreshadowing a future post regarding entertainment as a significant driver). And I cannot wait to watch the circus that will evolve just in my own country around the Affordable Care Act and the insurance lobby when our government starts to wrangle the issues around remote surgery. As with mobile, multiple-access mmWave systems, the wireless tactile internet will come, but is going to be very much paced by that difficult triumvirate of technology, policy, and business model.

 

The quote “Predictions are difficult, especially about the Future,” has been attributed to at least two famous people and I cannot wrap this note without using these words as disclaimer. In at least some of the cases I have described, I hope I am proven wrong. My intent is not to criticize the brilliant people working to move these technologies from vision to commercial reality, but to take a run at the hype generated by the equally brilliant people who have to build outbound marketing programs in the interim. Your mileage may vary…

Continuing to expand on my first post, let us now turn to another overused term in the communications industry: Internet of Things (IoT). The challenges once again reside in the intertwined evolution of technology, policy and business model. I may be accused of unbounded skepticism but read on…

 

Roger’s claim: 5G wireless IoT will not be commercial in 2020.

 

Wireless IoT is upon us. We see it every day in the various widgets—fitness trackers, wireless cameras, and so on—that often consume more of our time than we spend on their associated activities.

5G_Myth_Image4.png

So why do I say it will not be commercial in 2020? Similar to my examination of massive MIMO, it comes down to definition. The 5G vision is for “ubiquitous things communicating.” 3GPP is well on the way to standardizing that vision with LTE Machine-to-Machine (LTE-M) and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) already released in standards in 2016. We can expect to see both of these commercialized in 2017.

 

There are also myriad (well, my last count exceeded 80) non-3GPP standards under development and in deployment by smaller consortia for various low-power wide-area or personal-area networks. But none of these are 5G and a new air-interface, proprietary or otherwise, is not enough for the tens of billions of connected devices coming in the next ten years (some claim trillions, but I will slay that myth in a future post).

5G_Myth_Part4.png

To achieve massive connectivity, 5G developers must address two more technical challenges, and both are in the protocol stack. One is managing a new media access control (MAC) scheme that enables communications with limited or no use of the “ACK” (acknowledge) concept. This is required for effective management of device power and interference. Such is among the ideas being studied in the new 5G radio-access technology (“New RAT” or NR). Not only is the technology necessary to enable such a “grant-less” system still just emerging from research groups, the 3GPP is focusing its R14 and R15 efforts for NR on eMBB and UR/LLC and not so much mMTC (and hence not yet focused on 5G IoT).

 

The second technical challenge involves messaging above OSI’s layers 2 and 3. Addressing unique identifiers for huge numbers of devices using today’s protocol standards will create networking overhead that consumes far more resources than the payloads themselves, and thus would burden the mobile packet core (MPC) to a point significantly affecting quality of service (QoS). 

 

But even if this new standard is complete by late 2018—in time for my rule-of-thumb gestation period of 18 months between “dry ink on a standard” and “commercialization”—the industry will have to recoup the investments currently being made on NB-IoT and LTE-M. This will move 5G NR mMTC commercialization almost definitely beyond the 2020 timeframe.

 

Adding another new IoT-ready air interface so closely on the heels of these efforts is likely similar to new standards work done in the past when such has stagnated in the standard without commercial deployment. Thus, 2020 will see plenty of wireless IoT, but the 5G part—the part that is defined in the new radio interface and the associated higher-layers in network protocol—will have to wait until a future release.

In my two previous posts, I’ve discussed the factors affecting commercialization and laid claim that some much-touted 5G technologies (e.g., millimeter-wave) will not be commercialized by 2020. Massive MIMO, on the other hand, starts with two factors heavily in its favor: implementation will require less policy change, and it has a potentially large benefit to mobile network operator (MNO) business models. Thus, developers can focus their energy and attention on the technical challenges.

 

Roger’s claim: Massive MIMO will be commercial in 2020.

 

At an IWPC meeting in the spring, representatives from China Mobile clearly stated that massive MIMO is implemented and running in its network. Some of the argument about the timing of massive MIMO depends upon one’s definition of the term.

5G_Myth_Image3.png

Since Dr. Thomas Marzetta’s seminal paper in 2010, the term has come to mean just about anything with more than four antennas. What I will call the “academic definition” was clearly outlined in an excellent panel discussion (featuring Marzetta) at IEEE Globecom 2015 in San Diego. This refers to something that has the following attributes:

    • Is based on TDD (although Marzetta recently suggested that FDD may be possible)[I]
    • Uses only uplink pilots for the determination of channel state information (CSI)
    • Provides significant gain in performance even in a non-scattered and 100 percent line-of-sight (LOS) environment
    • Requires the number of antenna ports to greatly exceed the eight defined in the current 3GPP MU FD MIMO standard

 

On the fourth point, I have seen some definitions of massive MIMO that focus mostly on getting the antenna count to at least eight; most of the other criteria included above appear to be less important. I simply do not consider eight to be “massive.”

 

But, my key point is that spatial multiplexing within cells, specifically to improve capacity, throughput, and spatial_multiplexing.png

especially energy efficiency, is mandatory for the 5G vision to become real. At the recent IWPC meeting, multiple MNOs agreed that their number-one OPEX beyond depreciation was paying for electrical power. Massive MIMO’s approach to limiting radio energy only to where it is needed is a huge step—if the industry can manage the technical challenges and increased power demands of the incremental baseband processing and more-complex antenna schemes. The innovation that I have seen from those researching and prototyping this concept is very impressive.

 

Implementing the academic definition of massive MIMO puts relatively small demands on the user equipment (UE) design (i.e., fewer technical challenges), requires fewer policy changes, and has a potentially large benefit to MNO business models. China Mobile’s focus in this area is driven by annual energy consumption that is significantly north of 14 TWh, and that is motivation enough to make this technology work ASAP[ii]

 

I have recently read statements from some MNOs suggesting that 5G “phase 2” (i.e., 2022 or later) will include massive MIMO, thereby refuting my claim. After all, MNOs are the ones who will dictate the timing for commercialization of any of these technologies. But given China Mobile’s clear statement and the lower technological, policy, and business model hurdles, I think massive MIMO will see reality.

 

Will users care? Probably—this is at least one facet of creating “great service in a crowd.” What do you think?

 


[i] See “Massive MIMO: ten myths and one critical question” in the February 2016 issue of IEEE Communications

[ii] See “Toward green and soft: a 5G perspective” in the Feb 2014 issue of IEEE Communications

As noted in my introductory post, the advent of 5G will be paced by three market forces: technology, policy, and business model. My last post referenced the past but our topic is predictive, so let us cover the future of perhaps the most visible of all 5G enabling technologies:

 

Roger’s claim: Millimeter-wave for eMBB will not be commercial in 2020.

 

First a couple of clarifications: My casual reference to “millimeter-Wave” (mmWave) means the use of any carrier above 6 GHz; and “eMBB” implies “mobile” and “multiple-access.” “Mobile” (mobility) means tolerance to group-delay at greater than walking speeds combined with handovers and Quality-of-Service (QoS) management from the network. “Multiple access” means managing many diverse users and use-models simultaneously. This means contiguous bandwidths of perhaps as much as 1 GHz and associated peak data-rates on the order of 10 Gbps.

 

I have tested my prediction with network equipment manufacturers

(NEMs) and m5G_Myth_Image1.pngobile net work operators (MNOs) and the initial responses have ranged from “You are right” to—are you ready for this?—“You are wrong.” Digging deeper yields greater clarity around the three big drivers, and all are stacked against mmWave.

 

Technology will not be ready. In spite of some impressive demonstrations of high-speed links—even mobile ones—in the rarified mmWave bands, the technology still has far to go. Although 802.11ad provides affordable mmWave communications with a truly elegant implementation, it is neither mobile nor multiple-access. Just a few examples that highlight the technical challenges include random-access, tracking, fading and blocking, and transceiver front-end design. Random-access and tracking alone are daunting: Where do you point your antenna first? How do you keep it pointed the right direction? How do you manage a directed and directional handover? All of these are getting serious attention so by 2020 we will likely have answers but probably not commercial deployment.

 

Policy will not be in place for licensed bands above 6 GHz. Policy always lags technology, and spectrum policy is no exception. Five simple assumptions reinforce this position:

  • Policymakers must declare which bands will be licensed for mobile.
  • Licensing structure must be determined.
  • Licenses must be allocated to the licensees, typically through auction.
  • The incumbents must be re-farmed.
  • The legal fallout must be resolved.

 

Even if we overcome the plodding precedents of the past, doing so across each facet in the next three-plus years seems virtually impossible.

 

“But,” I hear astute readers exclaim, “on July 14, 2016, the FCC paved the way to aggressively license mmWave for 5G!” This is indeed a positive step, and arrived sooner than I expected. Arguably, the FCC also covered the second bullet—but getting through the others, and especially the last one, will take time.

 

Cost and business model will not be ready for associated applications. Mobility using mmWave will require much greater density of base-stations due to issues with signal propagation. Each new site will require backhaul (and perhaps fronthaul) capacity and speed and this is unprecedented. User equipment (UE) will require multiple antennas and perhaps multiple mmWave bands.

 

5G_Myth_Image2.png

All of this new technology will require investment by MNOs and users. Killer apps will have to go way

beyond 4K YouTube cat videos to drive the average revenue per user (ARPU) necessary to justify these investments. Many of the envisioned applications involve augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR), implying costly UE devices. I do believe this is coming—demand for higher data rates is inexorable—but resolving this host of issues in less than four years is a longshot at best.

 

One more counterargument is Verizon’s claim it will commercialize mmWave 5G capability in 2017. But they have also explicitly stated that this is for fixed wireless only, at least at first. This is an admirable goal and I have no doubt it will be accomplished, but it does not achieve the “mobile” part of eMBB.

 

Will we have commercial mmWave systems in 2020? We already do with 802.11ad. It is possible that even policy will move fast enough for MNOs to implement fixed-wireless capabilities in licensed bands. But for mobile, multiple-access services so we can experience our 8K YouTube cat-videos with VR goggles, I say we have a few more years to wait. I actually hope someone proves me wrong—I welcome all comers!