2019 5G Predictions

Parent Category: 2018 HFE

By Tom Cameron

2019 will be the year when we see the first commercial networks turning on and first handsets arriving in the market. Like previous generations, 5G will have low initial penetration but will accelerate in coming years as technology matures and user devices emerge. Like 4G, it will take several years from initial launch until 5G is the dominant technology globally. Based on recent announcements from key industry players (i.e. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile), first 5G commercial deployments will likely commence during the second half of 2019 with a target to have 5G commercial service available in 2020.

One question to consider is will these networks be “true 5G?” It will depend on how 5G is defined. An accepted definition of a 5G subscriber is a device supporting the NR protocol connected to an NR basestation. This is independent of which spectrum band the network utilizes. While some may consider 5G only as operating in mmwave spectrum, truly all spectrum is 5G spectrum and we will see NR deployed across the entire spectrum range, depending on what assets operators have available to support their strategy. If you recall the original IMT2020 KPIs set out by the ITU, there are several requirements which will certainly be met, such as spectral efficiency improvements and super-high user data rates. However, don’t expect all the KPIs to be achieved by any operator on Day 1. This is the reason why standards work is ongoing after Release 15. It will take time to evolve the network technology to meet all the original IMT2020 goals set out, such as ultra-high reliability and low latency.

The 5G standard timeline will continue to evolve.

The initial Release 15 specification (non-standalone, or NSA) was agreed upon and released at the end of 2017. There was a mid-year drop addressing standalone (SA) in June 2018, and we will continue to see a few late drops toward the end of 2018 into early 2019 mainly addressing dual connectivity. While there will be future enhancements, Release 15 laid down the foundation to enable initial SoCs to be defined and subsequent first user devices to be available in 2019. Work on Release 16 has started already, with a target to complete by the end of 2019. Major elements of the next release improve the wireless industry’s ability to address vertical markets including enhancements to V2X, industrial IoT, and URLLC. Also included are the exploration of 5G in unlicensed bands, 5G for non-terrestrial use cases (satellite) and the move to higher-frequency bands above 52.6 GHz. There will be work toward various enhancements to improve network efficiency, interference mitigation, MIMO enhancements, and exploration to improve location and positioning.

For the sub-6-GHz infrastructure, Release 15 radio standards specifications are comprehensive, and we do not see the standards activity having material impact on the analog radio going forward. Most of the forward-looking features reside in the baseband and generally will be implemented in software. This enables operators to install “5G-ready” equipment now and evolve as new features become available. For mmWave, we are still early in the game, and there may be some modifications to the standards as the industry learns and refines use cases. The Release 15 specifications are adequate to support first commercial deployments. However, the industry does not stand still, and 5G radios continue to evolve across all bands to deliver a lower cost of ownership to the operator.

There are hurdles that need to be cleared before full 5G deployment can be achieved.

First, we need new spectrum. This is well underway globally, whether it be mid-band or high-band spectrum, with many countries allocating spectrum for 5G. Ideal spectrum allocations for 5G are on the order of 50 MHz or more of contiguous spectrum to take full advantage of NR. Cost-effective 5G devices are required to drive subscriber adoption, whether these be user devices or machine-type devices. As with previous generations, we will see network infrastructure coverage roll out first and then capacity layered on as demand builds. In sub-6 GHz, we will see the coverage layer built on massive MIMO using existing infrastructure followed by densification. Small-cell deployments will be more critical to 5G to take advantage of higher-frequency spectrum. Overall, whether an operator capacity layer relies on massive MIMO, mmWave, or small cells, 5G will be built on a proliferation of antennae, which, in turn, drives a proliferation of radios.

5G will also drive radio channel counts, whether it be for macro, massive MIMO, small-cell, or mmWave form factors. Macro base stations in the low bands will expand MIMO channel counts from 2T2R to 4T4R and possibly higher. Massive MIMO radios will have increased radio density per system ranging from 16T16R to 64T64R, and mmWave radios will have up to 256 RF channels in the analog beamformers. The drive for smaller, more efficient radios that we have seen in 4G continues and, in fact, accelerates as we move into this age of beamforming radios. As an industry, we need to continue to reduce size, weight, and power (SWaP) consumption while supporting wider bandwidths and higher operating frequencies. There are various approaches to reduce the SWaP consumption of the radio systems, the most common approach leveraging circuit integration and Moore’s Law to shrink the size and improve power efficiency.

There will be exciting 5G applications coming in 2019.

Initially, 5G will provide the ability to deliver mobile broadband at lower cost to operators, but as full NR capability emerges, there are some exciting applications and use cases forthcoming. Industrial automation is one of the promising use cases that may leverage the low latency and high reliability provided by future 5G networks. There is a range of possible wireless use cases from predictive maintenance to AR/VR for troubleshooting and repair, remotely controlled and cooperative robotics to fully autonomous robotics. Initially, wireless networks need to provide similar connectivity to existing wired industrial Ethernet networks, but going forward, 5G may be leveraged to evolve factories to create more flexible and efficient production lines.

Autonomous vehicles are quickly evolving with onboard sensor technologies and computing power gaining the ability to replicate the human driver. However, many agree that for Level 5 autonomy, reliable, ultra-low-latency wide-area connectivity will be required. The wide-area connectivity will complement the power of the onboard sensors and decision making by providing situational awareness and extend the vehicle’s ability to look down the road to make decisions in a fraction of a second. Going forward, the evolution of 5G-based C-V2X enables vehicles to share their sensor data across a wide area so that vehicles may better predict road conditions to plan their routes and take evasive action to avoid unsafe situations.

About the Author

Tom Cameron is Director of Wireless Technology at Analog Devices.