In yesterday’s Techpinions column, Bob O’Donnell did a great job of providing a 5G Status Report, based in part on having attended the Qualcomm 5G Workshop in San Diego and the 5G Americas Analyst event in Dallas last week. I had the opportunity to attend the same two events, and thought I’d use the opportunity to build on Bob’s piece with a bit of a different take on 5G.
So far, initial 5G deployments are mainly focused on the EMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband) pillar of 5G. Basically, faster download and upload speeds that are averaging 3-5x better than typical LTE speeds. The one unique ‘use case’ for 5G so far is fixed wireless access (FWA), deployed mainly by Verizon in very limited parts of five cities, with the objective of providing a competitive alternative to fixed broadband.
But the real promise of 5G, over the long-term, rests on the other two ‘pillars’ of 5G: Massive IoT, and Ultra Low Latency. The capabilities to open up new markets and new use cases are highly dependent on the next ‘phase’ of 5G, in what’s called 3GPP Release 16 (R16), which will likely be approved in 2020, with commercial availability of some of its aspects arriving in 2021.
In preparation for that, here are five important aspects that will be critical in the development of 5G opportunities beyond enhanced mobile broadband. Be prepared – they’re a mouthful.
Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC). Now say that five times quickly, with all the dashes in the right places. This is a critical feature of 5G that delivers latencies of below 10 milliseconds (ms) and perhaps below 1 ms. These low latencies are better than what can be accomplished today on many fixed networks. They open up important use cases in the consumer realm, such as in gaming and AR/VR, as well as important new enterprise sectors, such as motion control in manufacturing or the factory floor.
Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS). Notwithstanding the fact that this acronym will yield a very different (and less fortunate) type of thing in search results, DSS means that operators can reuse existing LTE bands for 5G, and that 5G NR and LTE can operate on the same band, simultaneously, with a simple software upgrade. This is going to be very important, for two reasons. First, it will enable operators to get to broader 5G coverage quickly, rather than relying exclusively on new 5G-centric bands. Second, this is a hedge against mmWave. It would allow Verizon, for example, whose 5G strategy is mmWave centric, to have broader options for its 5G deployment strategy, especially in advance of new mid-band spectrum becoming available.
Time Sensitive Networking (TSN). Supports time synchronization and dual connectivity, and gives deterministic performance. This means guaranteed packet transport with low and bounded latency, low packet delay variation, and low packet loss. This is a key requirement for some of the Industrial IoT application and use cases, such as manufacturing/factory floor. Although there are some aspects of TSN present in LTE, there are significant enhancements embedded within the URLLC specs of R16. Those who are looking seriously at the Industrial IoT sector should familiarize themselves with TSN
Coordinated Multipoint (CoMP). CoMP allows connections to several base stations at once (eNodeBs in LTE parlance). CoMP started to be used more aggressively in LTE Advanced, as a way of improving service at the cell edge, by utilizing multiple eNBs, boosting the signal and reducing interference. But CoMP takes on even greater importance in 5G. Whereas Massive MIMO is increases capacity and coverage extending to the cell edge in a macro environment, CoMP delivers some of those same capabilities for a small cell environment. Which is why CoMP is also sometimes referred to as ‘Distributed MIMO’. The capacity gains enabled by 5G CoMP will be important in small cell based enterprise and venue deployments, and the latency improvements will have application in the Industrial IoT realm.
5G NR-U. Just when you thought you understood the distinction between 5G, 5G NR, 5G NSA, and 5G SA, along comes 5G NR-U [unlicensed]. Over the past several years, there have been important developments in the use of unlicensed spectrum to expand mobile connectivity, notably LAA and MulteFire. R16 will include an LAA version of 5G NR in unlicensed spectrum (5G NR-U) that relies on a licensed anchor, as well as a standalone version of 5G NR-U that can be used by carriers and/or any entities that don’t control any licensed spectrum of their own. This will be another tool for private/enterprise deployments. Even more importantly, there’s potential harmonization with Wi-Fi 6, which itself employs many of the characteristics of 5G. Wi-Fi and cellular have always been a bit of a binary discussion. But the potential for cross-fertilization of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G is an under-recognized area of opportunity.