The Race to 5G: Technology
Keep tabs on major companies around the world as they roll out 5G
Follow along as IEEE Spectrum summarizes the most interesting news and developments related to 5G technology through the 5G Tech Tracker.
Verizon Teases Commercial Fixed Wireless for Sacramento
3 January 2018
Verizon said it will roll out commercial service over 5G fixed wireless networks (which it tested throughout 2017) in Sacramento, Calif., by the end of 2018. It also tapped Samsung as its equipment provider of choice. Verizon’s over-the-air Internet service, which is based on high-frequency millimeter waves, doesn’t require a clear line of sight between the transmitter and receiver, which was surely a relief. Samsung says a signal from a single radio can reach as high as the 19th floor of a building.
Huawei Touts Core Network Test with China Mobile
9 January 2018
Huawei is making its move on China Mobile and its 880 million wireless customers. The companies announced “outstanding performance” in a test of Huawei’s 5G core network (but didn’t get much more specific than that). The core is the chunk of equipment and software that routes data, directs calls, and connects to other networks. Huawei’s version incorporates network slicing, a technique that lets an operator designate a specific bandwidth or latency for a particular purpose. Clearly pleased with itself, Huawei said its core could “serve as a solid foundation for the future large-scale commercial use of 5G.”
Sprint’s CTO is Pumped About Massive MIMO
10 January 2018
Sprint CTO John Saw talked up massive MIMO at an investors conference in Las Vegas, calling it “our bridge to 5G.” This technology expands the number of antennas at a base station from 16 to 128, and adds beamforming to coordinate signals. Sprint will bring massive MIMO to its network this year, and expand support for 2.5 GHz to all base stations (only half support it today). That frequency is “ideal” for massive MIMO, Saw said, because the antennas required for it are so small that even a batch would be compact enough to meet zoning requirements.
12 January 2018
Japan will soon host its first trial of vehicle-to-everything technology, which uses cellular frequencies (5 GHz, in this case) to connect cars to pretty much everything else, including streetlights, other cars—and even pedestrians. If it catches on, this would obviously drum up more business for NTT Docomo and its partners. But some experts believe it makes more sense for smart cars to communicate primarily through short-range (DSRC) radios, rather than over 5G cellular bands.
Telefonica to Test 5G in Two Cities in Spain
22 January 2018
Lucky residents of Segovia and Talavera de la Reina could be the first to test 5G service in Spain. Telefonica will conduct 5G trials in both cities for three years with Nokia and Ericsson. The announcement was short on details about the underlying tech, but did say Telefonica’s network will start out as nonstandalone (meaning it will piggyback on 4G) and that customers will be able to connect to it with existing devices. Telefonica expects to deliver mobile data at speeds up to 1 Gbps, or three times those which residents enjoy at home for broadband Internet.
Nokia Unleashes 5G Chipsets
29 January 2018
We’ll never know what the real-life Caribbean reef shark thinks about Nokia’s new ReefShark 5G chipset, to be installed in the radios of antennas on future 5G base stations. But the company touted a “massive performance gain”—specifically, the ability to boost the throughput of base stations by a factor of three. Nokia also teased built-in AI for network slicing, a technique that allows carriers to cordon off pieces of spectrum for customers who (presumably) pay more. The Finnish manufacturer says it’s working with 30 operators, and will start shipping ReefSharks later this year.
AT&T Confuses Everyone With 5G “Pucks”
31 January 2018
When AT&T said it would launch mobile 5G service in 12 U.S. cities this year, critics pointed out that compatible smartphones won’t be available that soon. Today on an earnings call, AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson said customers would initially use “pucks” to connect to its blazingly-fast network. “We’re going to be deploying pucks in the first part of our deployments, in these 12 markets,” he said. “So it is a mobile solution, but it’s not going to be a handset.” What exactly are pucks? Probably some kind of mobile hotspot, but it’s not entirely clear.
Sprint to Launch Mobile 5G in Early 2019
2 February 2018
A lot of companies are promising to launch various forms of 5G service right now, which can be dizzying to track. Today, Sprint’s CEO Marcelo Claure said on an earnings call that the carrier will offer mobile 5G service, and begin selling 5G-compatible devices, in early 2019. This combination of 5G smartphones and a network that supports them is the industry’s ultimate goal. Which is why Sprint, betting on spectrum below 6 GHz instead of the high-frequency millimeter waves preferred by its competitors, now claims it will be “first” to rollout a nationwide mobile 5G “platform.”
Verizon’s 5G Super Bowl
5 February 2018
A few lucky Verizon engineers went to the Super Bowl, but were stuck watching it through a VR headset in order to test the company’s 5G capabilities. Verizon made the experience sound as thrilling as possible, talking up the 180-degree stereoscopic live feed that gave participants an “in-stadium view,” and the high-resolution replays projected on separate screens—all streamed over a 5G connection (the specifics of which the company didn’t share). This setup echoes predictions by 5G enthusiasts who say consumers will pay extra to livestream sports and concerts in VR. But will they, really? Stay tuned.
SK Telecom Tests Self-Driving Cars at 28 GHz
6 February 2018
SK Telecom will introduce self-driving cars that operate on its 5G network to highways in South Korea in 2019. The company recently tested its V2X (which stands for “vehicle-to-everything”) technology with the Korean Transportation Safety Authority. On a 2-km track in a fake city called K-City, two cars used millimeter waves broadcast at 28 GHz to send warnings about obstacles to one another, and receive updates about construction zones from a control center. The company says the cars communicated more than 100 times a second, with latency (the term for the roundtrip delay) as low as 1 millisecond.
ZTE Gets Serious About Network Slicing
6 February 2018
ZTE says it has developed a cloud-based technology to provide end-to-end network slicing for 5G, which can virtually dice up a company’s spectrum for customers who wish to reserve chunks for very specific purposes. Many of the most anticipated uses for 5G (industrial IoT! robotic surgery!) will require different degrees of reliability and performance, and this technology should give carriers a way to guarantee special clients a certain level of service. In its press release, the company also tried to make “Network Slice as a Service” into a thing, but it’s hard to imagine that term catching on.
Qualcomm Is Very Proud of Its 5G Modem
8 February 2018
Qualcomm went on something of a PR tear today, issuing twin announcements about its work with smartphone manufacturers and mobile network operators to prepare 5G technologies to launch. With manufacturers, it talked up its Snapdragon X50 5G modem, which will debut in mobile devices released in 2019 from HTC, LG, ZTE, and Xiaomi. The company also said operators including AT&T, Chine Mobile, China Telecom, SK Telecom, and Sprint were using the modem as a reference model for future mobile devices in 5G network trials.
Vodafone Claims World’s First 5G Phone Call
21 February 2018
It was only a matter of time before a company issued a press release claiming to make the first 5G phone call. Today, Vodafone and Huawei say they’ve beat everyone else to this particular PR stunt. The irony is that making a phone call is one of the most boring things you could do with 5G technology. Wireless phone calls have worked pretty well for decades. The companies did place an HD video call (with a test device on a test network in Spain), which at least made use of the low latency that 5G promises.
Huawei Completes India’s First 5G Network Trial
23 February 2018
Huawei and Bharti Airtel have conducted the first 5G network trial in India, according to The Hindu Business Line. The companies achieved data speeds of 3 Gbps at 3.5 GHz. Compare that to India’s current average 4G speed of just 6.13 Mbps—which makes their service slower than 76 other countries. The companies also reported latency of 1 ms, which is much better than the 50 ms typical of 4G LTE, and on par with what’s generally expected for 5G service. These results are from a test network and actual performance would be slower—but still much faster than what’s available there today.
Huawei Has a 5G Chip, But It’s Not for Phones
25 February 2018
There’s been a steady dribble of 5G chip announcements this month. Now, Huawei has its first 5G chip—the Balong 5G01. Before you get too excited, though, note that this chip is not designed for phones, but “customer-premises equipment.” That could be mean a router, antenna, or other system installed at a home or business for the purposes of coordinating 5G service, or perhaps converting signals traveling by millimeter waves to frequencies more commonly used for Wi-Fi. Huawei says the chip has shown download speeds of up to 2 Gbps and works with millimeter waves and frequencies below 6 GHz.
Sprint Wins With Magic Box Small Cells
28 February 2018
Sprint appears to have hit a home run with the 2017 debut of its Magic Box small cells. The boxes extend and improve Sprint’s LTE coverage wherever they’re installed, and the company said today that it has now placed 100,000 of them in 200 U.S. cities. That’s good progress toward the 1 million it plans to deploy on its “multi-year roadmap.” The company has recently won several industry awards for the technology, which it developed with Airspan Networks.
China Telecom to Install A Lot More Base Stations
7 March 2018
China Telecom expects to finish 5G field trials in six cities this year, and will expand the number of base stations it operates from the 1.16 million it uses today for 4G to as many as 2 million for 5G, says Chengliang Zhang, vice president of China Telecom’s Beijing Research Institute. The company is focused on the 3.5 GHz frequency for 5G, while it relies primarily on 1.8 GHz for 4G. Because of the shorter wavelength, “if you want to get the same coverage as 4G, you need to increase the base station density,” Zhang said. He was speaking at a conference in San Diego, Calif.
T-Mobile Tests Massive MIMO in Czech Republic
7 March 2018
T-Mobile Czech Republic worked with Huawei to try out massive MIMO (which uses dozens or hundreds of antennas per base station) in Prague during the first two months of 2018. The carrier called it “the largest massive MIMO test in continental Europe.” The trial involved four base stations in the city’s Petrovice district, and T-Mobile had this to say about the results: “In the ideal case, the mMIMO antenna solution can provide an approximate five-fold increase of the capacity of a transmitter cell; in practice, the capacity is usually doubled or tripled.” Not bad.
NTT Docomo Conducts 5G Trial with Railway
8 March 2018
NTT Docomo recently teamed up with Huawei and Tobu Railway Co. to test millimeter waves in a field trial in Japan. The announcement had very few details about what, exactly the companies were testing—or if it involved railcars in any way. They did share that at least part of the test was conducted at 28 GHz, which is turning out to be one of the most popular 5G frequencies worldwide. And they said the test was intended to measure signal propagation “in a dense urban area,” which sounds about right for Japan.
Korea Telecom Aims to Launch 5G in March 2019
23 March 2018
Korea Telecom is preparing to launch 5G mobile service for enterprise clients in March 2019, and predicts it will be the first telecommunications company in the world to do so—dismissing claims by Verizon and AT&T that their fixed wireless networks (which only provide point-to-point service) qualify as 5G. A Korea Telecom representative said its 5G service would likely be available in cities first, and move into rural areas at a later date, The Korea Times reports. The update comes shortly after the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, which the company sponsored and dubbed “the first 5G Olympics.”
AT&T Ready to Roll Out 60,000 White Box Routers
26 March 2018
AT&T will install more than 60,000 “white box” routers in existing cell towers across its network in the next few years. These routers are built with open hardware specifications, which means AT&T will no longer be limited by the roadmaps of specific hardware vendors. And the routers should be easy to update through software. The company pitched them as a way to reduce latency—a big goal for 5G—by bringing content and applications closer to the customer. The white boxes have their own operating system, which AT&T plans to open source through the Linux Foundation.
Telefonica Tests Fixed Wireless in Spain
27 March 2018
Telefonica spent three days testing a new fixed wireless system at its headquarters in Spain. Such systems are meant to deliver data directly from one stationary point, such as a rooftop antenna, to another stationary point. The system that Telefonica tested is built by a company called Cohere Technologies, and uses a new type of modulation known as orthogonal time frequency space modulation (OTFS). Cohere says its technology, with the new modulation scheme, can improve spectral efficiency by six times compared to other systems.
Ericsson Adds Maltese Teleco as 5G Partner
27 March 2018
Ericsson has been involved in more 5G trials than any other company, according to data compiled by Viavi. Now, it has signed on with a wireless provider in Malta to bring 4.5G service—and eventually, 5G—to the tiny island nation. Today, Melita said that it would use Ericsson’s software and base station equipment to upgrade its network. Melita is the smallest of three carriers, according to TeleGeography, that serve Malta, which has just 437,000 citizens. The announcement shows that carriers of all sizes are forming their 5G strategies.
Vodafone Shows Off 5G in New Zealand
27 March 2018
The technology director of Vodafone New Zealand went live on Facebook today to show off 5G demos during a technology showcase in Auckland. The demos ran on millimeter waves at 28 GHz using base station equipment provided by Nokia, including the AirScale system. One of the potential applications the host rattled off was “5G to the desktop,” saying office workers will connect to 5G instead of Wi-Fi. Commenters were not impressed, using the opportunity to complain about Vodafone’s existing 4G and 3G service, and to request better coverage for rural areas.