There seems to be little doubt that 5G mmWave is set to unleash the full potential of next-generation mobile networks, using spectrum resources in frequencies above 24GHz to complement sub-6GHz roll-outs and offer the full potential of 5G, allowing mobile operators the potential to add massive capacity to cellular networks with multi-gigabit wireless speeds and low-latency connectivity.
These capabilities will likely see use in applications, giving subscribers fast and responsive connectivity in areas such as fixed wireless, enterprise (such as offices and campuses), ultra HD video, security, precise remote guidance, telemedicine, smart factories and smart ports. Yet despite the almost unquestioned future benefits, the technology in the UK at least still has to surmount a potential gating factor from comms regulator Ofcom.
Setting out its position in the market at a media day, wireless technology provider Qualcomm outlined the 5G mmWave technology roadmap for Europe, placing particular emphasis on how it can facilitate reliable and high-quality mobile connectivity in busy areas and high-traffic scenarios such as sporting events and concerts, as well as residential areas.
The company kicked off by emphasising how 5G was always designed with the millimetre wave spectrum in mind, and cited the recent Ericsson mobility report showing there will be a near two and a half times growth in mobile traffic over the next five to six years, driven by video traffic in the network which is set to rise to account for nearly 80% of all mobile traffic in the network by 2028, with 70% of all mobile traffic being 5G-based.
For Qualcomm, the question is whether the 5G infrastructure that is available today is able to sustain the anticipated increase in traffic? This is where the company sees mmWave networks coming into the picture.
“We believe 5G mmWave makes 5G complete,” said Qualcomm senior director, business development Vikas Dhingra. “But what does it really mean? What can I do? It means you can get gigabit data rates on your smartphones – we are talking about hundreds of Mbps … so that changes the quality of experience. And also, at the end of the day, you get much more capacity.
“There are three sorts of deployment of this technology complementing [current] 5G and in certain scenarios, we’ll see that everybody will be able to get far better experiences. And that’s the key for 5G for individuals. The last advantage is from the way technology has been built. It also affords us lower latencies, which means it starts to bring about new use cases and we’ll see some of them for enterprises.”
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A key use case indicated by Dhingra was fixed wireless access (FWA), and he pointed out work that Qualcomm was doing in this area, bridging the digital divide in countries such as Italy. Specifically, he said the Qualcomm-enabled equipment seeing use in trials had shown throughputs of wireless broadband measuring from hundreds of Mbps to Gbps even over multiple kilometres of range.
Another example was the use of mmWave 5G in heavily congested places such as railway stations and sports arenas. The Verizon 5G network used at Super Bowl 2022 to support high-quality video experiences was offered as proof of concept.
Dhingra also highlighted enterprise use cases. “We can also talk about having 5G mmWave in offices. It’s not only about smartphones; you can have laptops and Qualcomm already has the device and the chipset, which can enable laptops to directly connect to 5G mmWave.
“We are talking about what we call the always-connected PCs. You can think of a hybrid workforce where you’re providing seamless mobility connectivity to the laptops while they are in the offices, [when] they are in train stations or in what we can call third places in cafés within shopping malls, etc. Going beyond offices, [there are] education campuses, university campuses and Industry 4.0 being enabled. [We are] talking about video cameras so you can have quality inspection and you can have video surveillance analytics, in a wireless manner connected through 5G mmWave, because it gives you higher capacity and much higher throughput.”
Looking further afield, literally, Qualcomm highlighted the work of the 5G Rural Dorset Project in using mmWave 5G technology in farming. 5G RuralDorset is working with Qualcomm and services provider Telint to investigate how next-generation connectivity can revolutionise agriculture, increase productivity and reduce environmental impact. The trials will test 26GHz spectrum and the latest microchips to transmit the huge amounts of data required to enable “per plant” farming that is made possible by autonomous vehicles, drones and robots.
The project is said to have the required facilities to test the very latest equipment, with the potential to supercharge the rural economy and change global markets. The teams of robots are designed to spot weeds and destroy them naturally, and are said to have the potential to increase yields by 200% and reduce the need for harmful herbicides and chemicals by up to 95%.
Ground communication problems
5G RuralDorset says of the biggest challenges the project sees, one is the ability to transmit high volumes of data efficiently and seamlessly, and that at the moment, the agri-tech industry has ground communications problems. The project believes mmWave 5G technology is allowing it to have a deeper gathering of data, which by its nature then allows for better decision-making by farmers and businesses. Qualcomm technology is deployed to facilitate the transfer of the data back to farmers through small cells so they can make such decisions in real time.
5G RuralDorset spectrum and security lead and Telint managing director Dave Happy noted that one of the things required to maximise the value of the 5G mmWave technology is to address inherent range issues with the technology. “With FWA … the range [issue] is improving. But also, what we’re finding is that the technology is improving in lots of ways. Fibre in rural areas is becoming more common by the day.
“We’ve got something like 70km week being deployed in Dorset right now. We also have lots of point-to-point radios. And what we are doing now is looking at other ways to map this stuff so we can get all the different operators that are out there to look at how they can work together to share each other’s networks. If we can put this together, we can improve the speed with which we can deploy this technology. So, it’s not an ‘if’, it’s a question of how quickly. Wouldn’t it be nice, therefore, if Ofcom came up with a regime to release [the necessary] spectrum that would facilitate that?”
And that is the rub. In March 2022 the UK comms regulator announced proposals to open a consultation to make a large amount of mmWave spectrum available for use by mobile technology, including 5G. Explaining the reasons for its announcement, Ofcom said its principal aim was to enable opportunities for a wide range of users and applications across the country to access mmWave spectrum for new uses. At the time, Ofcom said it recognised that mass-market applications for mmWave spectrum were still at an early stage worldwide, but believed this spectrum has the potential to deliver significant benefits by enabling large increases in wireless data capacity and speeds.
The consultation set out proposals to make mmWave spectrum available in the 26GHz (24.25-27.5 GHz) and 40GHz (40.5-43.5 GHz) bands for new uses. These are exactly the parts of the wireless spectrum supporting the business benefits outlined by Dhingra and exactly what is needed by the likes of 5G RuralDorset. A lot will rest on the outcome, which is expected soon.