From The Editor | January 23, 2014

Millimeter Waves For 5G: Intel Among Those Making Strides

By Clinton Shaffer

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As mobile device usage continues to skyrocket, the development of the next-generation of mobile networks has become a major priority for the electronic design industry.

Recent updates from organizations including Intel indicate that the development of 5G mobile device technology is well underway, and that 5G networks will utilize millimeter waves.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month, Ali Sadri, senior director of millimeter wave standards in Intel’s mobile and wireless group, met with FCC officials to discuss opening up the millimeter wave spectrum for 5G use. Sadri told EE Times that millimeter wave technology “will play a very serious role as an augmentation of the cellular infrastructure.”

He also stressed patience: “We’re at the educational level. A lot of study has to be done, shared simulations and test deployments, so it will be a couple years before the FCC can consider rule changes” involving the millimeter wave spectrum.

Regarding specific bands, Sadri believes that, “39 GHz is more suitable” than 28 GHz for connecting mobile devices to a 5G network, given that satellite services are already operating on the 28 GHz band. The 39 GHz band has more than 1 GHz of free space available. Plus, antennas for 39 GHz can be physically smaller than those for 28 GHz, which could prove critical given the likelihood that phased-array antennas with beam forming capabilities will be a requirement of 5G. 

Sadri’s group is developing a demonstration for the Mobile World Congress in February that will incorporate a 60 GHz backhaul link for small cell base stations. The group is also evaluating access links for mobile devices at 28 GHz and 39 GHz, with a goal of 1 Gbps for devices within 200 meters. According to the EE Times story, the group aims to work on “new media access controller and physical layer chips” by 2017. And, by 2020, the group aspires to have a project ready for the industry to launch.

Intel is not the only company making progress in the realm of 5G millimeter wave mobile access technology. InterDigital and Blu Wireless Technology recently announced that they successfully completed the first stage of their collaboration to develop millimeter wave technology for small cell base stations and mobile access points.

The partner companies will use the abundance of millimeter wave spectrum available to improve backhaul and mobile access within small cell coverage. Their project combines multi-hop backhaul technology from InterDigital with the HYDRA baseband evaluation platform provided by Blu Wireless. According to Henry Nurser, CEO of Blu Wireless Technology, the project “will enable a significant advance in the application of low-cost millimeter wave technology within the 4G and 5G mobile infrastructure markets.”

While the research into millimeter waves for 5G sounds promising, it is important to note that the technology still faces difficult challenges on both the technical and regulatory fronts. It will be interesting to follow future developments as they happen, and see if millimeter waves provide the best path to fulfilling the promise of 5G.

What do you think are the biggest challenges of using millimeter waves for 5G networks? Do you think millimeter waves are the best avenue for 5G development? Which is the better option for millimeter wave mobile access, 28 GHz or 39 GHz? What other technologies are poised to have a major impact on 5G development?

Image Credit: Eberhardt, Jared. “Hollywood Sign – Clear Day.” © 2008 under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License: http://goo.gl/LlAvkT

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