By Ed Biller, Editor, RF Globalnet
Much like the 2017 event, this month’s IEEE International Microwave Symposium 2018 (IMS) was abuzz with talk of 5G applications, rollouts, and developments. But nowhere was that focus more singular than Monday’s (June 12) 5G summit, whose speaker lineup looked like a connectivity All-Star roster.
Among the most compelling addresses were AT&T Vice President David Lu’s look at his company’s (and his own) perspectives on 5G development; Michael Marcus, formerly of the FCC and Bell Labs, as well as current director of Marcus Spectrum Solutions, delved into 5G policy issues; and General Motors Technical Fellow Timothy Talty examined what 5G will mean for the automotive industry moving forward.
AT&T Pushing To Be 5G Frontrunner
While both Verizon and AT&T have claimed dominance in 5G development over the past year, AT&T has in recent weeks backed off of the one-upsmanship in which the providers have engaged, taking a more pragmatic approach.
Lu — currently responsible for development and engineering of AT&T’s next-gen ECOMP software platform and Open ECOMP (ONAP) — laid out AT&T’s official industry outlook for 5G Summit attendees. Its key points include expectations that the global 5G infrastructure market will exceed $33.7 billion by 2025, and that consumer electronics will hold the largest share of that infrastructure market. Additionally, AT&T expects the industrial automation market to grow “at a high rate” between 2020 and 2026, and predicts that North America will hold the largest share of the 5G infrastructure market in 2020.
“I’m not so sure that [prediction about the U.S.] is true. I predict China will get ahead of the US,” Lu said, citing that nation’s proliferation of cell sites (China already has 2 million LTE cell sites). “China is investing heavily in that infrastructure. We are driven by our corporate dividends – very different”
Still, the need for the speed, efficiency, low latency, and improved coverage promised by 5G is undeniable, as is the demand. Since 2007, data traffic growth on AT&T mobile network has grown 250,000 percent; that’s not a typo. Healthcare, manufacturing, industry, financial services, automotive applications, and eSports are among the use cases driving need. And don’t take that last driver lightly: eSports market intelligence firm Newzoo estimates that the global eSports market will exceed $1 billion in revenue by next year.
To fully grasp these opportunities, Lu said, software-defined networking must evolve in a hurry — today’s carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO, and UHF spectrum reliance must give way to innovation in network slicing, massive MIMO, and millimeter wave (EHF) technologies. Specifically, Lu noted five key areas of focus that will enable expansion into 5G: RAN hardware, RAN software, Fiber transport, SDN core (“the network has to be ready to take tens, hundreds, many thousands of times bigger capacity” transitioning to edge), and devices.
“You develop more AI capability to fully utilize an already very capable 5G network,” he said. Further, 5G software and hardware “must evolve as a harmonious ecosystem” (and not be siloed), since emerging technologies — e.g., drones, automotive applications, VR, IoT, and telemedicine — demand lower latency and faster processing at the edge.
“The interference [of the edge network] is going to be a key challenge,” Lu said, noting that AT&T’s 5G network trials in South Bend, Ind., and Kalamazoo, Mich., saw no impacts in 5G signal due to weather, and mmWave signals penetrate materials better than anticipated. He tempered that positive news, though, adding that a junk yard heavily affected one cell site because of all the radio reflection it caused, and even nature — the blossoming of trees in spring,, specifically — can block radio signals at times.
“As a service provider, we are trying our best… every day we look at it from an operational perspective,” Lu said, adding that AT&T constantly monitors its radio environment in real time. “Hopefully, the experience is going to get better and better and better… Years ago, projects were abandoned due to coverage issues – that will not be the case moving forward.”
Finally, Lu addressed cell sites, saying, “there is not easy answer. AT&T still is learning and trying to innovate.” Microcells are capable of long-distance coverage, and are popular in the U.S., but small cell (range of hundreds of yards) densification must proliferate to improve that coverage and reduce interference, he said.
Marcus, who described himself as a 5G policy wonk who “doesn’t want to see governments making these decisions, but the best technology rising to the top naturally,” also weighed in on the U.S.’ infrastructure issues – 5G estimates now say that 800,000 new small base stations are needed (up from half of that number predicted just a few months ago) to keep pace with carriers’ ambitious network goals.
However, local government oversight of these small cells has been time-consuming and expensive. Further, ubiquitous messy infrastructure is likely to result in (more) public backlash, from health worries to aesthetic concerns. Marcus framed the situation in context of an engineering adage, stating that engineering seeks to build things that not only work, but work within constraints (e.g., SWAP).
“The legitimate goal of engineering, when building infrastructure, is to build base stations that not only work, but do not disgust their neighbors,” Marcus said.
“Spectrum policy is too important to leave to lawyers.”
Per Marcus, the basic goals of spectrum policy are as follows:
However, disparities in policy — particularly between the U.S. and EU structures — have left 5G development on shaky ground.
Europe has parallel structures (CEPT and EC/RSPG) that have overlap in membership and role; CEPT is older and more operator-focused, while RSPG handles industrial policy and is more consumer-focused. Further, EU national regulators are members of The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) — an independent, not-for-profit standardization organization — though Marcus said it’s misleading to view ETSI as a voluntary membership.
US spectrum policy differs partly because of geography. The U.S. has only two land boundaries and a common law legal system, plus bifurcated spectrum policy, as well as incumbent users in upper spectrum and the largest/most ICT-intensive military in the world. Additionally, that military, at any given time, is dealing with many national security issues, and enjoys great congressional and public support. US spectrum policy also differs from the EU in that physical layer standards have only focused on EMC issues, and not interoperability.
“World markets create some need for de facto standards, absent U.S. de jure standards,” Marcus said.
In terms of harmonizing these two sets of guidelines, ITU Radio Regulations adopted at World Radio Conferences are considered treaties between the nations involved. However, a safety valve (radio regulation 4.4) essentially allows countries to do what they want to do, provided it does not damage another country. Marcus noted that the U.S. has not ratified any change to radio regulations in past 20+ years, and “sooner or later, that’s going to catch up to the U.S.”
The hope is that 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards — now complete for both standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) operation —will be precise, but flexible enough to accommodate the 5G needs of varying industries. Ideally, they’ll proliferate as did the ETSI’s Global Standard for Mobile Communications (GSM).
“GSM took off fantastically; it was a windfall for the EU in terms of spectrum management,” particularly the rise of companies that derived income from IP, Marcus said. Early cell bands were exclusive for such systems, and MIMO enabled the move to higher bands to get more bandwidth (raising the possibility of “self-backhaul”).
But “millimeter wave is not VHF with a couple extra zeroes,” Marcus cautioned, meaning that old policy concepts should not be recycled into higher bands without reevaluation. Higher frequencies have different propagation issues than lower, and small wavelengths enable alternative antenna capabilities.
He cited FSS/MS sharing in mmWave bands as an example of an issue where objective technical study has been helpful to policymaking, since sharing has a multiplier effect on spectrum. Additionally, policy must adapt depending on who stakes a claim to which bands. For example, it’s unlikely a regulatory body could successfully strip the U.S. military of its exclusivity in certain bands, given the armed forces’ widespread support in this country. Another good example is the split of the 24GHz band (commonly used in automotive lane-change warning radar) into a “lower segment” and an “upper segment.”
“This happens all the time — there’s an incumbent who got in a decade or two ago, and everyone else has to work around, Marcus said, reiterating that “techies” need more input into spectrum policy both in the U.S. and abroad; rather than leaving spectrum policy in the hands of government, it should be guided by market forces.
And, indeed, the market has taken a more active role in trying to shape such policy. U.S. carriers have been pushing for more government support to free up spectrum, install more small cells, and hasten 5G rollouts. Across the pond, several major European providers, along with tech companies Ericsson, Samsung, Huawei, and Nokia, sent a joint open letter from GSMA Europe to the European Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) to ease rules and technical conditions in a pending draft that “will severely constrain use of the band for 5G in Europe.”
Have 5G, Will Travel
Talty, who provides technical leadership in GM’s development of advanced technologies for autonomous vehicles, focusing on wireless communications and sensors, said that, stated simply, “connectivity sells” in the automotive market. Tongue-in-cheek, he apologized to the crowd before showing a pair of connectivity focused GM commercials.
“Our marketing is not done without research feeding into it,” Talty said, touting the appeal of GM’s OnStar communications systems, which served 43 million+ requests in 2014. “To me the most important thing is the safety net it provides [when airbag deploys]. We can check whether that driver is conscious and OK. We have sensors throughout the car, so we know whether it was a head-on crash, a side impact, or if a rollover event has occurred when we call 911.”
In GM and other vehicles, today’s connectivity — dubbed “autonomous lite” by Talty — includes forward collision alert, adaptive cruise control, auto collision mitigation braking, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning systems, and side blind zone alerts, to name a few capabilities.
GM’s next generation of vehicles will be equipped with “Super Cruise,” which allows the driver to take his/her hands off the wheel, and the car will drive itself. The system combines active safety (the already listed capabilities) with automated steering and lane following. The system already is in use in the Cadillac CT6.
“It’s not an autonomous vehicle at this point – it still requires supervision,” Talty said. The system makes sure the driver is engaged and aware with driver-facing cameras and eye tracking. While the “Super Cruise” system does not require connectivity to operate, connectivity still could be used to enhance it or improve safety for other vehicles.
One example of such a case is when a drastic maneuver is required to avoid, say, a stalled car in the middle of a multi-lane road; a car swerving around the disabled vehicle could send out a short range / low penetration communication to nearby vehicles to be wary of / avoid that hazard. In fact, 5G is not even a requirement for this application, Talty responded to an audience question, because automotive braking/steering are not instant. Thus, reactions “in the tens of milliseconds are sufficient.”
That said, connectivity is an eventual necessity for mission-critical vehicle systems. Obvious challenges include guaranteed throughput and latency, as well as security and reliability. Less obvious challenges include privacy, compatibility across OEMs and networks, reducing antenna size and number, and creating a feasible vehicle electrical architecture.
Finally, Talty addressed the issue of maintenance and service of such systems: is the ability of service technicians keeping up? How will the industry address growing demand for such expertise?
“We have a whole new class of technicians now that are trained in advanced automotive technologies, [who] are trained in radars and LIDARs,” Talty said. These individuals usually have some sort of technical training before they even get their GM training (e.g., community college or an associate’s degree) and, currently, dealers may share these individuals.