News Feature | January 12, 2018

The Week In 5G: 1/12/2018 – CES 2018: Qualcomm Expects 5G To Boost RF Chip Sales, Kia Unveils 5G-Connected Car; Sprint Zeroes In On Mobile 5G; UK and Africa Launch Trials

By Jof Enriquez,
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq


At CES 2018 in Las Vegas, Qualcomm says it is adopting a comprehensive approach with 5G, including developing RF chips and modems to support the first 5G phones hitting store shelves by 2019.

The world's biggest chipmaker views increasing RF complexity as making its "system-level" approach to 5G R&D – one that covers modems, RF and much else – all the more more compelling, according to The Street. In addition to boosting RF chip sales, Qualcomm expects this strategy to better support the more than 10,000 5G band combinations that will arise (more than 10 times the band combinations required by 4G).

Sitting with a panel of industry leaders, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon says 5G, initially, will be a mix of existing and new technologies. "It’s a gigabit LTE foundation, overlaid with a more dense millimeter wave, units of gigabit, tens of Gigabit, all these systems working as one," he told the audience, reports RCR Wireless.

Qualcomm believes that a component-centric approach cannot keep up with the demands of 5G, which is why it will offer more products in the RF front-end (RFFE) subsystem. This "will be one of the most challenging aspects of building mobile devices for global 5G NR sub-6GHz and mmWave deployment. Higher design complexity in 5G will require tighter coupling between the modem, transceiver, RFFE, antennas, and the network," writes Christian Block, SVP and GM, RF Front-End, Qualcomm.

Block wrote that the company aims to assemble "a technology portfolio and roadmap that is 5G-ready and unique, including all the hardware and software needed to support a comprehensive modem-to-antenna system solution to OEMs.”

But strategy takes a back seat to products at CES, and among the most talked-about was Kia's all-electric Kia Niro EV Concept vehicle, which the automaker touts as the world's first to have in-car 5G connectivity. Kia demonstrated how 5G will improve infotainment connectivity, in-car device use, possible in-car streaming, and future car-to-car information sharing, including a "real-time connection established between Las Vegas and Seoul, Korea," reports Car and Driver.

While production dates were not available, Kia's plans to start Level 4 autonomous vehicle testing in 2021, 16 electrified (hybrid, electric, and fuel-cell) vehicles by 2025, and an entire fleet of connected cars by 2030.

"Virtual reality, self-driving cars, and full vehicle connectivity were all once considered technologies of the distant future. As they rapidly become a reality, Kia is exploring how to adapt these new technologies for its customers," said Dr. Woong-cheol Yang, Vice Chairman and Head of Hyundai-Kia R&D Center.

These ambitious plans by automakers rely on robust 5G networks, including connections for Vehicle-to-Network (V2N) systems that are being deployed in the next few years.

U.S. carriers have different approaches, with Verizon preferring fixed 5G services, AT&T offering LTE-Advanced and related tech as “5G Evolution,” and T-Mobile and Sprint are focusing on mobile 5G.

This week, Sprint CTO John Saw, Ph.D., said the company is upgrading cell sites to support its 2.5 GHz spectrum, while building up MIMO capabilities.

"Massive MIMO, it’s going to be a bridge to 5G,” Saw told investors this week, reports Fierce Wireless. "Because we have so much spectrum at 2.5, I can allocate half of my spectrum to LTE Advanced and other half for 5G. And I can run 5G NR and LTE simultaneously on the same massive MIMO site, without climbing the tower again in 2019. So I can simultaneously support both over this massive MIMO radio. So as we build massive MIMO this year, we’re really starting to build a 5G network that also supports LTE Advanced. So it kills two birds with one stone."

"And then, over the same massive MIMO base stations, we’re going to launch 5G NR when it’s available,” Saw continued. "So it’s a more pragmatic plan."

In 5G deployment news, the Isle of Wight could host the first 5G test in the UK, while Africa has conducted its first 5G trial.

The Isle of Wight Council reportedly expects to receive approval by the end of the month to become part of the UK government's Local Full Fibre programme, which helps deploy faster broadband networks to rural locations. Included in the application is "An Island bid to become a test bed for 5G mobile communications" — which would be the first in the UK. The news comes two months after WightFibre announced plans to roll out ultrafast full-fibre broadband across the Island, according to the Isle of Wight County Press.

South African operator MTN and Ericsson announced the first 5G trial in Africa, which is part of a 5G demonstration starting in the first quarter of 2018. Tests achieved a throughput of more than 20Gbps, with less than 5ms latency, the highest achieved on a mobile network in Africa, reports IT Web. Meanwhile, rival operator Vodacom is partnering with Nokia in launching its own 5G network in the South African market.