This year is a key one for 5G, as I commented in an April story on the topic. As James Kimery, director, marketing, RF research/SDR at National Instruments, put it, 2017 will see “… the world’s telecommunication infrastructure companies, silicon providers, service operators, and test-and-measurement companies finalize the specifications, conduct field trials, and begin the commercialization process.”
In that same issue, I quote Dr. Li-Ke Huang, research and technology director at Cobham Wireless, as saying 5G will not be a single wireless technology like its predecessors. “It will, in fact, comprise a number of different services being delivered to the end user across multiple access technologies and multilayer networks,” he said. “5G will effectively be a dynamic, coherent, and flexible technological framework—and very different from the previous generations of wireless standards. It will provide a system that leverages a variety of technologies depending on the precise needs of the application, particularly as IoT becomes more prevalent.”
Speaking at SEMICON West in July in San Francisco, Sree Koratala, vice president, head of technology, Ericsson, agreed with Huang that 5G will be unlike previous wireless generations. The difference as she sees it is a shift from consumer to industry use cases. Ericsson, she said, has a presence in 180 countries and participates in carrying 40% of the world’s mobile traffic. From that vantage point, she said, “Ericsson predicts there will be 29 billion connected devices by 2022—a mind-bogging number—with 18 billion of those being IoT devices.” The IoT will have an economic impact of $11 trillion by 2025, she added.
Unlike any of the previous technologies, Koratala said, 5G will serve multiple industries and offer new areas and opportunities for growth. Use cases will vary widely, she emphasized—there will not be a single use case for IoT, which will span the gamut from logistics to smart agriculture.
However, even as 5G technology accelerates, questions remain. Also speaking at SEMICON West, Cédric Dehos of CEA-Leti suggested it remains to be seen what combination of technologies will carry M2M and IoT data traffic. He cited estimates of a 47% CAGR in mobile data-traffic growth rates driven by smartphones and tablets, with 60% of traffic carrying video. Further, he expects huge growth in M2M and IoT traffic by 2020.
He said Wi-Fi and femtocells will play a role in data-traffic offloading—describing LTE-M, NB-IoT, and 5G New Radio with massive MIMO as “more cellular,” while Wi-Fi, Sigfox, 802.11p, and Lora constitute “more than cellular.” He described several Leti projects, including a 6-GHz front-end module integrating PA, LNA, switch, and diplexer in RF SOI 130-nm LDMOS technology; an ultra-narrow-band transceiver for the low-power wide-area Sigfox network; and a contactless connector operating at 60 GHz.
Reflecting Huang’s comment about 5G being a flexible technological framework leveraging a variety of technologies, Dehos then elaborated on the heterogeneous network as part of the European Horizon 2020 project. The hetnet, he said, will make use of the huge available bandwidth at mmWave frequencies, benefit from high frequency reuse, offer natural immunity to interference, and exhibit low EMF. He foresees the coexistence of three layers: 3G/4G networks, mmWave small cells, and 60-GHz/E-band backhauling.
Dehos said that a clear 5G roadmap does not exist, and global indecision and disagreement could lead to the emergence of new players. Nevertheless, he expects mmWave frequencies to play a key role in device-to-device short-range communications and small-cell backhauling. The next hot topic, he said, will be the mmWave outdoor access point.
He is looking for progress in SOI/CMOS/BICMOS technologies, antennas, and packaging to reduce the cost of mmWave devices. “Innovative approaches are still needed to solve the major technical challenges,” he concluded.