5G round-up from MWC 2018

Article By : Brian Santo

Several carriers provided updates on 5G services, Vodafone announced a plan to set up a 4G base station on the Moon, and there was no shortage of 5G products introduced.

AT&T identified the first three of the 12 US cities in which it plans to roll out mobile 5G broadband service in 2018. Sprint named the first half-dozen cities where it will introduce massive MIMO technology, a step toward offering mobile 5G service in 2019. T-Mobile said it would deploy 5G technology in 30 cities this year, but like Sprint won’t begin offering 5G service until next year. Vodafone Germany, meanwhile, plans to install 4G network infrastructure on the Moon.

These announcements and a flood of others about wireless products and services were timed to coincide with Mobile World Congress (MWC) held at the end of February. Here’s a round-up of some of the recent action, including business developments, a call for papers, and announcements of new products.

AT&T identified Dallas, Atlanta, and Waco, TX as its first three mobile 5G markets. The announcement, just prior to MWC, was light on details, but the company said it would be using millimeter wave spectrum in some areas, and not in others (largely a foregone conclusion given its licensed spectrum holdings). It reiterated that smartphones aren’t due until next year, and announced the opening of a 5G research lab in Austin.

Sprint had previously said it would deploy massive MIMO radios in various markets in 2018; the new radios will lead to increases in data speeds and network capacity in anticipation of a transition to 5G. What’s new is that the company just identified those first markets: Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, followed later this year by Atlanta, Houston, and Washington, D.C.

T-Mobile will spend 2018 deploying 5G infrastructure in as many as 30 cities, but said it will wait to provide 5G services until 2019, after 5G handsets finally hit the market. The first four cities to get the service will be New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Las Vegas. The company said it will be using equipment from both Nokia and Ericsson.

Demos and trials
Vodafone and technology partners Nokia, PTScientists, and SpaceX plan to set up the first cellular network node on the Moon. Because 5G is still in its very early stages, Vodafone has elected to go with 4G technology using spectrum in the 1.8 GHz band.

The partners intend to set up a base station near the Lunar Rover left in the Taurus-Littrow valley during the Apollo 17 mission. If successful, they’ll send back the first ever live HD video feed of the Moon’s surface. Vodafone did not specify the launch date, which will be in 2019. This will be the first private mission to the Moon.

Source: Vodafone

Huawei said it forged new contracts with ongoing UK customers BT and EE, and will help them conduct live trials of 5G NR technology this year.

Call for papers
The 2018 IEEE 1st 5G World Forum, which will be July 9-11 in Santa Clara, CA, has issued a call for papers, along with  a request for tutorials, panels, sessions, and workshops. The IEEE said it is seeking contributions on how to nurture and cultivate 5G technologies and applications for the benefit of society. Potential topics can include 5G technology, applications and services such as IoT or specific industry verticals, security and privacy, and test & measurement.

From the outset, 5G was going to be defined by two broad technology drivers: network virtualization (aka software defined networking or SDN) and high-speed, low-latency wireless communication. More recently a third has entered the mix: artificial intelligence (AI). Leading designers of smartphone chipsets – Apple and Qualcomm, along with Huawei and MediaTek – are integrating neural networks into their products to add AI to the 5G experience to provide features such as voice UIs, face unlock, augmented reality (AR), and others, EE Times reports. MediaTek has a new processor aiming for the mid-range of the market.

5G will be a reset opportunity for many manufacturers who have been also-rans in the smartphone market, and Intel hopes to be one of them. The company is attempting to insinuate itself into the market for handsets in China through a strategic collaboration with Unigroup Spreadtrum & RDA, a fabless semiconductor company. Intel said the two will co-develop an Android-based high-end 5G smartphone, relying on Spreadtrum’s expertise in chipsets for mobile and IoT applications, and incorporating Intel’s 5G modem. Chinese carriers are planning to introduce 5G services in 2019, and the two manufacturers plan to have handsets ready.

Prior to the show, Intel said it is working with Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft to bring 5G connectivity to Windows PCs using Intel’s XMM 8000 series 5G modems. Intel said it expects the first commercial 5G-connected PCs to make it to market in the second half of 2019.

Movandi introduced, and has started sampling, two fully integrated RF front-end systems to support a broad range of 5G millimeter wave applications, from base stations, small cells, and mobile broadband access points. The BeamX 28 (for the 28 GHz band) and BeamX 39 (for the 39 GHz band) integrate RF PA and LNA, up and down converters, and frequency synthesizer/PLL, while optimizing the antenna to baseband interface.

Movandi co-CEO Maryam Rofougaran told EDN that these front-end systems have features not commonly found in competing products, including the abilities of dual-polarization and dual-beam, and the BeamX devices can do both simultaneously. She also explained that while scaling up the number of antennas always draws increasing amounts of power, Movandi’s front-ends are significantly more energy efficient than rival solutions. She said the company can scale to arrays of 32 antennas – “more than most people are asking for.”

Huawei introduced its first 5G customer premise equipment (CPE), a terminal for home use. There are two versions, one for sub-6 GHz bands and the other for millimeter wave (mmWave) communications; both are based on the company’s Balong 5G01 chipset. Huawei said the CPE will support gigabit downlink speeds, theoretically up to 2.3Gbps.

Carriers will need to install thousands upon thousands of new 5G antennas. There is no getting around increasing the number of base stations, but they are adamant about keeping that number of additional base stations to an absolute minimum. Radio Frequency Systems (RFS) announced a new active passive antenna (APA) system designed to help meet that goal. The approach is to “interleave” a 5G active antenna with a passive base station antenna under the same radome. Carriers can use it to combine the antennas for 3.5 GHz massive MIMO with existing passive systems.

Simultaneously, RFS and Blue Danube said they’ve demonstrated an APA that combines a 96 element MIMO antenna for mid-band frequencies (1.7-2.3 GHz) and a low band passive antenna for low band frequencies (600-900 MHz).

On the T&M front, Anritsu developed a 5G test platform to support test development of 5G products, such as baseband chips specifically for Qualcomm Technologies. Anritsu called the test system an all-in-one platform that supports mmWave and sub-6 GHz RF tests as well as protocol tests.

Brian Santo has been writing about science and technology for over 30 years, covering cable networks, broadband, wireless, the Internet of things, T&M, semiconductors, consumer electronics, and more.

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