5G roundup: hunkered down to get it done

Article By : Brian Santo

Carriers and vendors are working furiously to prepare for promised rollouts that are supposed to happen in just months. Meanwhile, the first bidirectional data call on standards compliant 5G NR has only just been finally accomplished.

The major wireless carriers and their vendors have deadlines for deploying upgraded 4G and true 5G services in mere months. They are all mostly hunkered down, working feverishly to hit those deadlines, so understandably they’ve had less time in recent weeks to perpetuate the relentless 5G marketing/public-relations campaign of the preceding few years. Activity has largely been about tests, trials, new products, and preparing to make spectrum available for future services. It was simple coincidence that there was significant news on the regulatory front in all three of North America’s largest countries.

Late last week, the US Federal Communications Commission adopted some regulations regarding the use of 24 GHz spectrum that are certainly arcane, but no less consequential for their obscurity.

Until relatively recently, only part of the 24 GHz spectrum would have been available to be repurposed for 5G because a good portion of that band has been used for radar. For technological reasons, radar is shifting to 77 GHz (see “Moving from 24 GHz to 77 GHz radar”). It looks to be a gradual move, but eventually, much more of the 24 GHz band will be available for other uses.

The FCC wants to auction licenses to spectrum in the 24 GHz band for 5G. The agency assumes – almost certainly correctly – that the more bandwidth that is available in that band, the more valuable the licenses are likely to be, and the higher the bids they will likely fetch.

To that end, the FCC enacted rules that encourage the use of the 24 GHz band. One rule was the adoption of an operability requirement for the entire 24 GHz band. The FCC also instituted a sharing framework to allow use of a portion of the 24 GHz band for terrestrial wireless operations and fixed satellite service (FSS) earth stations.

Also in preparation for the as-yet unscheduled future auction, the FCC declined to set pre-auction limits on the amount of spectrum an entity may acquire at auction in not only the 24 GHz band but also the 47 GHz band. The commission proposed to similarly eliminate the pre-auction limit of 1250 MHz for the 28 GHz, 37 GHz, and 39 GHz bands.

There next auction of bandwidth in the US is for the 28 GHz band; it is scheduled to commence this November.

Regulatory – Canada and Mexico
Wireless companies in Canada are frustrated with the country’s plans for spectrum auctions. Canada plans to auction off 600 MHz spectrum for 5G in 2019, 3.5 GHz spectrum in 2020, and mmWave spectrum (at an as-yet unspecified frequency or frequencies) in 2021. Carriers want to start offering commercial 5G services in 2020, and they want to use 3.5 GHz spectrum to do it. They are arguing that the 3.5 GHz auction should be moved up to 2019. The minister overseeing Canadian telecom regulations recently responded; he said the government is not considering changing its auction schedule.

Mexico, meanwhile, announced its intention to allocate 600 MHz spectrum for 5G services. The plan will require the relocation of 48 digital terrestrial TV stations, according to multiple reports including this one.

You might have thought a 5G phone call has already been made. You know, a phone call, in which two people, one on either end, actually talk to each other. You’d be wrong. With AT&T and Verizon vowing to turn on fixed wireless 5G NR services this summer, and multiple companies around the world vowing to have mobile 5G services by the end of the year, there is an astonishing amount of testing and trialing that must still be done.

That’s why it was a big deal when Nokia and T-Mobile just announced they’d accomplished what appears to be the first bi-directional, over-the-air, 5G data session on a 3GPP-compliant 5G New Radio (NR) system. Recall that 5G NR can reasonably be considered turbo-charged 4G, and not true 5G. Standards for 5G NR have been adopted; the industry is still churning through the standards process for 5G.

Nokia and T-Mobile said the test was held in the latter’s lab in Washington state. It was accomplished using Nokia AirScale baseband and radio, AirFrame server, and AirScale Cloud RAN running 5G NR 3GPP-compliant software.

Late in May, Shaw Communications (Canada) declared its first technical trials of 5G technology were successful. Partnered with Nokia, Rohde & Schwarz, and CableLabs, the company tested pre-commercial systems (which is to say, built prior to the finalization of relevant standards) at 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz, to test interoperability of the two frequencies.

The participation of CableLabs is worthy of note. The fifth generation of wireless technology is going to rely even more heavily on wireline backhaul and dual-mode (cellular/Wi-Fi) operation, and the cable industry sees 5G as a trend that will further bind the fates of wireless and wireline providers.

In April, Rogers Communications (Canada) said it had conducted some lab tests of 5G systems, and announced an ongoing program of testing with Ericsson, including field trials in Toronto and Ottawa later this year.

Nokia said it completed an end-to-end 5G NR data call in a technology trial hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). Nokia said it was a dual connectivity call using a 5G NR system over-the-air at 3.5 GHz and over LTE infrastructure in the 2.1 GHz frequency band. User equipment simulation was provided by Prisma Telecom Testing. Nokia explained the dual operation in sub-6 GHz bands will be “required for wide-area coverage and massive IoT connectivity, in preparation for commercial deployment in China in 2020.”

Intel published a reference design for 5G network infrastructure; it includes contributions from key development partners. Source: Intel

Wireless carrier EE announced a small trial in October that is scheduled to be the first live trial in the UK. Participants will include a mix of 10 businesses and residents of Tech City, a neighborhood of London that has become the city’s technology district. The company will use 3.5 GHz spectrum. O2 is also planning a trial later this year, at the O2 Arena, according to the news site 5G.co.uk.

Lest we forget, 5G technology development is fundamentally entwined with use cases, and one of the notable categories of use cases is the IoT. Fair Friend Group of Taiwan is planning what it expects will be the first demo production line for a so-called Factory of the Future. FFG is working with Adlink on interfaces between FFG’s robotic operating system (OS) and DDS (Data Distribution Service). The connectivity will pave the way for FFG to use 5G connectivity with automated and eventually autonomous factory systems.

The following is a bit of a curveball for the “tests and trials” category, but if someone offers a 5G network reference design, it is implicit that the network configuration has been tried and tested. Intel is offering a 5G network reference design it says communications service providers (CSPs) can adopt to roll out 5G services faster. The reference design includes Intel processors and FPGAs, software from Wind River and Radisys, virtualized packet core technology from Mavenir, and network function virtualization (NFV) technology from Amdocs.

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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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