Now that most of us have smartphones with LTE capability, life is good. Video streams nicely, downloads are quick, and if you happen to be standing next to a base station data rates can be truly impressive. It won’t be long before LTE Advanced shoves LTE aside with data rates 10 times faster, which means we will be able to download HD movies very quickly and do virtually anything else almost instantly. That however, is apparently not enough for the wireless industry, if developments in South Korea and the European Union are any indication.
Researchers in Korea have been working on 5G for more than six years and have dedicated $1.5 billion to roll out the technology by 2017 on an experimental basis and commercially by 2020, with data rates 1000 times faster than LTE. When that day comes will be able to download an 800-Mbyte movie in 1 second versus the 42 seconds it will take with LTE Advanced. Samsung announced last year that it tested 5G technology at 60 GHz using a massively-MIMO 16-element antenna system that delivered 1 Gb/s over a distance of 2 km.
Not wishing to sound like a crank, I think this flag-waving presents some “interesting” questions. As the massive bandwidth required to deliver 5G data rates is not available at lower frequencies, millimeter wavelengths will be the answer. Interference won’t be a problem as the spectrum at 60 GHz is basically an electromagnetic desert since nothing much else operates there. However, propagation of RF signals is impeded by virtually anything, from precipitation to leaves. So does that mean there will be 60-GHz base stations on every tree? Will 5G or LTE Advanced for that matter make it possible for wireless services to encroach on the fiber/cable duopoly for the first time?
And finally, at one point does the wireless industry reach a point beyond which further advances in speed are basically a spitting contest between competing entities, since everything we all need to do wirelessly will be already possible with existing technology? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.
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