Korea's working on a cool combination: 5G and the Winter Olympics

KT and NEC have successfully trialed a high-frequency, gigabit-speed backhaul system

If you want to be one of the first to experience 5G mobile performance, get ready to bundle up.

South Korean carrier KT has said it wants to launch the first 5G network at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. On Thursday, KT announced a successful trial of one potential 5G technology in the mountain resort region.

The carrier tested a system from NEC that uses super-high frequencies to transmit data at speeds as high as 3.2Gbps (bits per second). Though the companies didn't mention the Olympic Games, and there's no guarantee the technology will be part of the 5G standard, it's no coincidence the trial took place high in the Taebaek Mountains.

KT used NEC's iPasolink EX ultra-compact microwave system instead of fiber for links between LTE base stations. It's well suited to the mountains, because laying fiber in steep terrain is hard. NEC's system is so small and light that it's relatively easy to deploy, the companies said.

The microwave system transmits data on frequencies between 70GHz and 80GHz, a band that doesn't lose as much of its signal going through the atmosphere as others do, according to NEC. The iPasolink also uses 256QAM, a form of encoding that lets it send more data.

High frequencies are expected to play a big part in 5G. There are wide swaths of little-used spectrum in so-called millimeter-wave bands that mobile networks have never used. Researchers are now starting to crack the technical issues that stood in the way.

While the KT-NEC trial used straight-line connections between base stations, researchers are working on ways for mobile devices to reach the nearest small cell using millimeter waves. Those techniques may lead to faster connections for users of eventual 5G networks.

Vendors and carriers looking to 5G are considering bands around 28GHz, 39GHz, 60GHz and other millimeter-wave frequencies. Current cellular networks operate below 6GHz.

The final 5G standard, and the bands that 5G networks can use, are expected to be locked down by 2020.

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Tags KTNetworking5G2016 Winter OlympicsTelecommunications

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
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