5G wireless slowly, carefully taking shape

Experts share visions of 5G wireless at CableLabs InformED Wireless event in NYC

5G wireless is coming, but it has a lot of challenges to overcome, and we’re not going to be enjoying its blazing speeds until 2020 at least. But, at cable industry group CableLabs’ InformED Wireless event on Wednesday in New York, several experts helped provide new hints about the shape of the technology to come.

One of the biggest hurdles, it seems, is physics – 5G is going to be a millimeter-wave technology, operating at a much higher frequency than existing Wi-Fi. That’s great if the goal is to move a lot of information quickly – 5G speeds could top 6Gbps in the field – but it raises the issue of range.

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Tim Burke, vice president of strategic technology at cable company Liberty Global, said that there are serious technical challenges still to overcome with 5G, and that most of them have to do with the known high-frequency problems of short transmission range, an inability to handle non-line-of-sight transmission, and getting through structures.

“It’s really tough to get through walls or any building materials,” he said. “We’ll have to see that change.”

NYU professor Ted Rappoport, however, offered the view that these technological hurdles aren’t insurmountable. Much of his recent work has centered on the idea that millimeter-wave can be made to work the way 5G stakeholders need it to, thanks to directional antennas similar to the MU-MIMO setups now on the market as 802.11ac wave 2, among other things.

“We proved to the world that millimeter waves work, we proved that you don’t need a line of sight, and we proved that the power levels can be comparable,” he said.

Complicating the decision-making around 5G technology is the issue that it will have to handle a substantially more diverse workload than current wireless networks. Bjorn Ekelund, a technology and business strategist with Ericsson, told the crowd that Internet-connected sensors, high-volume media, IoT, and smart vehicles were all considerations for 5G stakeholders.

The trick, he said, is to create a network that can compartmentalize its various tasks efficiently, and a framework that can be used to control it programmatically.

“You can allocate logical parts of your network or physical infrastructure to a particular application or use case,” he said.

Regardless, 5G still isn’t just around the corner – completion of the standards work could take two or three years, according to Ekelund’s presentation, and product development could push the deployment date to 2020 or 2021.

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