5G is hailed as the greatest network leap since the establishment of wireless telecom. To understand the state of 5G development in the great north, ITWC interviewed Nokia and Ericsson, two of Canada’s foremost 5G partners, at Mobile World Congress 2019.
Canada a leader in 5G development
A burning question is whether Canada is still meeting its 5G development checkpoints. When asked if 5G rollout in Canada is on track, Jane Rygaard, head of marketing manager Nokia, confirmed that it’s on target.
“I think there’s nothing that says it’s not,” says Rygaard. “Basically, as soon as the auctions are done more or less, specifically in Canada, then you’re basically ready to roll out.”
She also highlighted Canada’s position as a global leader in 5G deployment and research, due in large part to having a single standard. In fact, frequency allocation is the foremost challenge in the rest of the world. Carriers can’t perform radio planning until the frequencies are established.
“You [Canada] have one country with one plan, and in Europe, there are 27 countries with 27 plans and they don’t align. You’re in the lucky situation where you can say that you have a timeline, it seems to be sticking from a spectrum perspective,” says Rygaard.
Frequency auction and rollout
Shedding more light on the situation was Graham Osborne, president of Ericsson Canada, and David Everingham, chief technology officer of Ericsson Canada.
Osborne explained that a significant block of the 3.5GHz spectrum (between 3,475 MHz and 3,650 MHz) is currently locked under Inukshuk Internet Inc. owned by Rogers Communications and Bell Canada Enterprise Inc. The band is currently reserved for fixed wireless deployment in rural areas and not for mobility. In order to activate it for 5G networks, the Canadian government will need to reclaim the spectrums and reauction them again. Osborne and Everingham said that Ericsson – who’s working closely with Rogers for its 5G – is ready to deploy its equipment and that the network preparation phase is starting now. In fact, all Ericsson equipment have been 5G capable since 2016, operators only need to flip a switch to turn it on.
To add a bit more context, Bell and Rogers won a major part of the 2.6 GHz and 3.5 GHz frequency auction between 2004 to 2009. Specifically, Bell won a majority of the licenses, holding 234 out of the 852 that were auctioned. Rogers, on the other hand, snatched 88. These licenses were loaned out on 10-year terms followed by one-year renewals upon their expiry. The last of the 10-year licenses will terminate by the end of 2019.
The 3.5GHz frequency is endorsed internationally as a prime sub-6GHz band that provides a good balance between carrying capacity and coverage. As such, it’s currently a top candidate frequency for first stage 5G rollout.
Here’s a list of all the spectrum auctions that are expected to occur in the next couple of years according to the ISED:
Canada’s spectrum auction schedule:
|Low Band||600 MHz||Auction scheduled for March 2019|
|Mid Band||1500 MHz (ATC)*||Late 2019|
|1600 MHz (ATC)*||Late 2019|
|3.5 GHz||Late 2020 / Early 2021|
|High Band||26 GHz||End of 2021|
|28 GHz||End of 2021|
|32 GHz (backhaul)||Late 2019|
|37-40 GHz||End of 2021|
|64-71 GHz||End of 2021|
|70 GHz (backhaul)||Mid-2020|
|80 GHz (backhaul)||Mid-2020|
And that’s the ultimate goal for 5G. Once the network leverages mmWaves, they will have 1GHz of free bandwidth work with. Sub-6GHz frequencies only have 300MHz of available bandwidth to work with. In the 70 GHz range, available bandwidth narrow to only 20MHz to 30MHz. While telecommunication technology has improved tremendously in all fronts, spectrum availability imposes a hard cap on its growth, much like lanes on a highway.
Addressing geographical challenges in rural areas
One of the challenges for 5G is addressing Canada’s population distribution. Aside from the major population centers like Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver, Canada has many population pockets dispersed across the country. Rygaard says for these areas, 5G network may be used to address specific scenarios locally.
“You can still use microwaves as backhauling on 5G… we can get up to speeds of 20Gbps on them by doing it right so again, we’re fulfilling everything that we need to do. You don’t need cabling in that sense, but, what we do see in the beginning is that 5G, if you think dedicated networks and what you’re trying to do, 5G might not be a nationwide network. You can connect all the parts, but the use case might be a local one.”
Rygaard described a scenario in Denmark, where users are questioning if 5G will reach all the ports and shorelines. In these places, the benefit of 5G may be local. For example, antennas would still be able to connect to devices using massive MIMO, but then feed the data to a 4G backhaul.
No downtime during transition
Transitioning to a newer technology usually means lowering the capacity of the existing technology. With 5G, all equipment manufacturers are working to eliminate the service gap between 4G and 5G during the initial rollout phase.
“In the older technologies – 2, 3 and 0 and all the other ones – when you brought in a new generation, you have to allocate a specific amount of frequencies for that, even though there are no devices, and frequency is extremely valuable,” explained Osborne, “Ericsson has this technology called dynamic frequency allocation so you don’t have to do that.”
What that basically means is that the base station would dynamically tune its frequencies according to demand. For example, when there’s only 4G service, the base station would only serve 4G. Similarly, when there’s only 5G, the base station would only service 5G. When there’s a mix of both, the base station would allocate its signals according to user demand.
“You don’t need to slow down and wait for the technology or for the devices or anything to come around, you prepare for your network now,” Osborne elaborates. “That’s why you don’t see that dip [in service], because you don’t have to allocate that frequency.”
Power efficiency and the environment
Reducing energy consumption is crucial for 5G. Rygaard says by 2025, average data consumption for a mobile user will hit around 900GB per month – a 30 times increase compared to today. The energy required to deliver all that data simply cannot scale linearly to match the demand.
“We still want our planet to be alive,” said Rygaard lightheartedly. To emphasize its importance, she noted that Nokia has released a liquid-cooled base station that reduces cooling power requirement, which accounts for a large portion of energy use in telecommunication equipment. In addition, the wicked-up heat from the cell sites can be reused to warm apartment buildings and houses.
One of the main drivers that push operators to move towards standalone 5G is to reduce power consumption from both an operator and a device perspective. Rygaard rebuffed the misconception that 5G is more power-hungry than 4G.
“5G’s got a fundamental part that 5G, as a technology, is able to switch off when it’s not doing anything. In 5G, we talk about the different options that you can have non-standalone – that’s where you still have an LTE network that you connect to – or you can have a 5G network that’s standalone. And the reason why we see a lot of discussions on very quickly moving to standalone is because this 5G/4G dual connection that the handsets need to connect to both drains battery. So we can get much better battery lifetime when we move to standalone.”
Blending in with the scenery
Aesthetics also matter. 5G cell towers will be everywhere in city centers and need to blend into the landscape. In this regard, Nokia has held a few design competitions for its antennae and base station equipment.
Rygaard ended the interview by highlighting the importance of 5G.
“I truly believe that 5G will be an all-purpose network, its the first time that we have a standard that’s worked across all spectrum which means we can cover far, and I can be very intent right here at the same time with the same standards, that I now develop this standard further to cater for everything that’s on this map” Rygaard said while pointing to a 5G use case chart. “We can do that by slicing up the network if I have one, but we can also build smaller, dedicated networks that then can combine together if I need for connectivity. And that’s the fundamental difference from what we had before, where 4G and any other wireless technology we had has been a consumer sim card focused network.”