LTE not fast enough? Get ready for 5G

Most Canadian cellular carriers are nicely cruising in true 4G mode – that is, with LTE-based networks – after the technology was introduced here in 2011.

They haven’t even torqued their networks to full power – only select areas of the country offer the potential under ideal conditions of 150 Mbps download speeds — nor have they talked about when they will adopt LTE Advanced, the next step in the technology that promises download speeds over 1 Gbps. under ideal conditions.

But at a New York City conference next week industry and academic researchers will discuss the possibility of 5G networks with theoretical download speeds above 10 Gbps.

Dubbed the Brooklyn 5G Summit, main sponsors include equipment maker NSN, the IEEE and several academic institutions to look at the possibility of a new generation system that would run in the so-called millimeter spectrum, up to 100 GHz. (By comparison, the most recent Canadian spectrum auction was for frequencies in the 700 MHz range.)

Lauri Oksanen, NSN’s vice-president of research and technology who is on the conference organizing committee, said in an interview Tuesday the conference aims to answer a number of questions the most important of which is can spectrum in that range be used for mobile purposes? That’s crucial because not all radio waves are equal – in particular, these waves don’t go through buildings. (One of the advantages of 700 MHz is better reception of signals indoors) This means millimeter spectrum may be limited to line-of sight uses like fixed wireless, Oksanen said.

On the other hand, 5G in theory offers dramatically lower latency than LTE which could be exploited for vehicle collision avoidance systems. And NSN already has a “relatively concrete” blueprint for a 5G system which could be used in dense deployments in cities which would give “massive capacity” and high bit rates.

“We are organizing this conference to improve the industry understanding of how usable this high frequency spectrum is,” he said.

Although any number of vendors worry that Western countries may run out of spectrum thanks to the public’s never-ending demand to do everything on mobile devices, it’s not that 4G will become an outmoded technology soon.

First, governments are going out of their way to find spectrum to sell (not only does it help meet demand, it also helps raise revenue). Having just finished the 700 MHz auction, Industry Canada is readying an auction for 2500 MHz spectrum next year and has a roadmap for releasing more. Last month the U.S. Federal Communications Commission announced it 65 megahertz worth of spectrum will be auctioned in the so-called AWS-3 bands (roughly the 1700, 1760 and 2160 Mhz frequencies).

Second, LTE Advanced hasn’t been deployed yet, and third, most nations in the world are running either 2g or 3G networks. “We don’t see 4G disappearing for the next 15 to 20 years,” says Oksanen.

He also pointed out the fact that so far every generation of new cellular data technology was introduced a decade after the last one. And several equipment makers as well as South Korea have set 2020 as a goal  for 5G.

On the other hand, he added, “in my personal view we as an industry have not really found a much better technology than LTE 4G for a traditional wide-area cellular system,” he added, so with evolution it might last longer.

“One reason we’re talking about 5G now is to answer the question when would we need it,” he said, as well as potential uses that weren’t thought of when 4G was emerging — such as M2M (machine to machine) communications.

NSN, which has been looking with other equipment makers and carriers in Europe for the next step, says LTE has a latency (or lag) of about 15 milliseconds, he said. 5G might have a latency of less than one millisecond. Perhaps that would be attractive to a company making a collision avoidance system, Oksansen said, or to Google and its Glass eyewear, which need fast refresh rates.

What’s important, he suggested, is the wireless industry not rush to a new technology just because it can without thinking of whether there are new use cases that would justify the investment. “I don’t think the industry has a conclusive answer there, so I think this is an important time to have a discussion with the stakeholders,” he said.

Conference speakers include people from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, NSN, AT&T, Intel, Ericsson, Samsung, Huawei, China Mobile and academics.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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