Image courtesy of Krlis Dambrns Flickr

(Image courtesy of Kārlis Dambrāns, Flickr).

Wireless Carriers Stretch Toward 5G Digital Services

From augmented reality to industrial sensor networks, new digital services that could be possible with fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless technology was the overarching theme at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month. The keynotes from Mark Fields, chief executive of Ford, and Derek Aberle, president of Qualcomm, underlined the role of wireless networks in autonomous cars. And wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon emphasized research into drones and data analysis.

Alex Jinsung Choi, chief technology officer of South Korea’s SK Telecom, said that his company hopes to not only provide wireless service, but also develop digital and multimedia services. With higher throughput and other advanced features, 5G networks will function as an “infrastructure” for things like cloud computing and virtual reality. Partnering with Ericsson, the company has demonstrated a 3D hologram service that visualizes information about wireless networks in real-time.

These technologies have often been considered the territory of computing companies like Google and Amazon, but the line between them and wireless carriers are slowly blurring. AT&T, for instance, is training its workforce more in step with the demands of companies that gather and analyze data from its customers. On the other hand, Google is laying fiber optic cables in cities and Amazon provides phone systems over the cloud.

Nevertheless, wireless carriers are in the unique position of being able to build wireless networks that lend themselves more to digital services. SK Telecom has demonstrated so-called “network slicing,” which enables a single physical network into multiple virtual ones. These virtual networks can be distributed for different services—the low-power, low-bandwidth networks necessary for industrial sensors—to high-bandwidth connections for smartphones and tablets.

These concerns have not slowed advances into core 5G features. SK Telecom has partnered with Nokia Networks to demonstrate 20.5 gigabit transmission speeds over the air. Both companies noted that 20.5 gigabits per second was the target for 5G networks set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the international standard bearer for wireless technology.

The companies had previously demonstrated speeds of 19.1 Gbits/s using multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) radios and 400 MHz of bandwidth. They wrung out more speed by adding data bits that prevent disturbances on wireless channels. SK Telecom had previously achieved 25 Gbits/s in the laboratory with Ericsson in February, but this was the first test in real world conditions.

At Mobile World Congress, SK Telecom also collaborated with Intel on a mobile platform that supports below 6 GHz frequency bands and above 6 GHz bands. The platform, which lays the groundwork for mobile phones that tap into everything from 2G to 5G, exhibited 1.5 Gbits/s transmission speeds. SK Telecom worked with Samsung Electronics to demonstrate smooth millimeter wave handovers.

5G wireless technology comes at an unusual time for wireless companies. The standards process has converged with a shift in how wireless carriers operate and where wireless chipmakers are selling their products. “Speed is not everything when it comes to 5G,” said Choi. “5G cannot be achieved through the mere advancement of technology. Technologies, services, and the ecosystem must all work in concert and develop in lockstep.”

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