A major concern for the research group is designing an air interface that can support devices ranging from lowend sensors to highend tablets Image courtesy of Eric Harmatz Flickr

A major concern for the research group is designing an air interface that can support devices ranging from low-end sensors to high-end tablets. (Image courtesy of Eric Harmatz, Flickr).

Making Modulation Work for Smartphones and Sensors

The next generation of wireless networks will be tasked with supporting a diverse ecosystem of services, devices, and mobility levels. As mobile devices become more varied, new standards are needed to define the way information is transmitted to and from a device. In an attempt to speed the development process, a research group has partnered to design an air interface below 6 GHz for fifth-generation (5G) networks.

The two-year project is called FANTASTIC-5G, an acronym for the ultimate goal of the group’s research: “Flexible Air iNTerfAce for Scalable delivery wiThin wIreless Communication networks of the 5th Generation.” The organization is focused on building an interface that can increase network capacity while processing data from a diverse array of devices. According to the research group, the interface will have to balance data traffic from the Internet of Things (IoT) with a growing influx of mobile broadband traffic. As IoT continues to expand, it will inject a large amount of sensor-related traffic into the wireless landscape. 

To account for this change, FANTASTIC-5G is looking to replace Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (OFDM), the digital modulation method used in 4G LTE networks. While the OFDM waveform is only optimized for smartphone data, the new air interface will have to process a more diverse pool of traffic. A major concern for the research group is designing an interface that can support devices ranging from low-end sensors to high-end tablets. In addition, the organization is trying to make the interface scalable with a rapidly growing number of devices.

FANTASTIC-5G is also looking to create an energy- and resource-efficient interface. The first 5G network is not expected to reach the commercial market until around 2020, and even then it will have to operate in currently licensed mobile spectrum bands. Operating on higher frequencies will have to wait until the technology in mobile devices is able to support them. For that reason, the new air interface will not only have to function below 6 GHz frequency, but also have to be adaptable with future software upgrades. The research group claims that such an interface will be better suited to use the available spectrum, and to evolve as technology improves.

The members of the FANTASTIC-5G project include service providers, component and infrastructure vendors, universities, and research institutes from Europe. Among the research partners are Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, Intel, Orange, Telecom Italia, Nokia, and others.

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