With the new year now upon us, one topic at the center of attention in the world of wireless technology is obviously 5G. What can we expect to see in 2019 with respect to 5G? Will a substantial amount of 5G smartphones flood the landscape? What frequency bands will be employed?
“In 2019, it’s ‘showtime’ for 5G after several intense years of 3GPP standards definition and predictions about 5G user experience,” says Paul Cooper, director of carrier liaison and standards, mobile products at Qorvo. “Let’s upfront break the myth that 5G means millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies only. For sure, U.S. carriers have launched the first 5G fixed-wireless-access (FWA) systems to wirelessly bring broadband to homes for the cable-cutting folks. This latter-day ‘Local Multipoint Distribution Service’ (LMDS) has a valid and plausible business case.
“In contrast, mmWave smartphones are certainly coming to the market, but commercially viable solutions are on a longer development cycle than the sub-6-GHz smartphones that will ramp in 2019. The U.S.’s first focus on mmWave technology—specifically in the 28- and 39-GHz bands—is primarily because the FCC has not yet released sub-6-GHz spectrum for 5G at 3.5 GHz that’s harmonized with the rest of the world.”
Sub-6-GHz Will Dominate
According to Cooper, 5G in 2019 will involve a heavy dosage of sub-6-GHz frequencies. “The big play in 2019, in both the U.S. and the rest of the world, is in the sub-6-GHz spectrum,” he says. “In China, 2019 efforts will be centered around the 2.6-, 3.5-, and 4.9-GHz bands. China plans to launch a large-scale trial that will involve multiple cities throughout the country. While a trial may not sound substantial, it shouldn’t be overlooked because large-scale trials in China are huge when compared to other regions! China will put thousands of sub-6-GHz 5G smartphones in subscribers’ hands in 2019 to analyze performance and will then commercialize their standalone (SA) network in 2020.”
What about the U.S. and other countries? Cooper says, “Plans for non-standalone deployment in the 2.6-GHz spectrum in the U.S. are well-advanced, with the first commercial 5G smartphones expected in the first half of 2019. The U.K., Ireland, Spain, Italy, Finland, and South Korea have also issued licenses within the 3.5-GHz band, with first deployments expected in 2019. Japan will allocate 3.5- and 4.6-GHz licenses in March 2019. This is the hotbed of 5G, where early sub-6-GHz products will have the true look and feel of existing 4G smartphones.”
5G deployments at sub-6-GHz frequencies are sure to excite many. But what about the mmWave frequencies that we’ve heard so much about? According to Cooper, “Spectrum in the bands above 24 GHz, grouped under the mmWave name, have not traditionally been used for smartphones. These wide swaths of unused bandwidth at mmWave frequencies are seen by carriers as a lucrative path to urban network densification—as witnessed by the rapidly expanding mmWave spectrum auctions across the globe. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and vendors are currently in the research and development phase for mmWave mobile devices—trying to find a way to squeeze everything effectively into a smartphone format without impacting battery performance and heat dissipation, while making it aesthetically pleasing compared to today’s smartphones.
“In 2019, we will see mmWave smartphones enter the market in the U.S. and South Korea. While these devices will give us a glimpse at that technology in action, they will likely lack some of the performance and form-factor advantages of flagship 4G smartphones. The Tokyo Olympics and maturing mmWave base-station FWA infrastructure in the U.S. and South Korea will likely drive mmWave smartphone commercialization in 2020, a year after sub-6-GHz.”