As capacity demands begin to strain fourth-generation (4G) wireless networks, research is actively being carried out to define the capacity of next-generation systems. Bell Labs, the industrial research arm of Alcatel-Lucent, has become the latest big player to invest in the future of fifth-generation (5G) networks. The company has partnered with the 5G Lab Germany, a research group focused on using wireless mobile networks to support “tactile Internet” technology, such as automated driving and remote surgery.
Founded by the Technische Universität Dresden (DRE), the 5G Lab Germany is an interdisciplinary team consisting of around 20 professors from the university and over 500 engineers from private companies. The organization is in the process of researching the entire value chain related to 5G networks, ranging from semiconductor chipsets to data transmission. As a new member of the research team, Bell Labs will initially focus its energy on developing a pair of standards for 5G communications.
The first is a method for coordinating multiple access technologies to boost the capacity of next-generation networks. This standard is meant to specifically exploit the shift to a Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) infrastructure. Populated by strategically deployed small cells, carrier Wi-Fi, and distributed antenna systems (DASs), the HetNet ecosystem is bursting with radio access points. The most important thing is to develop a low-complexity interface for this increasingly complex system of access technologies.
As a result, Bell Labs is looking for ways to simultaneously connect a single device to multiple radio nodes. Using these access points together not only increases the capacity of the network but, according to the research group, also makes it more reliable. For instance, if there is a problem with one network, the device can draw on other networks with a stronger signal. On top of that, Bell Labs is also involved with linking devices to a combination of 5G and 4G LTE links, further increasing network reliability. Aside from consumer applications, researchers will focus on how this design can support mission-critical applications, such as transportation and emergency responders.
The second standard being analyzed by the research group is an “air interface” proposal for 5G prototype networks. Of particular interest is the Universal Filtered-Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (UF-OFDM) waveform, a Bell Labs system that is being considered for 5G standardization. Alcatel-Lucent developed the waveform as an improvement of the OFDM, the digital modulation method used in 4G LTE networks. While the OFDM waveform is only optimized for smartphone data traffic, the UF-OFDM was designed to support a more diverse pool of traffic. This includes smartphones, machine-to-machine devices, and the tactile Internet technology being studied by the 5G Lab Germany. As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues expanding, networks will have to manage a large volume of sensor-based data that will come from the machine-to-machine devices of the future. Bell Labs holds that UF-OFDM will reduce the complexity of 5G networks and increase the number of devices they can support.
For Bell Labs, the research agreement with the 5G Lab Germany is the latest in a long line of collaborations. In the past, the company has signed agreements with NTT Docomo, KT Communications, and Freescale, among others. As for the 5G Lab Germany, along with Alcatel-Lucent, it has partnered with National Instruments, Vodafone, Nokia, Rohde & Schwarz, and Ericsson.