Deploying mmWave to unleash 5G’s full potential

5G mmWave is a truly transformative technology that delivers the next-level performance and user experience beyond what is possible with traditional cellular networks. In addition, the expected proliferation of 5G mmWave can also significantly benefit mobile operators by offloading traffic from the congested 4G bands.

mmWave

After more than a decade of advanced R&D and ecosystem trials, commercial 5G mmWave service is now available in 55+ U.S. cities and more than 160 areas in Japan. Consumers now have a wide selection of mmWave-enabled devices — smartphones, laptops, hotpots, fixed wireless access CPEs and more. In the next year or so, we expect 5G mmWave to expand into other territories such as South Korea, Russia, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Finland, and others. We’ll also see 5G mmWave proliferating to new device types and tiers.

Being a disruptive new technology, mmWave is the subject of many important questions from mobile operators, service providers, and subscribers. For example, what does the Return-on-Investment (ROI) look like for deploying 5G mmWave? How well does 5G mmWave work in large-scale deployments? And what are some of the new opportunities for 5G mmWave?

In a recent economic study conducted by GSMA Intelligence, researchers examined a wide range of 5G mmWave deployment scenarios including different geographical regions, outdoor dense urban networks, indoor enterprises, and fixed wireless access (FWA). The overall findings are encouraging, with all scenarios showing how mmWave can be a cost-effective deployment strategy. Below is a quick summary of this study, with more detailed analysis becoming available in the coming weeks.

– Dense urban networks: the study looked at the period between now and 2025, and it finds that mmWave can be deployed cost effectively to deliver an additional capacity layer in dense urban areas in China and Europe.
– FWA: similarly, three different FWA deployments were analyzed, including urban China, suburban Europe, and rural U.S. The study shows that 5G FWA networks using mmWave spectrum can be cost effective if they are able to capture a significant percentage of the high-traffic residential broadband market.
– Indoor enterprises: the study looked at an indoor 5G mmWave deployment in a large office space. It finds that this strategy can also be cost effective and generate cost savings between 5% and 20% when a significant share of data traffic needs to be supported by indoor 5G services.

Delivering superior user experiences over commercial 5G mmWave networks
To assess how 5G mmWave is performing in large-scale deployments, Ookla* recently published benchmark data that was crowd sourced from actual users in commercial networks, comparing average 5G mmWave throughput to those of 5G sub-6 GHz and LTE. The finding shows that 5G mmWave is performing up to expectations, achieving 3 Gbps in peak speed and average throughputs that are 6x+ faster than 5G sub-6 GHz and 20+ times faster than LTE in many cases.

In addition, we recently worked with Signal Research Group on a comprehensive field test of commercial 5G mmWave networks in downtown Chicago. The expanded 800 MHz in downlink bandwidth nearly doubled end-user data speeds to a peak speed of 3.2 Gbps, compared to 400 MHz used in the initial deployment. For uplink, the network can now support 200 MHz bandwidth, bringing 200 Mbps in peak user data rates.

Bringing benefits to a broad range of new deployments
As 5G mmWave continues to gain momentum in commercial mobile networks, it is also expanding into new use cases, which can possess different deployment considerations. To better understand how 5G mmWave can perform, my team of engineers has worked tirelessly on end-to-end system simulations and field tests over the past few years. For indoor enterprises, indoor/outdoor venues, and transportation hubs, I have previously shared some results in a blog post. Since then, we have worked on a few more interesting new deployments. Let me give a quick update below.

More immersive sports and venue experiences
5G mmWave brings a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform venue experiences, and for many years we have been working with venue owners and event organizers to deploy cutting-edge wireless networks. We recently announced at IFA 2020 our collaboration with Live Nation to bring broader 5G deployments to their venues. On the sporting front, 40+ of the largest stadiums in North America already have commercial mmWave networks (with many more in planning), and in China, plans are in place to deploy 5G mmWave at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. For the biggest American pro football event in 2020, my team was tasked to design and test the deployment of a new 5G mmWave network covering the entire stadium, working closely with the venue and mobile operator. Thanks to the large bandwidths available in 28 GHz, we realized much better deployment efficiency — using only eight mmWave sectors to cover 98% of the stadium bowl area, compared to 100+ sectors needed with LTE. At the same time, 5G mmWave can deliver average downlink throughput that is 10x higher than LTE in the bowl seating area, fulfilling the insatiable demand of subscribers who are downloading, streaming, and sharing high-definition videos as well as content from inside the stadium.

Delivering wireless broadband to homes
5G mmWave not only brings next-level mobile experiences, it can also deliver high-capacity wireless broadband access to urban, suburban, and rural homes as well as enterprises. The commercial momentum is strong. To date, ~40% of operators with commercial 5G networks (i.e., 37 out of 94) are offering FWA services and 80+ FWA products are in design or development from 30+ OEMs using our 5G modem-RF solutions. In a recent joint announcement with U.S. Cellular and Ericsson, we showcased extended-range 5G mmWave FWA in a commercial network, achieving a 5+ km range while sustaining data rates of 100+ Mbps. This proves that 5G mmWave can be utilized to deliver fast, reliable, and cost-efficient connectivity to rural and often underserved areas — taking a significant stride to bridge the digital divide.

Enabling new industrial use cases and efficiencies
One key technology area in 3GPP Release 16 is the expansion of 5G to address high-performance industrial IoT (IIoT) applications — delivering enhanced ultra-reliable and low-latency wireless connectivity. Building on the collaborations with industrial ecosystem leaders to usher in the factory of the future, we have expanded our efforts to utilizing mmWave spectrum for a wide range of high-bandwidth IIoT use cases. We’ve shown that 5G mmWave can bring great indoor coverage, even in a noisy, industrial settings, as well as provide the high system capacity needed to satisfy bandwidth-demanding use cases, such as high-definition video streaming and extended reality (i.e., VR and AR). Collaborating with an industrial customer and leading mobile operator for our initial deployment, we achieved over 1.5 Gbps and 120 Mbps in downlink and uplink throughput, respectively, which met all initial use case requirements.

Evolving 5G mmWave technology
We are building on the solid 5G NR technology foundation to bring even better mmWave system capability, performance, and efficiency. One example is integrated access and backhaul (IAB), first defined in Release 16, which allows a mmWave base station to provide both wireless access and backhaul connectivity. IAB eliminates the need for a wired backhaul and allows for a more flexible densification strategy. For more information on IAB and other 5G mmWave technology enhancements, we are planning to hold a deeper dive webinar in the coming months. Stay tuned for more.

 

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