After a lot of back and forth on standardization, in December 2017, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a collaboration between groups of telecommunications standards associations, came out with standardization for 5G. Since then a lot of water has flowed under the river, so does progress on 5G technology. So much so that telecom gear makers are excited to term anything or everything new they are doing as 5G but operators are having subdued response due to evolving standardization, the challenge of attaining latency of 1ms or less and immature device ecosystem.
In an exclusive interview with Mohd Ujaley, Sarah Yost, product marketing manager, National Instruments says: “It will be possible to have some non-standalone pieces of 5G that are in the sub-6GHz. The end of 2018 might be a little ambitious for 5G roll-out but definitely 2019.” adding that it depends on how fast telecos can get the work deployed.
After a lot of back and forth on standardization, in December we had one particular standardization that came out. So can we define what 5G is today?
When you look at 5G and the 3GPP’s road-map, they have broken it into two phases: we are currently in the end stage of Phase 1 and Phase 2 has started and is scheduled to end in the year 2020. As part of Phase 1, LTE ‘Release 15’ will come out, which will have 5G new radio components to it and by the end of Phase 2, we will have ‘Release 16’. So, we are looking at two consolidated release from the 3GPP to help define 5G. That being said, the LTE or any other standard is always evolving and the same will happen with 5G. We had that announcement in December with the non-standalone new case and we have a working group coming up in the next few weeks to do the standalone new case. They have already scheduled two ‘late drops’, one in September and another in December, to address corrective action reports that have already been filed. So, even though we are only just launching 5G, we are already working on iterating it.
There are reports that suggest a delay in 5G roll-out. Do you really think, it is practically possible to have 5G in 2018?
Yes, I think it will be possible to have some non-standalone pieces of 5G that are in the sub-6GHz. I think the end of 2018 might be a little ambitious but definitely 2019. It depends on how fast they can get the work deployed. Getting technology like Massive MIMO implemented is not very difficult as there are already some test challenges on how to do that. They can make updates to infrastructure and push that tech out quickly. We are starting to see manufacturers like Qorvo, who we worked with, looking to integrate a sub-6Ghz 5G in the chipset already, which represents a long way in the progress of development. Seeing 5G come to the market as the ‘next big idea’ may not happen this year. Verizon Wireless spoke about getting 28 GHz but they are still working on that. I have not seen any push to do larger trials though.
What do you think is holding back?
For newer technology, I think it is just the fact that it is new. Getting to millimeter wave, we have a lot of challenges in implementation. When you look at what is new in 5G, the fast and smooth pace of implementation of the sub-six pieces is encouraging. To unlock new and interesting applications like VR and autonomous driving, we will need better infrastructure in place and technology like millimeter wave to get us more bandwidth. Millimeter has a very high attenuation error; if I stick my hand in the middle of the signal or if it is raining, you could lose the signal. So, we need more antennas to do beam steering and tracking. When you look at this again, there are issues from the test perspective and the device design side, where the problems are related to where to position the antennas on mobile phones based on how people use their phones. The next question is about how much power each of these utilities is drawing? The parts must be made efficient and also if they are even necessary. My phone will currently last about a day, which is pretty good for me.
What are your views on the device ecosystem for 5G?
In the development ecosystem, the first piece is infrastructure, which includes things like base stations, which companies like Samsung and Ericson will focus on rolling out. Then, we will see the devices come out. There has been good progress on this. For example, we partnered with Samsung to do interoperability testing with their 28 GHz base-stations. They have it but it isn’t fully released yet; they are still doing the final rounds of testing. We will see this technology come out soon and then the devices and handsets will follow.
Is 5G only about speed or is there something more to it?
We call 5G the enhanced mobile broadband. It is special because we have two extra KPIs: one is massive machine-type control and the other is to get 100 times more devices on the network. So, if you are at a sports event and cannot make a call even with four bars of signal, changes must be made in the standard to support more devices. Once we have that, we can start looking at technologies like Industrial IoT or just regular IoT, like connecting household utilities to the phone. The most unique thing about 5G is that it has a latency spec, which no other spectrum has had so far. The goal for 5G is to get 1ms of latency or below. For example, if you are doing VR and the image doesn’t move when you move your head within 1 ms, it causes motion sickness. For autonomous driving, you have to be able to brake quickly enough, turn immediately etc. So, latency is one of the most useful but also one of the most challenging aspects of 5G.
Recently, National Instruments signed the partnership with universities on 5G. How has the experience been so far?
Yes, we are working with Shanghai University, the University of Warwick and some universities in the U.S.A. These universities are just getting started on their research and have some early publications. There are some papers already out there but I am looking forward to this number growing in the future.
What work is NI doing in India on 5G? Have you collaborated with any Indian institutes?
Earlier this year, we did an announcement with IIT-Delhi about opening a 5G research lab. We are very excited about that since it is quite a state of the art facility that is capable of tackling some of these wireless challenges. In addition, our R&D team in India focuses on the test-based products. Their contribution in the software for automated production tests has been impressive.