Unprecedented Integration Driving 5G and IoT at Mobile World Congress 2017

Mobile World Congress 2017 was all about 5G and getting real. Although there is still much hype in the market, actual trials are underway and companies are getting realistic with what can be rolled out first and the progression of technologies needed to work their way into full 5G deployment. 5G connections are forecast to reach 1.1 B by 2025 according to a study made by GSMA, with wide deployment expected by 2020. The first 5G application being targeted seems to be fixed wireless access for certain locations. Verizon has the jump on everyone launching more than 10 city trials in the USA by June. This is part of the 5G Technology Forum effort supported by several companies such as Cisco, Ericsson, Intel, LG, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung. They will be using 28 and 39 GHz phased array technology in the tests.

While all of the talk of MWC 2017 was about 5G and IoT, for Microwave Journal it was the unprecedented level of integration at the device level that was the most interesting. GLOBALFOUNDRIES' release of 45nm RF SOI; Xilinx 16nm All Programmable RFSoCs; Anokiwave/Ball's, UCSD/TowerJazz's, and IBM/Ericsson's 32 element - 28 GHz phased arrays; IDT's mmWave dual modem; and Cambridge Consultant's all digital single chip radio are examples of innovations and technologies that will enable the future of wireless. Only with these high levels of integration and innovative radio architectures will the industry achieve the cost and performance levels needed to realize the 5G and IoT goals in the future.

Just before the event started, 22 mobile communications companies announced collective support for accelerating the 5G new radio (NR) standardization schedule to enable large-scale trials and deployments as early as 2019. The firms are supporting a proposal for the first phase of the 5G NR specification, to be discussed at the next 3GPP RAN plenary meeting. The companies comprising the consortium are AT&T, British Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Etisalat Group, Huawei, Intel, KDDI, Korea Telecom, LG Electronics, LG Uplus, NTT DOCOMO, Qualcomm Technologies, SK Telecom, Sprint, Swisscom, Telia Company, Telstra, TIM, Vivo, Vodafone and ZTE. The first 3GPP 5G NR specification will be part of Release 15 and based on the current 3GPP Release 15 timeline, the earliest 5G NR deployments based on standard-compliant 5G NR infrastructure and devices will likely be in 2020. 5G Americas (the industry trade association and voice of 5G and LTE for the Americas) announced the publication of Wireless Technology Evolution Towards 5G: 3GPP Release 13 to Release 15 and Beyond that outlines the progress and evolution of LTE technology and the developing 5G standards. The 5G Americas white paper provides a detailed discussion on the key feature enhancements that were included in 3GPP Rel-13 to Rel-15.

IoTA similar track is being followed with IoT as Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) providers that are developing sensible plans for wide scale deployment. The main question is how the proprietary networks will stack up against standard cellular versions now ready to compete with them. And cost is an issue still being address by the networks and device manufacturers.  Strategy Analytics forecasts that IoT cellular devices will transition from a 4G air interface to 5G through 2025, with shipments of 4G IoT modules peaking within two years. 5G modules will begin shipping in 2019 and outsell 4G modules in 2024. Total shipments will exceed 190 million in 2025. The automotive vertical market will remain the single largest consumer of IoT cellular modules during the forecast period and will significantly increase its market share by 2025.

The connected vehicle was a hot topic at MWC as many automotive manufacturers were present. BMW attended for the first time doing live outside demonstrations of autonomous parking. Telefónica and Ericsson, in partnership with KTH and Idiada, showcased the potential of 5G networks with a demo the used Telefonica's trial 5G network to drive a car prototyped by KTH at Idiada's race track in Tarragona, Spain, from remote locations at Fira (in Telefónica and Ericsson's booths). The demo used 15 GHz signals with narrow beams that follow the car / prototype continuously from the 5G base station in order to ensure the reliability and ultra-low latency required by the whole network that connects the cars with the Fira. There were many other remote and autonomous car demos, too many to mention here.

Here are some highlights from the big companies and organizations at the event which was all about 5G, IoT and Cloud technologies:

Ericsson and China Mobile jointly developed a 5G-enabled Smart Factory prototype using key 5G Core Network technology - Network Slicing. The demo simulated the assembly line in the Smart Factory environment, enabled by the 5G connected industry standard PLC connections. More cellular IoT use cases for Smart Cities, Fleet Management, Smart Buildings, Smart Agriculture, and manufacturing enabled by Cat-M1 and NB-IoT technologies were on display jointly with leading operators and ecosystem partners. Ericsson also showcased its frontrunner 5G solutions with use cases and proof points. In another live demonstration with Intel, the cross-vendor 5G over-the-air 28GHz trial radio and device platform was running, with Ericsson's 5G Test Bed and Intel's 5G Mobile Test Platform.  Ericsson also showcased of Gigabit Class LTE. Ericsson and Sprint jointly demonstrated LTE technology advances to show 1 Gbps class performance over 60 MHz of LTE TDD spectrum, an industry first. Using both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, Ericsson, AT&T, Orange and Qualcomm Technologies showed Gigabit Class LTE as a way to increase capacity and improve performance across existing networks.

Huawei announced the Huawei P10 and P10 Plus phones and Huawei Watch 2 and Classic. They also featured their CloudAIR solution that supports cloud-based sharing of air interface resources like spectrum, power and channels. Their CloudRAN centralizes and coordinates resource allocation, allowing for greater elasticity and more flexible management. CloudRAN enables end-to-end network slicing, laying the foundation for better user experience and business potential. They are working with C-Band which is the first globally harmonized frequency band set aside for commercial 5G use and working on mmWave frequency solutions.

Nokia released 4 phones and was featuring many network related technologies such as Commercial 5G FIRST and 5G for the home - mostly focusing on VR applications; IoT for industrial/public safety/energy/healthcare; and the first live demonstration of full in cloud technology running 2G/3G/4G and 5G together using AirScale Cloud RAN. Their theme was enabling the 4th industrial revolution with wireless.

Qualcomm announced the expansion of its Snapdragon X50 5G modem family to include 5G New Radio (NR) multi-mode chipset solutions. According to the company it will be compliant with the 3GPP-based 5G NR global system. Supporting sub-6 GHz frequencies and multi-band millimeter wave spectrum, the new modems come with a unified 5G design for all major spectrum types and bands.  The X50 5G modem family will also provide wider bandwidths and high speeds for enhanced mobile broadband. They were also featuring the various applications where their Snapdragon processors are being used from drones to mobile devices among many other displays of their technology.

ZTE launched the first gigabit phone and is the first device with Qualcomm's latest CPU Snapdragon 835 with X16 LTE modem for achieving extremely fast connectivity - over ten times than previous LTE devices. It has 4x4 MIMO antenna technology and 256-QM modulation to achieve massive download speeds. ZTE independently developed its Pre5G Giga+ MBB solution and also demonstrated it at the event. So the race is one for the first 5G phone. In news just prior to the event, ZTE announced it is one of the first group of companies that completed the China 5G Experimental Trials in phase I, and accredited by IMT2020(5G) Promotion Group with the official certificate of 5G technologies experiments. ZTE's mmWave 5G BTS prototype is now under test in the China 5G Experimental Trials phase II.


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