Millimeter wave essential to meeting spectrum crunch and data demand
Gigabit LTE is boosting capacity to meet demand today and setting the stage for a smooth roll out of 5G that will enable users to have a consistent network experience as they move from 5G hot spots onto gigabit LTE. But there’s a big difference between 500 Mbps or 1 Gbps and 10 Gbps delivered with latency less than 1 millisecond. And a big part of that difference is millimeter wave spectrum.
Ian Gresham, technology fellow at Anokiwave, described the paradigm. “In parallel with the continued evolution and development of LTE and the sub-6 GHz platforms, there’s this parallel activity to harness wider channel bandwidths at higher frequencies. That’s driven by the exponentially increasing demand for data that we’re seeing and obviously the increasingly saturated spectrum availability in the existing bands despite the hugely impressive results that we’ve already seen.”
Referencing the above graphic, Gresham explained: “The horizontal axis represents the frequency spectrum from approximately 1 to 90 GHz on a relative scale. The orange…bars on the middle and right of the top figure show the approximately 11 gigahertz of new spectrum released by the FCC for both licensed and unlicensed use. Although the precise frequency allocations vary across the globe, there’s similar initiatives in Europe and Asia as well. The picket fence of blue lines on the left shows the fragmented…spectrum that’s available below 6 GHz. The available scale of the relative spectrum is quite easy to see.” The red and green blocks show frequency allocations for the aerospace and defense and satellite communications industries; Anokiwave was worked in A&D and satcom for more than a decade, Gresham said, which has resulted in millions of dollars in investments that have driven down the cost of attendant electronics and deployments.
Gresham continued: “Proximity, and in many cases overlapping of these spectral regions, make it obvious that the same technical problems, and therefore very similar technological solutions, apply for both requirements. What this means is that we’ve experienced the same design and manufacturing philosophy as well as the base technologies that we’ve been developing for aerospace and defense and satcom can be leveraged and used across the different market segments especially for now 5G telecommunications. That enables a high degree of reuse and that’s also enabled a platform-type approach to accelerate the development of active antennas.”
Anokiwave is a fabless semiconductor firm that provides integrated silicon core IC solutions and silicon front ends for millimeter wave applications. The company has developed products to serve key millimeter wave frequencies including the 26 GHz, 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands. Moving millimeter wave technology from A&D and satcom to telecommunications brings a change in the radio architecture for active antenna hardware for the physical layer of the air interface, Gresham said, calling it the “principal challenge” for the use of millimeter wave in telecommunications. “Why are millimeter wave active antennas critical for 5G?” Gresham asked. “The most important consideration is the high path loss at millimeter wave, which is somewhere around 62 dB per meter at 28 GHz for line-of-sight propagation. That means the development of a robust link seems extremely challenging. The reciprocal benefit is the short wavelength, which is about 5.6 millimeters at 28 GHz, means you can develop a large effective aperture in a very small area. That means you can generate extremely high radiated power through construction in the far field. Conversely at the receiver the radio sensitivity can also be scaled by increasing aperture size. Because the antennas are active, you can change the direction of the beam very dynamically to serve multiple users, you can provide spatial orthogonality through adaptive beam forming or shaping and you can rapidly change point and direction to adapt to changing propagation channels in dynamic environments. You can also form sub arrays of radiating elements which can be used to provide the MIMO functionality…which is also applicable for increasing data throughput and providing some link robustness.” But there are problems to be solved, Gresham said, “especially around the issues of user mobility. How do you implement this functionality in the [user equipment]?”
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