With IoT and Smart City developments gathering pace, 5G mobile networks are expected to take on an unprecedented role in this, connecting enterprises, enabling new services and even driving new business models. Industry analysts forecast that consumer spending on mobile apps will reach over US$74B and over 75% of online advertising will be from mobile by 2020. To meet these demands, the 5G network must feature high bandwidth, high data capacity and throughput with extremely low latency – especially for mission-critical applications. Enabling this is 5G NR, part of 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) architecture that is composed of LTE evolution and NR technology and spectrum from sub-1 GHz to 100 GHz in a range of low band (600 MHz, 700MHz), mid band (3.5GHz), and high bands (50GHz).
5G preparations started years ago
Wireless solution providers have been actively pursuing research and development of 5G network equipment. For instance, one such project involves China’s national research programs in 5G key technologies which focuses base station antennas which are an integral part of any core network buildout. Many infrastructure vendors are involved in similar research projects all around the world. The research projects focused on methodologies such as mass array antenna beam synthesis algorithms, channel calibrations, materials such as dielectric radiating element designs, and techniques on minimization design with high gain and low loss. The multiple research programs for 5G antenna technologies have laid solid foundations for commercially-oriented products and solutions. As such, different types of 5G massive MIMO antennas for TDD/FDD up to 128 elements (64T64R) and covers frequencies up to 6GHz have been developed.
To facilitate the ongoing R&D efforts, many providers have invested in the supporting infrastructure and have the capability for 5G OTA testing for near field and far field, as well as environmental testing equipment to ensure 5G antenna reliability in environmental situations such as extreme temperatures, humidity, lightning and power fluctuations.
The future is already here
Commercially, multiple vendors have been working with numerous global customers on developing 5G antennas that are being deployed in ongoing trials around the world, and Comba Telecom is among them. Thus far, the results have been extremely positive, and the most promising effort is a massive MIMO active antenna system (AAS) that integrates the radio and antenna components for a smaller footprint, more efficient power usage for reduced TCO and easier deployment. Based on 5G NR standards, the Massive MIMO AAS features advanced 3D beamforming techniques for improved throughput, thus enabling network operators to deliver high capacity data at higher speeds and up to ten times lower cost per GB in comparison with today’s LTE networks, according to Ericsson.
Although commercial/consumer 5G network launches are expected post-2018, pre-launch preparations are well underway and will only accelerate. With 3GPP approving the first 5G NR specifications at the close of 2017, the pace of 5G developments will gather pace over the coming year in almost every corner of the wireless ecosystem. In short, we are already on the threshold of the 5G era, and it will be here sooner than most people expect.
Simon Yeung is the Executive Director and Senior Vice President of Comba Telecom System Holdings Limited President of Comba Telecom Systems International Limited.
 “A bright future: 5G and continued growth promise new opportunities for the mobile industry”. IHS Markit 2017
 “The 5G Consumer Business Case”. Ericsson 2018
 “First 5G NR Specs Approved”. 3GPP 2017
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