5G could propel digitalization across industries, but making this jump requires technology trailblazing. With the 5G use-case specifications defined, the telecommunications industry can get busy building the hardware, chipsets, and antennas that will make 5G work. While technology selection and construction could vary greatly among carriers, there are five technologies that are getting a lot of 5G buzz.
1. Massive MIMO
Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) groups about 12 antennas at a base station, but Massive MIMO can group about 100 antennas that send and receive more data on the same spectrum. Massive MIMO can pair with beamforming to reduce interference from multiple antennae. Recently, Sprint declared Massive MIMO added to existing towers as it’s “secret weapon” for deploying 5G. They plan to use the antennas to split spectrum between 4G and 5G and broadcast in both modes at the same time.
2. High-frequency spectrum
The typical mobile spectrum (≤6 gigahertz – GHz) is crowded. To get more bandwidth for 5G and IoT, carriers are eyeing millimeter waves (mmWaves), but they will have work around its limitations. Historically, mmWaves were not used in mobile broadband because they do not travel very far and cannot move through obstacles like buildings or trees. In fact, rain and plants absorb them. To sidestep these shortcomings, 5G network design can include small cells, Massive MIMO, and coding algorithms to strengthen and focus signals.
3. Small cells
Small cells already complement macro towers to provide more capacity, but using a high-frequency spectrum makes small cells a central technology. With 5G, mmWaves broadcast by traditional towers will rely on a dense small cell network at the neighborhood level to relay signal around obstacles. Forty percent of surveyed carriers plan to deploy between 100-350 small cells per square kilometer to densify their networks for 5G, compared to the typical two to five sites to support 4G.
4. Edge computing
Paired with small cells, edge computing will create a distributed cloud network that processes data at the source. This techno-pair is ideal for 5G because it reduces load on backhaul networks by processing at the edge, and enables context awareness, low-latency, and data analytics capabilities needed to support many 5G use cases. It’s no surprise that 62 percent of carriers will deploy edge computing by 2022.
5. Fiber optic cable
Ironically, the heart of 5G wireless is wireline. To hit the 5G speeds, it is estimated that nearly 1.4 million miles of fiber cable will be needed to fully deploy 5G services (with small cell connections) to the top 25 U.S. metropolitan areas. Fiber’s limitless bandwidth is critical to support small cell densification, push computing to the edge, and increase connectivity especially in rural and underserved areas. Within the network, fiber will also support fronthaul and backhaul from the edge of the network to the core.