The last year has been a fast moving one in the world of 5G. Therefore it was good to get a chance to catch up with the state of play by attending the annual 5G one day conference arranged by the IET RF and Microwave TTN (Technology Technical Network).
The event took place at the IET, Savoy Place on the banks of the Thames on 29th January 2020. This was the 7th occurrence of this annual conference and speakers included various representatives from 5G vendors, standards bodies and government.
As an added bonus this year, one of the slides presented by Dr Kafil Ahmed used an excerpt from my article of last year to highlight the increasing attendance of the conference as the years have passed. What I did notice at this year’s conference, apart from the nearly full Turing Lecture Theatre, was a seemingly increased number of attendees who were there to see how 5G can be used within their businesses.
During the last year, 5G has been launched by all 4 mobile operators: EE (BT), Vodafone, O2 and Three. As of last December, it covered around 50 cities in the UK and that number is constantly growing; however, rural coverage is still patchy.
This initial release of 5G does not contain all of the functions that 5G will eventually provide. What has been released so far is enhanced Mobile BroadBand (eMBB), which essentially gives you higher speeds for your data from the internet. eMBB is currently delivered using 5G over the air (from the mobile to the base station, known as the Radio Access Network (RAN)), but uses conventional 4G infrastructure for backhaul (from the base stations to the internet). This is known as Non-Standalone (NS) mode. We can expect further improvements in the broadband speeds once the full standalone implementation called New Radio (NR) is put in place, thus enabling a full 5G experience all the way back to the internet.
The various different version of mobile communications are tied together through the 3GPP initiative and their releases. The current version is Release 15 (R15 – 5G Phase 1) which was finalised in mid-2019 and has permitted the eMBB 5G rollout. In June 2020, Release 16 (R16 – 5G Phase 2) is expected to be frozen, with further enhancements for massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) and Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC). Release 17 should follow around a year later with even more enhancements to 5G. So, there should be a constantly improving picture for 5G as more of the promised functions are rolled out.
The types of businesses mentioned during the day as being early adopters of 5G technology were companies like Ocado who are using the technology to control robots within a warehouse, and a Scottish Salmon farms business using 5G sensors. For these types of applications it might be possible to use Wifi or 5G to deliver similar services. The 5G service need not be provided by one of the main mobile operators but could be provided by the user themselves. Part of the 2.3 GHz band is available for sharing and users can request spectrum for their local use (2.3GHz won’t travel very far!). The spectrum is expected to be priced the same for everyone and coexistence tools are used to ensure allocations will not cause interoperation problems. You can read more on spectrum sharing at OfCom general announcement and RuralFirst.
There was some discussion on macro cell backhaul and how we are likely to see a mix of radio and fibre backhaul technologies being used. There is a constant drive to push the backhaul speeds up to support more 5G mobiles using more of the 5G functions. This results in a treasure trove of acronyms (as if 5G did not already have its own anyway) which could easily occupy me in months of reading to get up to speed with! To give you some examples and some additional reading:
- The use of Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) systems on fibre.
- The use of Orbital Angular Momentum (OAM) a particular property of light for achieving even higher throughput on the next generation of fibre.
- The use of 512QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) schemes with Cross-Polarization Interference Cancelling (XPIC) technology on the radio backhaul.
- The use of satellite in backhaul to provide resilience, for example Very-Small-Aperture Terminal (VSAT) which is already regularly deployed.
If 5G interests you then there are a number of places you can visit online to find out more, such as https://uk5g.org/, https://5g.co.uk/, or https://5g-ppp.eu/. 5G videos from previous years can be found at https://tv.theiet.org by searching for 5G. Alternatively, you could pencil in late next January for the next instalment of this conference, at which we are promised a possible look ahead beyond 5G.
Mark Davison, February 2020