There’s no doubt about it. The information ‘superhighway’ is becoming increasingly congested and data capacity is a global challenge. World wide mobile data traffic grew 63 percent in 2016, reaching 7.2 exabytes per month. To put that in context, that number is roughly 8,000 times that of 10 years ago, and almost 800 million times that of 15 years past. Global mobile data traffic is increasing at 2 times the rate of landline Internet traffic, driven not just by a proliferating number of connected devices but also an intense thirst for rich media services and experiences—placing unprecedented demands on wireless networks. By 2020, the year 5G is expected to roll out, more than 50 billion devices and 212 billion sensors will be connected to network services, generating more than half a zettabyte of data traffic per year.
With sub-6 gigahertz licensed spectrum nearing capacity—the industry is looking at alternative modes of transportation to help data get from Point A to Point B. 5G standards-based technologies offer three innovative new ways to address bandwidth challenges, enabling the next generation of wireless devices, services and solutions.
1. Providing alternative routes with unlicensed spectrum
The wireless industry is already on the road to operationalizing unlicensed spectrum in the sub-6 GHz range having finalized a series of 3GPP Release 13 standards, including Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) and LTE-WLAN Aggregation (LWA), that combine Wi-Fi with LTE for added capacity. These Radio Access Technologies (RATs) allow operators to offload data traffic to Wi-Fi for increased throughput and improved Quality of Service (QoS). In other words, they offer the promise of providing a better experience to more users.
Unlicensed spectrum is the new green field for wireless operators looking to cost-efficiently scale their operations, however, it comes with unique considerations. One is the issue of interference, particularly in the sub-6 GHz range traditionally used for both LTE and Wi-Fi applications. That’s why standards built for coexistence, and using polite protocols like Listen-Before-Talk (LBT), are so important. LBT requires a radio transmitter to “listen” to its environment for ongoing transmissions before sending a signal, or “talking”—thus, avoiding interference on the channel between LTE and Wi-Fi, which could degrade QoS.
2. ‘Pooling’ resources with coordinated shared spectrum
While unlicensed spectrum is the most obvious and promising way of opening up new lanes for data traffic, ‘ride sharing’ so to speak is another option. Organizations across the globe are working to define best practices and standards to allow communications service providers shared access to licensed spectrum in the coveted sub-6 GHz range, with an approach referred to as Coordinated Spectrum Sharing (CSS)—making more efficient use of spectral resources.
In the U.S, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently opened up 150 Megahertz of valuable spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band for CSS at the request of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). The CBRS’ objective is to establish a shared access system that helps service providers address the scarcity issue and extend their capacity to meet the coming demands of 5G while minimizing the impact to incumbent providers. CSS also opens the doors of innovation, allowing companies that traditionally have not had access to licensed spectrum, such as cable providers, the opportunity to deliver new and improved user experiences.
3. Choosing the most efficient vehicle with 5G NR
5G New Radio (NR), an air interface specification currently in development, will enable devices to connect opportunistically to network resources through an expanded range of access technologies operating in licensed, licensed shared, and unlicensed spectrum—from sub-1 GHz all through mmWave.
Conversations about 5G usually go hand-in-hand with discussions about mmWave. Why? Because mmWave spectrum is capable of delivering data rates in the 10s of gigabits per second, at extreme low latency—essential attributes for many 5G services. Deploying 5G services and solutions in mmWave, however, requires making some adjustments to accommodate for its different laws of physics, such as transmitting at a relatively short range without a direct line of site. Intel has made significant progress in standards-based technologies like beamforming and modular antenna array to enable the commercial use of mmWave. In fact, we’re already testing mmWave 5G operation in live trials with partners around the world, using our Intel® 5G Mobile Trial Platform.
By enabling agile connectivity to the optimal resources, via the right spectrum, at the right range, using the best RAT—5G NR offers the promise of delivering extreme capacity, running on true gigabit speeds, with ultra-low latency and ultra-high reliability, at low power and with wide coverage. 5G NR is essentially the best vehicle for a new generation of mobile broadband services, a massive number of things (IoT), and a variety of mission-critical applications. 5G NR is so instrumental to the future of wireless that industry leaders, including Intel, have committed to a plan to accelerate the specification for 5G NR.
Data capacity is a global challenge, that’s why collaboration is so important to defining standards that support interoperability and economies of scale worldwide. Intel sits on the board of more than 250 industry groups and organizations. Intel is a participant of the International Telecommunication Union’s Working Party 5D, the group responsible for current IMT-2000 systems, IMT-Advanced systems and IMT-2020 systems, and holds leading positions in both the 3GPP and IEEE. We’re collaborating not just with these groups, but with partners around the world to remove the roadblocks to 5G—enabling a fully-connected and interactive world—and we can’t wait to see where the journey takes us.