opinion


Designing 5G to stand the test of time

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Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Dr Li-Ke Huang, Research & Technology Director at Cobham Wireless discusses the need for testing at the design stage to ensure the success of 5G.

There are few technologies which have received as much press attention and industry expectation as 5G has in recent years, but until now there have been very few elements of the technology solidly defined and many of the comments have been based on pure speculation.

However, this is all set to change as with the opening of the 5GIC research facility at the University of Surrey last month, we can at last see an early outline of what the technology is likely to look like from both a protocol and end-use case perspective.

The consumer of 2015 has very high expectations of mobile technology. They want instant and seamless access to the internet to support data-hungry applications and services across a wide range of devices. Bandwidth and capacity have become crucial to meeting these expectations and the advance to 5G offers the promise of delivering the quality of experience users demand, in addition to supporting applications that can provide a truly connected society.

5G will be designed from the outset to support high-speed data services, and will simultaneously be the enabler for a rapid expansion in M2M and the IoT. 5G will drive new use cases for wireless technology, but many of these concepts depend on proving new radio interface technologies can deliver the throughput, latency and capacity required.

Unlike its predecessors, 5G will not be defined as a single wireless technology, but will instead comprise a number of different services being delivered to the end user across multiple access technologies and multi-layer networks. 5G will effectively be a dynamic, coherent and flexible technological framework, and very different to previous generation wireless standards. It will provide a system that leverages a variety of technologies depending on the precise needs of the application.

For the IoT, applications in industries such as automotive, manufacturing, consumer electronics and healthcare, will require the underlying wireless technology to differ dramatically, but sheer volume will place heavy demands on network capacity and availability. Taking these new applications from the concept phase to prototype, and eventually to rollout, is dependent on the development of new and sophisticated testing and validation techniques.

Success starts at ground-level

Testing for 5G needs to begin at the design phase. By adopting this methodology, it’s possible to start at the ground level and work up from there, refining processes along the way to understand, validate and improve system design and performance. This ‘design for testing’ principle can provide the foundation for 5G and the services it will enable, ultimately giving the technology a greater chance of long-term success.

This process has already begun in projects such as the 5GIC, where equipment that has been developed by test and measurement experts forms an integral part of the new state-of-the-art complex in Surrey. These tools will ensure the technology is perfected ahead of commercial launch with everything from the chipset and the radio antenna, to end-to-end network performance, set to be fully investigated.

One of the key activities of the 5GIC is to create and characterise the underlying algorithms for the potential new 5G air interfaces, which will be completely different to those used for 3G and 4G. At this stage test instrumentation is being used both to generate the air interface waveforms and to evaluate their performance against key design parameters. The software-defined air interface design principle that is being proposed for 5G will allow the fundamental air interface parameters – or even the air interface architecture – to be dynamically changed according to the service scenarios. With such a powerful design concept, it would not be surprising if 3G and 4G air interfaces will actually be included among the many radio access technologies that will be used in the 5G system.

There are important considerations to be made for the architecture and different frequency bands that will be integrated into the broader 5G technology framework, but important emphasis should also be placed on validating the user experience for the new applications. Many of the applications for 5G are still in the concept phase, but they are likely to be developed at an increasingly swift rate over the next decade so the industry needs to be as prepared as possible for the wide range of potential use-cases.

Some applications will centre on the primary telecoms market, supporting core communications services, but many others will be sector-specific. Having a testbed in place that can support the development of all applications will help to accelerate 5G, IoT and vertical industries.

Ultimately, the philosophy of ‘testing by design’ will provide the wireless industry with the blueprint to begin developing the coherent technological framework needed to support 5G, giving the technology an increased chance of meeting the high demands expected of it.

 

Li-Ke Huang croppedLi-Ke Huang is the Research & Technology Director at Cobham Wireless, leading the Technology Group and the Algorithms Group, and is responsible for product concept and core technology innovations contributing to the company’s technological and business visions, directions and strategies. He specializes in leading multiple early technology research programs for the TM500 product family, which has been the de facto global standard for 2G, 3G, LTE, 4G, and 5G wireless network technology prototyping and testing, and acquired extensive knowledge on wireless technology R&D and business development cycles. Li-Ke has a BSc in Electronic Engineering from Shenzhen University, and a PhD in signal processing and digital communications from Imperial College London.

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