The August 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

First Intercontinental 5G Trial Begins at Winter Olympics

The 5G Champion project shows off a 5G link between South Korea and Finland

3 min read
Users aboard 5G Champion's demo bus watch an ice hockey game streaming at 5 Gbps from a nearby 5G basestation.
Users aboard 5G Champion's demo bus watch an ice hockey game streaming at 5 Gbps from a nearby 5G basestation.
Photo: Emilio Calvanese Strinati/5G Champion

Olympics fans arriving at South Korea’s Gangneung Station on their way to the coastal ice arenas this week are getting a sneak peek at 5G Champion, a pioneering mobile-broadband project two years in the making. This joint EU-Korea venture—led by France’s CEA-Leti and South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute—stands out as a quiet contender in what the Games’ official telecommunications sponsor, KT Corp., has dubbed the “first 5G Olympics.”

Much ado has been made of KT’s own widely-publicized demos, and in pizazz, they did not disappoint. After deploying its 5G trial network at the opening ceremony on Feb. 9 to synchronize in real time 1,200 flickering LED candles forming a giant dove, KT continues to dazzle spectators with display tablets and virtual-reality glasses live-streaming its vision for a 5G future: immersive footage from ski courses and bobsleigh cockpits; 360-degree close-ups of speed skaters and ice dancers; VR trips to hockey games and snowboarding runs.

Performers on the stage form the shape of a dovePerformers on the stage form the shape of a dove at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea on Feb. 9, 2018.Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Like these trial services and others popping up around the globe, 5G Champion (of which KT is one of 21 industry partners) makes use of the plethora of spectrum available in millimeter-wave frequencies to boost data rates and lower latency. 5G Champion’s prototype radios, for instance, operate in a 1-Gigahertz-wide band around 28 Gigahertz—10 times the maximum spectrum available to today’s 4G networks.

This extra bandwidth—along with speedier communication protocols and a more versatile transmission scheme known as massive MIMO—allows the project’s test network in Gangneung to feed interactive maps and pre-recorded sports videos to a demo bus at a whopping 5 gigabits per second with only 2 milliseconds of latency. (Compare that to 4G’s 150-mbps average mobile data rates and 10-ms latencies.) “We don’t have the rights to show live Olympics content, but the tech is the same,” says Emilio Calvanese Strinati, 5G Champion’s European coordinator at CEA-Leti.

And the project offers something more: Visitors to its exhibition booth near Gangneung Station can interact with a second 5G radio testbed in Oulu, Finland through a 14,000-kilometer-long fiber core. They can take a virtual live tour of the community center housing the testbed, for example, or actuate remote sensors to check Oulu’s snow depth and the brightness of the aurora borealis. Users in Oulu, meanwhile, can take a look around Gangneung.

This cross-continental 5G link is unique to 5G Champion. “There’s nobody else at the moment who’s trialing this,” Calvanese Strinati says. To implement it, his team engineered an entirely new network architecture. At its heart is an increasingly popular framework known as network functions virtualization management and orchestration (NFV MANO), which runs basic data-routing tasks in software rather than on dedicated hardware, as is typical in 4G backbones.

5G Champion's prototype 5G antenna uses an area of 400 electronically steerable antenna elements to track mobile users5G Champion’s prototype 5G antenna uses an area of 400 electronically steerable antenna elements to track mobile users.Photo: Emilio Calvanese Strinati/5G Champion

This virtualization allows 5G Champion to push certain tasks to the edges of its network in Oulu and Gangneung, where the data will be used. As a result, the network is able to maintain a steady packet flow, thereby avoiding choppy streams. It can also be easily reconfigured to suit many different uses—a feature that anticipates the Internet of Things. “We can select the requirements we want—maybe it’s a high data rate, or maybe it’s very low latency or very low power—and move the functions we need to where we need them,” Calvanese Strinati says.

At a 5G symposium this Friday in Seoul, 5G Champion will conclude its Pyeongchang debut by testing a new modulation scheme for 5G satellite coverage called Block Filtered-OFDM. Using a channel emulator to mimic a satellite link, the demo is intended to showcase BF-OFDM’s advantages, including better user tracking and more efficient use of spectrum resources.

That, however, won’t be the project’s capstone. Next week, Calvanese Strinati and his team will return to France, where they will begin preparations for an even bigger show: the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

The Conversation (0)

How the FCC Settles Radio-Spectrum Turf Wars

Remember the 5G-airport controversy? Here’s how such disputes play out

11 min read
This photo shows a man in the basket of a cherry picker working on an antenna as an airliner passes overhead.

The airline and cellular-phone industries have been at loggerheads over the possibility that 5G transmissions from antennas such as this one, located at Los Angeles International Airport, could interfere with the radar altimeters used in aircraft.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

You’ve no doubt seen the scary headlines: Will 5G Cause Planes to Crash? They appeared late last year, after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warned that new 5G services from AT&T and Verizon might interfere with the radar altimeters that airplane pilots rely on to land safely. Not true, said AT&T and Verizon, with the backing of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which had authorized 5G. The altimeters are safe, they maintained. Air travelers didn’t know what to believe.

Another recent FCC decision had also created a controversy about public safety: okaying Wi-Fi devices in a 6-gigahertz frequency band long used by point-to-point microwave systems to carry safety-critical data. The microwave operators predicted that the Wi-Fi devices would disrupt their systems; the Wi-Fi interests insisted they would not. (As an attorney, I represented a microwave-industry group in the ensuing legal dispute.)

Keep Reading ↓Show less