The Race to 5G: Technology
Keep tabs on major companies around the world as they roll out 5G
Follow along as IEEE Spectrum summarizes the most interesting news and developments related to 5G technology through the 5G Tech Tracker.
Verizon Teases Commercial Fixed Wireless for Sacramento
3 January 2018
Verizon said it will roll out commercial service over 5G fixed wireless networks (which it tested throughout 2017) in Sacramento, Calif., by the end of 2018. It also tapped Samsung as its equipment provider of choice. Verizon’s over-the-air Internet service, which is based on high-frequency millimeter waves, doesn’t require a clear line of sight between the transmitter and receiver, which was surely a relief. Samsung says a signal from a single radio can reach as high as the 19th floor of a building.
Huawei Touts Core Network Test with China Mobile
9 January 2018
Huawei is making its move on China Mobile and its 880 million wireless customers. The companies announced “outstanding performance” in a test of Huawei’s 5G core network (but didn’t get much more specific than that). The core is the chunk of equipment and software that routes data, directs calls, and connects to other networks. Huawei’s version incorporates network slicing, a technique that lets an operator designate a specific bandwidth or latency for a particular purpose. Clearly pleased with itself, Huawei said its core could “serve as a solid foundation for the future large-scale commercial use of 5G.”
Sprint’s CTO is Pumped About Massive MIMO
10 January 2018
Sprint CTO John Saw talked up massive MIMO at an investors conference in Las Vegas, calling it “our bridge to 5G.” This technology expands the number of antennas at a base station from 16 to 128, and adds beamforming to coordinate signals. Sprint will bring massive MIMO to its network this year, and expand support for 2.5 GHz to all base stations (only half support it today). That frequency is “ideal” for massive MIMO, Saw said, because the antennas required for it are so small that even a batch would be compact enough to meet zoning requirements.
12 January 2018
Japan will soon host its first trial of vehicle-to-everything technology, which uses cellular frequencies (5 GHz, in this case) to connect cars to pretty much everything else, including streetlights, other cars—and even pedestrians. If it catches on, this would obviously drum up more business for NTT Docomo and its partners. But some experts believe it makes more sense for smart cars to communicate primarily through short-range (DSRC) radios, rather than over 5G cellular bands.
Telefonica to Test 5G in Two Cities in Spain
22 January 2018
Lucky residents of Segovia and Talavera de la Reina could be the first to test 5G service in Spain. Telefonica will conduct 5G trials in both cities for three years with Nokia and Ericsson. The announcement was short on details about the underlying tech, but did say Telefonica’s network will start out as nonstandalone (meaning it will piggyback on 4G) and that customers will be able to connect to it with existing devices. Telefonica expects to deliver mobile data at speeds up to 1 Gbps, or three times those which residents enjoy at home for broadband Internet.
Nokia Unleashes 5G Chipsets
29 January 2018
We’ll never know what the real-life Caribbean reef shark thinks about Nokia’s new ReefShark 5G chipset, to be installed in the radios of antennas on future 5G base stations. But the company touted a “massive performance gain”—specifically, the ability to boost the throughput of base stations by a factor of three. Nokia also teased built-in AI for network slicing, a technique that allows carriers to cordon off pieces of spectrum for customers who (presumably) pay more. The Finnish manufacturer says it’s working with 30 operators, and will start shipping ReefSharks later this year.
AT&T Confuses Everyone With 5G “Pucks”
31 January 2018
When AT&T said it would launch mobile 5G service in 12 U.S. cities this year, critics pointed out that compatible smartphones won’t be available that soon. Today on an earnings call, AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson said customers would initially use “pucks” to connect to its blazingly-fast network. “We’re going to be deploying pucks in the first part of our deployments, in these 12 markets,” he said. “So it is a mobile solution, but it’s not going to be a handset.” What exactly are pucks? Probably some kind of mobile hotspot, but it’s not entirely clear.
Sprint to Launch Mobile 5G in Early 2019
2 February 2018
A lot of companies are promising to launch various forms of 5G service right now, which can be dizzying to track. Today, Sprint’s CEO Marcelo Claure said on an earnings call that the carrier will offer mobile 5G service, and begin selling 5G-compatible devices, in early 2019. This combination of 5G smartphones and a network that supports them is the industry’s ultimate goal. Which is why Sprint, betting on spectrum below 6 GHz instead of the high-frequency millimeter waves preferred by its competitors, now claims it will be “first” to rollout a nationwide mobile 5G “platform.”
Verizon’s 5G Super Bowl
5 February 2018
A few lucky Verizon engineers went to the Super Bowl, but were stuck watching it through a VR headset in order to test the company’s 5G capabilities. Verizon made the experience sound as thrilling as possible, talking up the 180-degree stereoscopic live feed that gave participants an “in-stadium view,” and the high-resolution replays projected on separate screens—all streamed over a 5G connection (the specifics of which the company didn’t share). This setup echoes predictions by 5G enthusiasts who say consumers will pay extra to livestream sports and concerts in VR. But will they, really? Stay tuned.
SK Telecom Tests Self-Driving Cars at 28 GHz
6 February 2018
SK Telecom will introduce self-driving cars that operate on its 5G network to highways in South Korea in 2019. The company recently tested its V2X (which stands for “vehicle-to-everything”) technology with the Korean Transportation Safety Authority. On a 2-km track in a fake city called K-City, two cars used millimeter waves broadcast at 28 GHz to send warnings about obstacles to one another, and receive updates about construction zones from a control center. The company says the cars communicated more than 100 times a second, with latency (the term for the roundtrip delay) as low as 1 millisecond.
ZTE Gets Serious About Network Slicing
6 February 2018
ZTE says it has developed a cloud-based technology to provide end-to-end network slicing for 5G, which can virtually dice up a company’s spectrum for customers who wish to reserve chunks for very specific purposes. Many of the most anticipated uses for 5G (industrial IoT! robotic surgery!) will require different degrees of reliability and performance, and this technology should give carriers a way to guarantee special clients a certain level of service. In its press release, the company also tried to make “Network Slice as a Service” into a thing, but it’s hard to imagine that term catching on.
Qualcomm Is Very Proud of Its 5G Modem
8 February 2018
Qualcomm went on something of a PR tear today, issuing twin announcements about its work with smartphone manufacturers and mobile network operators to prepare 5G technologies to launch. With manufacturers, it talked up its Snapdragon X50 5G modem, which will debut in mobile devices released in 2019 from HTC, LG, ZTE, and Xiaomi. The company also said operators including AT&T, Chine Mobile, China Telecom, SK Telecom, and Sprint were using the modem as a reference model for future mobile devices in 5G network trials.
Vodafone Claims World’s First 5G Phone Call
21 February 2018
It was only a matter of time before a company issued a press release claiming to make the first 5G phone call. Today, Vodafone and Huawei say they’ve beat everyone else to this particular PR stunt. The irony is that making a phone call is one of the most boring things you could do with 5G technology. Wireless phone calls have worked pretty well for decades. The companies did place an HD video call (with a test device on a test network in Spain), which at least made use of the low latency that 5G promises.
Huawei Completes India’s First 5G Network Trial
23 February 2018
Huawei and Bharti Airtel have conducted the first 5G network trial in India, according to The Hindu Business Line. The companies achieved data speeds of 3 Gbps at 3.5 GHz. Compare that to India’s current average 4G speed of just 6.13 Mbps—which makes their service slower than 76 other countries. The companies also reported latency of 1 ms, which is much better than the 50 ms typical of 4G LTE, and on par with what’s generally expected for 5G service. These results are from a test network and actual performance would be slower—but still much faster than what’s available there today.
Huawei Has a 5G Chip, But It’s Not for Phones
25 February 2018
There’s been a steady dribble of 5G chip announcements this month. Now, Huawei has its first 5G chip—the Balong 5G01. Before you get too excited, though, note that this chip is not designed for phones, but “customer-premises equipment.” That could be mean a router, antenna, or other system installed at a home or business for the purposes of coordinating 5G service, or perhaps converting signals traveling by millimeter waves to frequencies more commonly used for Wi-Fi. Huawei says the chip has shown download speeds of up to 2 Gbps and works with millimeter waves and frequencies below 6 GHz.
Sprint Wins With Magic Box Small Cells
28 February 2018
Sprint appears to have hit a home run with the 2017 debut of its Magic Box small cells. The boxes extend and improve Sprint’s LTE coverage wherever they’re installed, and the company said today that it has now placed 100,000 of them in 200 U.S. cities. That’s good progress toward the 1 million it plans to deploy on its “multi-year roadmap.” The company has recently won several industry awards for the technology, which it developed with Airspan Networks.
China Telecom to Install A Lot More Base Stations
7 March 2018
China Telecom expects to finish 5G field trials in six cities this year, and will expand the number of base stations it operates from the 1.16 million it uses today for 4G to as many as 2 million for 5G, says Chengliang Zhang, vice president of China Telecom’s Beijing Research Institute. The company is focused on the 3.5 GHz frequency for 5G, while it relies primarily on 1.8 GHz for 4G. Because of the shorter wavelength, “if you want to get the same coverage as 4G, you need to increase the base station density,” Zhang said. He was speaking at a conference in San Diego, Calif.
T-Mobile Tests Massive MIMO in Czech Republic
7 March 2018
T-Mobile Czech Republic worked with Huawei to try out massive MIMO (which uses dozens or hundreds of antennas per base station) in Prague during the first two months of 2018. The carrier called it “the largest massive MIMO test in continental Europe.” The trial involved four base stations in the city’s Petrovice district, and T-Mobile had this to say about the results: “In the ideal case, the mMIMO antenna solution can provide an approximate five-fold increase of the capacity of a transmitter cell; in practice, the capacity is usually doubled or tripled.” Not bad.
NTT Docomo Conducts 5G Trial with Railway
8 March 2018
NTT Docomo recently teamed up with Huawei and Tobu Railway Co. to test millimeter waves in a field trial in Japan. The announcement had very few details about what, exactly the companies were testing—or if it involved railcars in any way. They did share that at least part of the test was conducted at 28 GHz, which is turning out to be one of the most popular 5G frequencies worldwide. And they said the test was intended to measure signal propagation “in a dense urban area,” which sounds about right for Japan.
Korea Telecom Aims to Launch 5G in March 2019
23 March 2018
Korea Telecom is preparing to launch 5G mobile service for enterprise clients in March 2019, and predicts it will be the first telecommunications company in the world to do so—dismissing claims by Verizon and AT&T that their fixed wireless networks (which only provide point-to-point service) qualify as 5G. A Korea Telecom representative said its 5G service would likely be available in cities first, and move into rural areas at a later date, The Korea Times reports. The update comes shortly after the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, which the company sponsored and dubbed “the first 5G Olympics.”
AT&T Ready to Roll Out 60,000 White Box Routers
26 March 2018
AT&T will install more than 60,000 “white box” routers in existing cell towers across its network in the next few years. These routers are built with open hardware specifications, which means AT&T will no longer be limited by the roadmaps of specific hardware vendors. And the routers should be easy to update through software. The company pitched them as a way to reduce latency—a big goal for 5G—by bringing content and applications closer to the customer. The white boxes have their own operating system, which AT&T plans to open source through the Linux Foundation.
Telefonica Tests Fixed Wireless in Spain
27 March 2018
Telefonica spent three days testing a new fixed wireless system at its headquarters in Spain. Such systems are meant to deliver data directly from one stationary point, such as a rooftop antenna, to another stationary point. The system that Telefonica tested is built by a company called Cohere Technologies, and uses a new type of modulation known as orthogonal time frequency space modulation (OTFS). Cohere says its technology, with the new modulation scheme, can improve spectral efficiency by six times compared to other systems.
Ericsson Adds Maltese Teleco as 5G Partner
27 March 2018
Ericsson has been involved in more 5G trials than any other company, according to data compiled by Viavi. Now, it has signed on with a wireless provider in Malta to bring 4.5G service—and eventually, 5G—to the tiny island nation. Today, Melita said that it would use Ericsson’s software and base station equipment to upgrade its network. Melita is the smallest of three carriers, according to TeleGeography, that serve Malta, which has just 437,000 citizens. The announcement shows that carriers of all sizes are forming their 5G strategies.
Vodafone Shows Off 5G in New Zealand
27 March 2018
The technology director of Vodafone New Zealand went live on Facebook today to show off 5G demos during a technology showcase in Auckland. The demos ran on millimeter waves at 28 GHz using base station equipment provided by Nokia, including the AirScale system. One of the potential applications the host rattled off was “5G to the desktop,” saying office workers will connect to 5G instead of Wi-Fi. Commenters were not impressed, using the opportunity to complain about Vodafone’s existing 4G and 3G service, and to request better coverage for rural areas.
Ericsson Takes 5G Trials Down Under
9 April 2018
Australia’s National Broadband Network Company has teamed up with Ericsson to begin testing 5G technologies in Melbourne. The government-owned teleco is focused on using 5G to provide fixed wireless service, which provides point-to-point broadband service as opposed to mobile data, in the 3.5 GHz band. The company already operates 2,500 fixed wireless sites around the country, which serve 225,000 people, according to Mobile World Live. Overall, the company provides broadband to 6.3 million homes and businesses.
Korea Telecom to Build 5G With Fellow Carriers
10 April 2018
Mobile carriers in Korea have proposed some of the most aggressive timelines for 5G rollouts. Now, four competitors including Korea Telecom and SK Telecom have agreed to work together to build and share a nationwide 5G network. Yonhap News Agency reports the agreement would collectively save US $938 million over the next decade in costs avoided, compared to each carrier building its own infrastructure. In March, Korea Telecom said it expected to launch mobile 5G in 2019.
AT&T Publishes Details From 5G Trials
10 April 2018
AT&T shared details of its ongoing 5G trials today in a blog post by Melissa Arnoldi, president of technology and operations. Of the three sites discussed, the company’s observations from tests with small businesses in chilly Kalamazoo, Michigan proved most interesting. Arnoldi said the company saw “no impacts” from rain and snow on signals traveling by millimeter waves, and that those signals could travel through walls, leaves, and windows better than expected. The company also recorded data speeds higher than 1 Gbps (the target data rate for individual users on 5G is 100 Mbps) at distances of up to 900 feet between a base station and receiver.
Huawei Chair Attempts to Deflate 5G Hype
10 April 2018
Speaking to hundreds of analysts in Shenzhen who gathered for the company’s annual tech summit, Huawei chairman Eric Xu seemed to tamp down expectations for future 5G networks. He said the main difference between 4G and 5G service, in a customer’s eyes, would be faster speeds—but was quick to point out that 4G is already plenty fast for most things customers are interested in doing. He emphasized that Huawei will still invest in 5G, but noted “we don’t see many use cases or applications we need to support 5G.”
AT&T Shares Progress on 5G Evolution Upgrades
19 April 2018
AT&T touted its progress in rolling out “5G Evolution,” a marketing term it has used to describe network upgrades that aren’t quite 5G, but should double data speeds available on 4G for customers with compatible devices (which includes the Samsung Galaxy, but not iPhones). Specifically, AT&T says the upgraded network can provide theoretical peak data speeds of 400 Mbps (the global target for 5G is theoretical peak data speeds of 20 Gbps). The company said it added the service to “parts of” 117 new markets, bringing the total number of areas with access to 5G Evolution to 141. AT&T plans to expand the service to a total of 500 markets by the end of this year.
NTT Docomo to Test 90 GHz with Nokia
24 April 2018
NTT Docomo plans to demonstrate 5G service at 90 GHz at this week’s Brooklyn 5G Summit, according to a press release issued with Nokia. This frequency is even higher than others being tested for wireless service in the millimeter wave range, which include 28 GHz and 60 GHz. The companies said they would show off a phased array system that could support up to 256 antennas. With it, they claim to be able to deliver “multi-gigabit per second speeds” (the theoretical peak data rate for 5G is expected to be 20 Gbps).
Huawei Hits 2.9 Gbps in 5G Trial
2 May 2018
Proximus, a carrier in Belgium, has completed a field trial in a suburb near Brussels based on Huawei’s 5G base station equipment. It’s the first outdoor 5G trial completed in Belgium, the companies said. The setup incorporated massive MIMO, a technique that helps base stations handle more signals at once. Proximus used the 3.5 GHz band and announced data speeds up to 2.94 Gbps, and latency (the time it takes for a signal to travel from a device to the network and back) as low as 1.81 milliseconds. Back in 2016, Proximus had tested high-frequency millimeter waves in a lab and scored 70 Gbps.
Deutsche Telekom Turns On ‘5G Antennas’ in Berlin
3 May 2018
Deutsche Telekom says its first batch of 5G-enabled antennas are now live in Berlin, and connected to its 4G LTE network. That batch consists of six antennas, and the company plans to add 70 more across 20 sites by mid-year. The antennas are based on the 5G NR specification released in late 2017. They feature massive MIMO and beamforming to direct signals to users. In a promotional video, Alexander Lautz, senior vice president for 5G, claimed to have achieved “Europe’s first 5G data connection in a live network” with the system.
NTT Docomo Buckles 5G Radio Into Race Car
9 May 2018
In what must have been a thrilling demonstration, a team from NTT Docomo buckled a 5G radio into a race car and drove it up to 305 km/hr (or 190 mi/hr) to test the transmission of wireless data to and from the vehicle as it moved at speeds comparable to commuter trains. The signals traveled at 28 GHz—Docomo’s favored 5G frequency—at rates up to 1 Gbps for downloads. While the car was in motion, operators successfully switched the radio (which had 64 antennas) between a series of base stations (sporting 96 antennas each). Equipment on both ends incorporated beamforming and beam tracking.
China Mobile Prepares ‘Pre-5G’ for Hong Kong
10 May 2018
One of Hong Kong’s largest property owners signed a deal with China Mobile to install “pre-5G infrastructure” in residential and commercial buildings. The upgrades will run on China Mobile’s narrowband Internet of Things network designed to support low-power sensors (but not smartphones). These sensors will monitor properties for water leaks, allow residents to remotely lock or unlock their front doors, and charge retail customers for parking by reading their license plates. These features will presumably transfer over to China Mobile’s 5G network at some point, and the company plans later this year to begin testing commercial 5G equipment at frequencies designated by China’s telecom authorities.
AT&T Plans 5G Demo for U.S. Open
15 May 2018
In yet another 5G demo tied to a sporting event, AT&T says Fox Sports will stream 4K video of the upcoming U.S. Open golf tournament over a 5G connection enabled by millimeter waves. If all goes well, that footage could make it into Fox’s national broadcast via DirecTV. AT&T will capture footage from two high-definition cameras stationed at a particularly difficult hole, and hope to give fans “real-time virtual reality views” of the course. The setup will rely on radios and base station equipment built by Ericsson and additional gear by Intel. Melissa Arnoldi, president of AT&T’s technology and operations, said in a press release that “live sports will be transformed by 5G.”
NTT Docomo Pushes Past 5G with 100 Gbps
15 May 2018
Today NTT Docomo gave us a glimpse of the future of wireless beyond 5G in a test that transmitted data at speeds of 100 Gbps with technology that could make its commercial debut sometime in the 2030s. The company combined traditional multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) systems with a signal modulation technique known as orbital angular momentum multiplexing. With it, researchers alter the physical rotation of specific electromagnetic waves encoded with data, and then fold waves with different rotations on top of one another in order to transmit more data at once. This lab experiment was a very early first step toward the company’s goal of “terabit-class wireless transmission.”
Sprint Adds 3 Cities to 5G Rollout Plan
15 May 2018
Sprint added three new U.S. cities to the list of places it plans to deliver 5G service in the first six months of 2019, bringing the total number of cities on the list to nine. The new additions—New York City, Phoenix, and Kansas City—join the previously-announced sites of Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Sprint’s timeline is slower than AT&T and Verizon, which plan to introduce commercial 5G service for wireless broadband Internet this year. But Sprint’s 2019 rollout will support mobile 5G for smartphones (which is what most customers care about, anyway). Sprint will use frequencies around 2.5 GHz, much lower than those which other carriers have targeted.
Vodafone Tests Massive MIMO for “4.9G” in Sydney
21 May 2018
Vodafone began its first trial of massive MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) technology within its existing network by installing a single base station in a suburb of Sydney. But the company wasn’t so bold as to call it a 5G site—instead, they’re using “4.9G” to describe it. The company plans to expand the massive MIMO trial to four more cities in the coming months, and roll out live 4.9G service later this year. At its first site, the base station transmitted at 1.8 GHz and incorporated frequency division duplex (FDD), a technique that involves simultaneously sending and receiving signals on different frequencies. This helps carriers transmit more data at once with minimal interference.
Sprint Joins Open Source Networking Project
30 May 2018
Sprint became the newest member of an industry group committed to promoting open source software for telecom networks, which have traditionally been built on proprietary technology. The group, called the LF Networking Fund, launched earlier this year with six projects, including one focused on network function virtualization and another for a network management platform that should make it easier for carriers to spin up new services. The group and its supporters within the industry have spoken about the open source effort as a crucial step along the path to 5G. Other members include AT&T, China Mobile, China Telecom, and SK Telecom.
Intel to Sell 5G-Connected PCs in 2019
5 June 2018
At Computex 2018, Intel and Sprint announced that Sprint would begin selling 5G-connected PCs built with Intel chips starting in 2019. Obviously, most people don’t rely on cellular service to deliver data to their PCs today, but the companies are hoping this will change as more bandwidth becomes available through 5G. Gregory Bryant from Intel and Ryan Sullivan of Sprint made the announcement during a keynote. Bryant said Intel was determined to be “the leader in 5G-connected PCs going forward” and that the company’s engineers are working to incorporate antennas into the kickstands of new 2-in-1 laptop/tablet combos. Sullivan returned to a familiar talking point: Sprint’s goal “to build the first truly mobile nationwide 5G network” in the United States with its 2.5 GHz spectrum.
T-Mobile Expands 600 MHz Coverage
6 June 2018
T-Mobile has extended its 600 MHz LTE coverage to 120 new cities and towns across the United States, and plans to add coverage for Puerto Rico by the year’s end. The carrier has described the low-frequency 600 MHz band as vital to its 5G plans. Although iPhones do not support service at 600 MHz, T-Mobile sells six varieties of smartphones that do. The company says its 600 MHz LTE service travels twice as far as signals transmitted by standard LTE, and that it will begin carrier aggregation this month to let customers receive data across multiple low- and mid-range frequency bands at the same time, boosting download speeds.
Verizon Tests 5G Outdoors with VR and 4K Video
12 June 2018
Verizon said it completed a trial with Nokia based on the existing 3GPP specification for 5G New Radio. In the test, engineers streamed 4K video and “multiple” virtual reality experiences at the same time, with latencies as low as 1.5 milliseconds. The test was held outdoors at Verizon’s campus in Basking Ridge, New Jersey—making it one step closer to reality than previous lab trials. The companies also experimented with four-carrier aggregation, which is a way to boost bandwidth by streaming across frequencies owned by multiple companies, and transmitted at speeds up to 1.8 Gbps.
Nokia Blends 4G and 5G in China
12 June 2018
In a trial with China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Nokia showed off its ability to combine mid-band 4G LTE with sub-6GHz 5G service. This capability is intended to help Chinese carriers piggyback off their existing 4G networks while building out 5G service. The specific frequency bands that Nokia tested were 2.1 GHz for LTE and 3.5 GHz for 5G. The 3.5 GHz frequency in particular is ideal for “wide-area coverage and massive IoT connectivity,” according to Nokia’s press release.
Samsung Aids Drone-Based Real Time 4K Video Test
14 June 2018
KDDI Corporation successfully completed Japan’s first test using a drone to film and stream real time 4K video. The test, according to Samsung, who supplied the 5G end-to-end equipment, was to prove the viability of drone-based 5G services, including agricultural monitoring and disaster relief. The test featured a Prodrone drone equipped with a 4K video camera and a 5G-enabled tablet to stream the video to a laptop in real time using the 28 GHz frequency.
Vodafone Announces Seven 5G Trial Cities in UK
20 June 2018
Vodafone announced that seven cities in the United Kingdom would be the company’s 5G trial cities in the country. More than 40 sites across the seven cities—Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London (of course), and Manchester—are being prepped for 5G service. The trials are part of Vodafone’s larger Gigabit UK effort, which the company says will feature speeds up to 400 gigabits per second. The speeds are courtesy of new ‘photonic’ technology, which the company explained in the press release in the vaguest way possible.