Putting aside 4G LTE network technology for the moment, some countries are yet to offer customers a developed 3G, or third generation, mobile network but tests are well underway for fifth generation, or 5G, network technology. As we have already written about, 5G networks are likely to have a very different business model compared with the first four generations of mobile networks for a few reasons, including the likely increased cost of the infrastructure and how the much higher network performance will put the wireless carriers into competition with fixed line technologies and businesses.
Some of the problems facing 5G network designers include the necessary changes to infrastructure. This is because the newer generation technologies are likely to operate at a much higher part of the frequency spectrum and the reason for this is because the higher the frequency, the greater the data transfer speed. We’ve already seen 5G technology experiments conducted over the year showing the potential of the technology. Nokia conducted a 5G test using spectrum in the 73 GHz band and reached 10 Gbps, and Samsung saw a peak data transfer speed of 7.5 Gbps, operating in the 28 GHz frequency. However, such high frequency networks are not considered feasible for wide scale coverage because signal propagation drops off very quickly. In order to remain within given transmitter power outputs, the network operators would need to build a huge number of masts and towers, which would vastly increase the cost of deploying the network and of course lengthen the time it would take to roll out the service across any given space of land. Instead, the current consensus of opinion is that for any next generation mobile network to be feasible for public consumption, it must operate below the 6 GHz frequency point.
To this end, last week we saw the first wide scale successful demonstration of 5G network technology yielding impressive data transfer speeds. Huawei and Japanese wireless operator NTT DoCoMo teamed up to run an experimental network out in the field and showed a data transfer speed of up to 3.6 Gbps. Unlike the Nokia and Samsung experiments discussed above, the Huawei / NTT DoCoMo test is a better demonstration because it was conducted in the real world rather than in a laboratory. And sure; 3.6 Gbps is still some way short of the 20 Gbps data transfer speed that the International Telecommunication Union has stated that 5G networks should be capable of, but it is still early days yet. It is also considerably quicker than current land-line based data network transfer speeds, which top out at the 1 Gbps.
Takehiro Nakamura, NTT DoCoMo’s Vice President of 5G, said this on the matter: “As the first in the world to succeed with such a large multi-user environment test, this is an important milestone. This is very encouraging as the industry works to commercialize 5G by 2020. Both Huawei and DOCOMO teams have made tremendous efforts. I look forward to even more impressive results when we move to the next phase of field trial in Japan.” Huawei Wireless’ Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Wen Tong, said: “This joint field trial represents a significant advance toward fulfilling Huawei’s commitment to developing 5G technology standards before 2018. Results like these show we are making rapid progress and are on the right path. I am confident that what we have learned here will be reflected in even more innovative technological advances as we continue working on 5G research.”