Forum Heralds Arrival of First Stage of Commercial 5G

Thursday, Aug 8, 2019

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Sanyogita Shamsunder, vice president of Technology Development at Verizon, speaks at the 5G and Beyond Forum. Photos by Shanni Jin/CalIT2

“It is here.”

That was the message from Sanyogita Shamsunder, vice president of Technology Development at Verizon, and the overall theme of the 2019 5G and Beyond Forum hosted by the Center for Wireless Communications at UC San Diego.

 “This is not a trial network, it’s a commercial network with commercial traffic,” Shamsunder said of 5G connectivity.  

After years of planning, testing and innovating, 5G has arrived, though there are still challenges to overcome before it’s ubiquitous.

“5G is really a commercial reality in 2019,” said Juan Montojo, vice president of Engineering for the Corporate Standards Group at Qualcomm. “There are already deployments in all continents.”

The promise of faster, reliable connections and real 5G use cases are not futuristic goals, but a commercial reality, and the promise of using the massive bandwidth of millimeter wave spectrum for the scalability of billions of devices is not far behind. With latencies of less than 10 milliseconds, speeds clocked in several US markets of 2 gigabits per second with the promise of upwards of 10 gigabits per second, along with high reliability, the question now is what will this technology enable?

Verizon launched its first 5G networks (5G Home, residential broadband) in four cities in late 2018, and has launched 5G mobile connectivity in nine markets, including areas of Chicago and Minneapolis in April, and Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Providence, St. Paul and Washington, DC. The company has announced plans to have 5G in more than 30 cities by the end of 2019, enabling advances in smart transportation, connected health and more efficient manufacturing, to name a few industries leveraging the new technology.

This doesn’t mean there’s not still significant work to be done—from both technology and policy perspectives—to fully realize the potential benefits of this technology. In addition to better utilizing millimeter wave and different spectrums than before, the speakers at the forum highlighted opportunities with standardization, signal interference, and battery constraints to be able to fully harness the power of 5G.

Professors Drew Hall and Patrick Mercier, from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC San Diego, highlighted their efforts to make the circuits on these 5G-enabled devices more power efficient.

“There are lots of projects from companies like Cisco that say there will be 50 billion or more connected devices by 2020. They all need wireless communication functionality, and many such applications, we simply can't afford to be replacing batteries all the time" Mercier said.  "We really need to think about how do we improve the communication capabilities of these devices in congested environments and at low power?”

Mercier is working on a number of solutions to address this problem. For wearables, one solution involves taking advantage of the body’s magnetic inertia to reduce path loss in communications compared to traditional techniques such as Bluetooth. Mercier calls this magnetic human body communication, and has shown that up to a million times improvement in path loss is possible compared to Bluetooth. 

For his part, Hall is working to make it possible for devices to stay in a latent mode, only “waking up” to collect data or perform their function when necessary, which would also reduce the power required.

“I’m talking about things like medical devices and wearable sensors, unattended ground sensors, perimeter and infrastructure monitors, and of course the sensors that will be used to outfit smart homes and smart cities,” Hall said. “Many of these applications have low data rates and are event driven.”

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Professor Drew Hall

Historically, these devices used a sleep timer to periodically wake up the receiver, even when there is no information to send and nothing to do. Halls’ lab is working to replace that sleep timer with a companion, ultra-low power wake-up radio that solves this problem.

“The idea is it’s always listening, but consumes very low power. This lets us fundamentally break the latency-power tradeoff that currently exists,” he said. 

Mercier is also working to develop radios that are normally dormant in an ultra-low-power state and only wake-up precisely when needed to communicate, improving battery life for such applications—like smoke alarms, security systems and smart home devices—from months to years or more.

On the spectrum side, Professor Gabriel Rebeiz and his lab have been testing integrated circuit chips using the 39 GHz spectrum, which lies within the millimeter wave band of 30 GHz to 300GHz. He’s seeing promising results. The Federal Communications Commission has started auctioning off the 39 GHz spectrum for use, along with other millimeter wave (mmWave) bands of spectrum, which will be needed to provide 5G coverage for all the devices needing connectivity.

 “In the past few years, the FCC has made mmwave spectrum available to the mobile industry; a second auction closed recently where 24 GHz became available,” Shamsunder said. “A planned third auction later this year will unleash 39 GHz in the US.”

While mobile standards organization 3GPP has released its standards for providing 5G connectivity, there are still policy challenges to tackle when it comes to actually installing additional base stations where necessary. Currently, each municipality in the US has its own roll-out protocol, which can make it difficult for providers to scale 5G network deployments. Earlier this year, the FCC distributed an order with pricing and policy streamlining guidelines for small cells that serves as a template for municipalities to help accelerate 5G buildouts.  

“The FCC Order is important to helping the wireless industry scale 5G,” Shamsunder said. “We have a long history of working with municipalities, and we continue to collaborate with cities as part of both our 5G deployment and Smart Cities Initiative including smart traffic, parking and other solutions and applications.”

In addition, Shamsunder said the company continues to drive network virtualization and software enhancements, to help accelerate deployment of the latest technologies as the wireless industry continues to work toward 5G node deployments.

“Major tech companies are changing their software releases every few seconds and no one blinks an eye—the wireless industry is not there yet and that’s important,” she said.

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Sujit Dey, director of the Center for Wireless Communications. 

Shamsunder expects public-private partnerships with forward-looking municipalities and cities, such as the one recently announced by Verizon in San Diego for small cell and fiber deployment acceleration, will be important even as the industry continues to work on transformational and innovative technologies for enterprises and governmental agencies.

Sujit Dey, director of the Center for Wireless Communications at UC San Diego, said it seemed that the path to monetization of 3G and 4G connectivity was more straightforward, with mobile web, video and social media use as main beneficiaries of the increased connectivity. It’s still too early to tell which current and new applications will benefit most from 5G, but there needs to be a focus on understanding that, both from technical and socio-economic perspectives.

“I’m absolutely sure the 5G network will be totally used, with augmented reality content, virtual reality video, and applications we don’t even know yet,” he said. “After years of planning and preparing for 5G, it’s exciting to see it being put to use. Researchers at the Center for Wireless Communications will continue to tackle these remaining technical challenges to ensure full 5G integration, and utilization of 5G to enable new directions in healthcare, transportation and industry automation, while also turning our attention to what’s to come next.”

The Forum concluded with industry experts Malcolm Robertson, manager of 5G Wireless at Keysight Technologies; John Smee, vice president of Engineering at Qualcomm; Charlie Zhang, vice president at Samsung Research America; and Gerhard Schoenthal, chief operating officer at Virginia Diodes, leading a discussion about the future world of 6G in 2030. This next iteration of connectivity will form the basis of future planning and program development by the Center for Wireless Communications and its industry partners.

Media Contact:

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-534-8374