Sprint 5G demoed at Copa América tournament
Sprint 5G showcased at kick off of Copa América event this week in California, using millimeter wave spectrum to support 2 Gbps speeds
Sprint used this week’s Copa América Centenario tournament in Santa Clara, California, to tout a demonstration of “5G” technology using the 73 GHz spectrum band to deliver claimed download speeds in excess of 2 gigabits per second and “low millisecond latency.” The carrier said the tests supported live-streaming video in 4K high-definition quality and a streaming virtual reality system from VideoStitch. Nokia noted it was part of the Sprint 5G demonstration.
As part of the demonstration, Sprint said it used beam switching, which it described as a method of tracking a device, selecting the best antennas and sending the wireless signal to targeted locations. The carrier noted the technology and its beamforming counterpart, which it uses in its current LTE Plus network deployment, are more efficient methods of sending signals to devices.
The tests also included support for dynamic TDD, which Sprint said has the ability to adjust network capacity in real time and how the network can adjust to “real-world obstructions such as various types of window panes.” In highlighting its progress on eventually deploying commercial 5G services, Sprint said its existing microwave- and millimeter wave-based wireless backhaul infrastructure currently supports gigabit speeds, with plans for additional deployment of the technology.
In a blog post, Sprint CTO John Saw noted the carrier’s history of using spectrum in the 11 GHz, 18 GHz, 23 GHz, 28 GHz and 80 GHz bands for backhaul, claiming the carrier has thousands of sites currently using those bands for wireless backhaul. The carrier also gained significant experience with wireless backhaul through its Clearwire operations – where Saw previously served as CTO – which used the technology in support of its WiMAX build.
In addition to high-band spectrum, Sprint has been reported to be looking into tapping its extensive 2.5 gigahertz spectrum holdings to support wireless backhaul. Though Saw noted the carrier sees the 2.5 GHz band as key for its 5G aspirations.
“5G is all about massive densification and high-bandwidth spectrum,” Saw explained. “Our 2.5 GHz spectrum is considered low-band spectrum for 5G and we hold more 5G capable spectrum than any other carrier. The advantageous propagation characteristics, cost curves and more mature global ecosystem of 2.5 GHz give us great confidence in our position for 5G.”
Sprint is currently using a wide swath of its 2.5 GHz spectrum in support of its LTE service, with the carrier having rolled out 40 megahertz of support in more than 150 markets and having trialled up to 60 megahertz of support in tests. Those tests have produced download speeds of up to 300 megabits per seconds to a Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone.
Saw did acknowledge the elephant in the room; a 5G standard does not yet exist, with most not expecting a formal standard from the International Telecommunications Union for several years.
“We’ve been working closely with the standards bodies ITU and [Third Generation Partnership Project] for four years to help develop the global 5G standard,” Saw wrote. “Our technology team is active in the ITU-R WP5D IMT vision working group, and is participating in driving key requirements into the new 3GPP 5G standard scheduled for publication in 2018. In addition, Sprint is an active member of CTIA, ATIS, TIA and 5G Americas – organizations that are also working to shape the development of 5G.”
The ITU less than a year ago came out with its official name for 5G (IMT-2020) highlighting the expected 2020 timeframe in which most expect the technology to be ready for commercial deployments. Core tenants to 5G are expected to include more diverse spectrum bands, greater use of small cells and deeper integration of virtualization technology using software-defined networking, network functions virtualization and cloud platforms.
Some analyst firms have noted current hype surrounding 5G will only confuse the market.
“The 5G debate has started with great fanfare, hype and confusion, but little substance about what it is exactly and what it is not,” said Stéphane Téral, research director for mobile infrastructure and carrier economics at IHS. “For now, the mindset is still locked into mobile broadband as we know it with LTE, so it’s good that the [International Telecommunications Union] has just stepped in to define 5G in its brand-new IMT-2020.”
Téral added the market is still struggling to meet the full potential of 4G, which should be the main focus of carriers looking to match consumer demand before taking the next leap.
“We are slowly but surely moving to true 4G, and that’s good news,” said Téral. “However, most users already believe they are on 4G, and that’s the bad news because the experience is far from consistent and is falling short of expectations. How many times does your smartphone display LTE or 4G and you still see the infamous spinning wheel?”
However, Sprint’s domestic rivals have all jumped on the 5G bandwagon, announcing various plans for trials, with Verizon Wireless going so far as to predict a fixed wireless pilot launch as soon as next year.
In terms of advanced technology in support of its 5G plans, Sprint said it expects to use multiple carrier aggregation, coordinated multipoint with beamforming and multiple-input/multiple-output antenna technology to boost coverage and capacity of its 2.5 gigahertz spectrum.
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