What you need to know about 5G network testing
5G network testing
There are several major players in the push to make 5G a reality: standards bodies, telecom operators and other organizations and enterprises are all testing aspects of the next-generation network in preparation for its 2020 standardization. Here are several examples of the network testing being done to help advance the current standards into those capable of realizing the lofty goals of 5G.
Standards bodies, the testing enablers
In July 2016, the Federal Communications Commission moved “5G” forward by approving plans to open up nearly 11 gigahertz of spectrum above the 24 GHz band in support of mobile telecom services.
As part of its July Open Meeting, the FCC adopted new rules as part of the “Spectrum Frontiers” proceedings to bring both licensed and unlicensed spectrum to market ahead of 5G standards. The spectrum will include 3.85 gigahertz for licensed use in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands, and 7 gigahertz for unlicensed use across the 64 GHz to 71 GHz bands.
“These rules balance different spectrum access approaches, including exclusive use licensing, shared access and unlicensed access, in order to meet a variety of different needs and use cases,” the FCC noted in a statement. “The commission also adopted other flexible service and technical rules to allow new technologies and innovations to evolve and flourish without needlessly prescriptive regulations.”
The ITU works on global spectrum issues and satellite orbits under international treaty. Industry observers hoped there would be some clarity on what high-band spectrum would be the most likely candidate for “5G” development, but no official announcements has come out of WRC on that topic – which may not be settled until the next WRC meeting in 2018 or 2019. The ITU finalized its vision for 5G in September of this year, designating its 5G efforts as International Mobile Telecommunications 2020.
The Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN) agreed in July 2016 on new work-items for the coming years including:
- 5G Trial & Testing Initiative: Definition of proof points and testing methodologies, establishment of a globally aligned trial and testing platform for all NGMN Partners, comparison and benchmarking of technologies, identification of gaps and support of standardisation
- End-to-end Architecture: Development of a 5G end-to-end architectural framework and ‘big picture’, derivation of architecture design guidelines and requirements, enablement of synergies between SDOs and regional alignment
- Vehicle-to-X: Evaluation and driving of V2X technologies and business opportunities, co-operation with automotive industry stakeholder
Carriers looking to outdo their competitors
Carriers are getting folks excited about their ongoing 5G testing, touting the impressive results of these preliminary experiments. Given the competition in the industry, it is no wonder mobile operators are getting a head start well ahead of 5G’s 2020 standardization deadline.
Austin, Texas, where RCR Wireless News and Industrial IoT 5G Insights is headquartered, is where AT&T worked with the Federal Communications Commission to get an experimental license to conduct 5G technology trials using spectrum in the 3.4-3.6 GHz, 3.7-4.2 GHz, 14.5-15.35 GHz and 27.5-28.5 GHz bands. The carrier said the testing would be used for “experimental equipment” in support of “potential (5G) multi-gigabyte per second applications for fixed and mobile wireless communication networks at higher transmission rates and lower latency than is currently available.”
AT&T has been hard at work virtualizing its network using the Domain 2.0 initiative. The giant telecom company currently has labs in Middletown, New Jersey, Atlanta, and San Ramon, California, focused on the software-defined networks – a key element to 5G.
“We’ve seen great results in our 5G lab trials, including reaching speeds above 10 gigabits per second in early tests with Ericsson,” said Tom Keathley, SVP of wireless network architecture and design at AT&T, in a statement. “Nokia is joining to help us test millimeter wave, which we expect to play a key role in 5G development and deployment. The work coming out of AT&T Labs will pave the way toward future international 5G standards and allow us to deliver these fast 5G speeds and network performance across the U.S.”
Verizon Communications is betting on a 5G fixed wireless solution to deliver high-speed broadband to residential customers living in one of the several cities the company has deployment agreements with.
The carrier says it has conducted tests in New Jersey showing fixed wireless speeds of up to 1.8 gigabits per second. Verizon is using a point-to-multipoint solution, with equipment transmitting in the 28 GHz spectrum band. The company gained access to more than 100 licenses in the band as part of its purchase of XO Communications.
Sprint has held off on 5G testing a bit, but has since made some aggressive moves. The carrier used the 2016 Copa América Centenario soccer tournament to trial 5G technology in Santa Clara, California, and Philadelphia with partners Nokia and Ericsson using spectrum in the 73 GHz and 15 GHz bands, respectively.
The carrier noted the testing showed download speeds up to 4 Gbps and low millisecond latency.
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 GHz spectrum.
In July 2016, Huawei and Vodafone achieved data rates of more than 20 Gbps in a recent test of 5G mobile network technology.
The test, which took place in the United Kingdom, also supported data streams of 10 Gbps to multiple users.
In February 2016, Huawei and Vodafone mapped out a 5G R&D plan:
- Evaluation of which 5G technologies will be introduced as industry standards;
- Testing of hardware and software in Vodafone Group’s UK Innovation Labs;
- Conducting trials on Vodafone’s radio and core networks in selected global markets;
- Testing and evaluating a wide range of 5G technologies and services;
- Prioritization of the benefits of 5G that can be brought to market by 2020.
Organizations and Enterprises creating innovative technologies
National Instruments, Bristol and Lund
National Instruments has a number of LabView solutions aimed specifically at 5G, including a massive MIMO framework. The company said the framework scales from 4 to 128 antennas, and has helped researchers achieve a 22-fold increase in spectral efficiency compared to 4G networks.
Researchers at the University of Bristol used National Instrument’s platform in partnership with researchers at Lund University. The team successfully transmitted 20-times as much data as LTE networks could deliver with the same amount of spectrum.
“At the time we were doing it, we probably didn’t quite realize what we’d achieved,” said Mark Beach, professor of radio systems engineering at the University of Bristol. “It was really only the day after that we realized that was a record.”
“We were able to prove the potential of massive MIMO as a candidate technology for ‘5G’ by setting world records in spectral efficiency,” said Andrew Nix, dean of engineering at the University of Bristol. “The MIMO application framework National Instruments provided allowed our team to begin our work from an advanced starting point, and the seamless interaction between the software and hardware let us move quickly from theory to real-world prototyping.”
SK Telecom and Samsung Electronics claimed to have successfully tested a “5G” system using 28 GHz spectrum in an outdoor environment. The two firms said the millimeter wave technology applied to the test included transmitters, receivers and antennas designed to transmit radio signals in the 28 GHz band.
SK Telecom and Samsung developed the next-generation mobile system in August 2015, and have been conducting field tests using outdoor base stations and a vehicle equipped with a test handset since late 2015 to measure and analyze service quality.