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What do carriers want from 5G?

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New business models and lower costs per gigabit are goals for wireless carriers as the industry charges toward the next generation of wireless technology. But the carriers don’t all see 5G the same way, and they don’t all have the same priorities.

As the developer of software used by carriers, equipment makers and chip companies to test and build new wireless prototypes, National Instruments has a unique perspective on the evolving 5G standard. James Kimery, who directs the company’s wireless research, said he sees AT&T and Verizon pushing hard to prioritize enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) as the first goal of 5G, while Sprint is more focused on the internet of things.

Sprint’s Mohamad Nasser, general manager of the company’s IoT business unit, recently wrote that Sprint sees 5G as an enabler of an “IoT revolution.” He named cloud-connected robots on factory floors, autonomous vehicles, and real-time helmet video from first responders as three IoT use cases that will become possible with 5G. Low latency is the 5G feature that would be most critical for these use cases, while eMBB use cases would place a premium on high speeds and throughput.

Carrier aggregation and orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing are likely to be part of the first 5G release, Kimery said. He said the 3rd Generation Partnership Project will release the physical layer of the 5G standard near the end of this year, but that this will be just the first step. He said companies that don’t succeed in making their hardware part of the standard will “still have a chance” in future releases.

National Instruments is well positioned to support many of the companies working on the 5G standard. The company’s LabVIEW software is used to model wireless communication systems and its hardware is used to build prototypes. NI has been running a 5G test lab in Austin, Texas for two years now, in collaboration with numerous partners from industry and academia.

Recently National Instruments and AT&T announced a 5G-focused channel sounder that is designed for characterizing millimter-wave frequencies, and this week National Instruments said it had developed a 28 GHz radio that carriers and equipment makers can use for testing and prototyping.

While the 28 GHz band is central to the 5G fixed wireless tests that Verizon and AT&T are conducting, priorities may change as the carriers learn more. Kimery said National Instruments will be ready to support the industry with new radios, and expects the 37 GHz – 39 GHz bands to be the next focus. He said that since NI uses software-defined radio technology, the incremental investment required to develop a new radio is not nearly as much as it would be if the company started building from scratch. NI does not need to create a new base station platform each time it adds a new frequency band to its radio portfolio.

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