There’s been a lot of news around 5G lately, and how it’s quickly moving from just a concept and a set of standards to commercial products. Most of the news related to field trials and near-ready commercial products for 5G has focused on sub-6 GHz technology, which is a natural choice given the proliferation of sub-6 GHz technology and general industry knowledge about creating products operating in those frequencies.
But as you likely know by now, for 5G to achieve its ambitious throughput and latency goals, new technology using mmWave frequencies is needed. Last week, Samsung and Verizon crossed a milestone for mmWave 5G technology. At Samsung’s Dallas labs, they successfully completed a lab trial of a 28 GHz 5G system, transmitting using 800 MHz of bandwidth and resulting in a max throughput rate of almost 4 Gbps. This lab trial is the world’s first using a commercial equipment.
A preview of this capability was on display at Mobile World Congress in Februray, where Samsung showed a version of its 5G NR 28 GHz base station communicating with our test UE. Since then, the technology offerings from both Samsung and NI have continued to evolve. With the finalization of 3GPP’s release 15, we’ve been working with Samsung to make each solution standard compliant.
A 5G NR standard-compliant UE not developed by Samsung is critical to validating that its 5G NR base station will work with any 5G NR-compliant UE and ensuring that there are no misinterpretations with how the standard should be implemented. Since there are no 5G NR-compliant UEs available yet, software defined radios (SDRs) play an important role. The 5G NR protocol has been built up in software and runs in real time on FPGAs inside of NI’s SDR-based test UE solution.
Successfully executed lab trials for a leading service provider shows that the technology is reaching a stable level of maturity. As this marks the end of the first lab trial, it’s expected that field trials will be coming soon. The data throughput achieved during the lab trial is in line with the throughputs achievable in an anechoic chamber. This bodes well for indoor use of the technology, where it can be assumed that there was relatively good line of sight between the gNB and the UE and relatively low-speed mobility.
It’s encouraging to see positive results from this first lab trial and early access cities, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before the technology is widely available. You can expect field trials to test the technology much more stringently than the lab test alone. How mmWave communications perform when non-line-of-sight scenarios and greater mobility are added is yet to be seen.