Developing One of the World’s First 5G Networks

March 2018, South Korea reveals a plan to introduce a 5G network to millions of consumers. The next generation of wireless mobile communications offers ultrafast data rates, ultralow latency, and massive device connectivity, even in the most crowded locations. Pluses include faster downloads, crystal clear no-lag high-definition video/VR/AR streaming, and an exponential increase in “things” that can be connected, along with energy savings and cost reduction.

Then, a few months later, South Korea announces the launch date—December 1, 2018. Hitting the aggressive target date would be challenging, making South Korea one of the world’s first countries to roll out a 5G network.

A partnership would emerge between two players: Samsung Electronics, a global ICT company encompassing diverse business portfolios from telecommunication networks and consumer electronics to semiconductors; and Analog Devices, a technology leader with full-spectrum infrastructure expertise, deep domain knowledge, and the ability to navigate the complexity of 5G transformation.

With only a few months to deliver, the clock started ticking down.

At a Glance

Companies:

Networks Business, at Samsung Electronics

Applications:

5G radio base stations (gNodeB) for cell towers and rooftops

Challenge:

Deliver on a tight deadline. Develop advanced 5G radio access and overcome multiple complex technical issues, including RF and heat challenges. Perform system development in parallel with production. Deliver silicon samples prior to testing.

Need:

A partner with a deep understanding of both the application and the 5G domain expertise to help create the RF signal path. Access to technology in development. Technical on-site support.

Goal:

Create reliable 5G wireless communication radio access offering ultrahigh speed access to millions of consumers.

What’s 5G? How does it work? Why do I need it?

Pick up your cell phone and place a call, text a message, or watch a video. Like breathing, it’s just something you do every day and can’t live without.

Your cell phone makes and receives calls through a cell site (known as a base station) or transmitting tower. Radio waves are used to transfer signals to and from your cell phone. Modern mobile phone network (4G, 3G, 2G) use cells because radio frequencies are limited and a shared resource. That sometimes causes interference and dropped calls.

5G networks run on much higher frequency waves (called massive MIMO, mm waves, or millimeter waves) that support faster speeds but don't travel as far as the current wireless low frequencies. Instead of relying on large cellphone towers spread far apart, 5G requires small cell sites spaced closer together. 5G base station antennas direct radio signals to the users and devices, rather than in all directions like 4G, 3G, and 2G. As a result, 5G provides ultrafast speeds (up to 20 times faster), reduces lag time (making it practically instantaneous), and possesses a far greater network capacity (for calls, data, and video).

Translation: no dropped calls.


To the Victor Go the Spoils

South Korea’s compressed 5G network timeline presented a steep hurdle and a large reward. Economic growth is a major benefit for the country that leads the pack in developing emerging technology. Tech startups from across the globe rush in to invest and build, advancing an industry. In one example, U.S. 4G leadership meant roughly $125 billion in revenue to American companies that could have gone elsewhere if the U.S. hadn’t seized 4G leadership.*

“If you want to grab the economy, which is tremendous for 5G, you have to make sure that you build a home market of startups to help till the soil,” said Alberto Van Burgh, GM, Wireless Systems Group for Analog Devices.

5G is more than simply 4G on steroids. Of course, it will provide us with faster smartphone connections, stream high definition movies, feature zooming for live sports, and offer faster downloads. But there is more. It will change the way we drive, the way factories operate, and the way cities manage security and environmental issues. 5G is creating the next step in a connected world.


Operators Caught in a Jam

Large operators pushed the cell phone operators hard to hit the December 1 launch date. Only a few months remained. Driven by pressures, the operators were moving very fast. However, they needed vendors—technology companies who could deliver on the compressed timeline.


Enter: Samsung and ADI

“Samsung was looking for the most efficient way to build the cutting-edge 5G base station that would inhabit the network cell towers. They knew if they couldn’t move fast, they would lose the opportunity to someone who could. So, Samsung turned to a trusted partner—Analog Devices,” said Alberto Van Burgh. “ADI had a preexisting 6 to 12-month project plan to roll out 5G with partners. But now they needed to design a process to condense everything down to only a few months. Instead of delivering the 5G radios in 2019, Samsung and ADI needed to collaborate and deliver the radios to the operators in the field, on December 1, 2018.”

Samsung


A Successful Relationship

Years prior, Samsung was looking for a global partner with transceivers and power converters for a very large operator. The potential customer was focused on providing the latest 4G technology to the vast number of people in its country. It required making something special—something that was cost and performance optimized. So, Samsung partnered with ADI. Together, they developed the 4G system—cheaper, smaller, and lower power than other companies.

Fast forward to today. Samsung, ADI, and the fast-growing operator are recognized as playing an important role in building the technical infrastructure and spurring economic development, allowing wireless internet access to over 300 million subscribers.


A New Opportunity: South Korea

“It was a natural thing for Samsung to stay engaged with ADI (after the above project),” said Alberto Van Burgh. “When the time came to develop 5G, Samsung was on a fast track. They needed transceivers, power, firmware, and a partner they could collaborate with to solve technical issues and offer 24/7 support. They came to ADI and requested support in a tight window of opportunity.”

ADI needed to work at a much faster pace than the norm, developing samples and turning them directly over to Samsung prior to self-evaluation. They needed to order materials even before they had final silicon. ADI assumed significant risk but mitigated it with close cooperation, fast evaluation, and test turn arounds.


The Results

“Analog Devices, working with Samsung, did in 3 months what would normally take 6 months. We delivered high quality, excellent coverage in several big cities. And we offered strong reliability and high stability for a new innovative system. On December 1, 2018, it was considered one of the largest deployments of 5G in the world—and, to date, the only country with over 1 million 5G subscriptions.”


Working with ADI:

  • Samsung delivered on time—enabled fast and efficient enterprise 5G rollout on December 1, 2018, one second after 12:00 midnight

  • Captured the majority of market share in South Korea

  • Provide 5G to much of Seoul and six other major cities in Korea

  • Developed a low power, high performance radio access solution that generates minimal heat


*Recon Analytics, “How America’s 4G Leadership Propelled the U.S. Economy” (2018)