2020 5G Trends & Predictions

What's the current status of 5G service rollouts?

In 2019, 5G release standard 15 (3GPP) was issued, and its focus was on mobile broadband (eMBB). In April 2019, South Korea rolled out 5G sub-6 GHz, and today delivers service to more than 3 million subscribers in the Seoul area —far exceeding projections. European countries, including UK, Germany, and Switzerland all had sub-6 rollouts, as did Australia, and there was a commercial start in China. At first, there were a few glitches, similar to what happened during the 4G rollout, but within months, benchmarks showed good performance improvements over 4G. It has been a rapid and steep learning curve.

On the same day South Korea rolled out 5G sub 6GHz, the U.S. was rolling out mmWave. The U.S. is considered the leader in that advanced 5G technology. mmWave worked as expected with minor issues, such as handsets overheating in the summer, a consequence of nascent technology rather than a fundamental problem. We are seeing some roll outs of mmWave in urban areas across the United States and sub 6GHz has gained momentum with operators touting the first nationwide implementation last December.

All in all, 2019 was a very successful year for 5G planning and rollouts across many countries.

What are 5G's key benefits?

The advent of the 5G wireless standard will have a widespread influence on global commerce by opening an untold number of innovative business-to-business applications because of the technology’s ability to provide better latency and increased throughput. The world is on the cusp of a migration from wireless technology as a B2C technology to one whose major influence will be felt in a B2B context.

Private networks will also represent an enormous new market for 5G. Currently, these networks exist but are limited primarily to 4G radios for groups such as first responders. But 5G will usher in a vast expansion of private networks in a variety of industries, including corporate, enterprise, and government. Factories filled with machinery will also leverage private networks, resulting in increased productivity.

What are likely to be the leading 5G applications?

No one can accurately predict the future—how 5G applications will evolve or where they will come from. After 3G was rolled out, we realized we needed more bandwidth, so 4G was born, giving a boost to platforms such as, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Surprisingly, one of the most popular uses of the new bandwidth was watching entertainment on your phone and communicating with friends and family. That trend will continue, no matter what technology the future brings.

The more impactful 5G applications will most likely be similar to the wireless 4G applications we already know but implemented in a different way. Today, people and businesses want to continue being cordless and free. 5G wireless will deliver on that promise. Instead of the handful of billion-dollar ideas that came to life from 4G, we could see many, million-dollar ideas that improve our daily lives.

In the second half of 2020, 5G IoT will begin to get limited traction in commercial, retail, and professional enterprise use. The use cases for the fourth industrial revolution - Industry 4.0 - are numerous through the creation of Virtual Private Networks. The next generation factory will be using 5G for connecting automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or forklifts, increasing mobility throughout a factory – allowing them to seamlessly interact with humans on the plant floor. However, until the ecosystem is built, and compatible modems hit the market, IoT’s full rollout, supported by 5G release standard 16, will make progress but with limited commercial rollouts.

What adoption challenges will 5G present?

Reducing costs is one of the most important hurdles to ensure 5G rollouts do not slow down because of investments. While 5G is less expensive per bit than 4G, further refinements are needed to enable cost improvements, including smarter integration, new architectures to reduce structural costs of the systems, and spectrum availability at a reasonable price.

Wind load and weight, or any pressure exerted on a base station tower resulting from the wind, is another challenge facing designers attempting to incorporate increased channel capacity. The greater the number of channels, the bigger the box required on the tower, and the more susceptible it is to the forces of pressure from the wind.

Another challenge is additional strain on base stations themselves. Consider the radios used in 5G base stations: Because they carry up to 16 times more channels than their 4G counterparts, their silicon content is dramatically higher. This makes them heavier and more expensive, with increased power consumption needs. There are also some infrastructure/build-out challenges. The most important RF design shift resulting from Massive MIMO is the increase in channel capacity. With higher channel counts, there is a subsequent need for more integration, lower output power per channel, and a diverse array of algorithms to manage the increased complexity. Even though the channel count and capacity increase dramatically, total system power output cannot increase. Variable channel counts and variable power levels create new integration challenges and power management opportunities. Suppliers like ADI are increasing the number of AD/DA channels per transceiver, increasing the maximum power integrated LNA and switches can handle, and integrating 16 channels in mmWave beamformers.

China has a plan for the large rollout of 64 channel systems. Other than China, most countries will avoid choosing systems with more than 32 channels due to cost and the significant weight of 64 channel systems. When you multiply those channels, it basically multiplies the content of the base station. The challenge for operators is that they need to be able to accomplish that increased capacity while maintaining roughly the same form factor, cost and power used in an old 4G base station. This requires a total rethink of the radio system, moving from traditional radio architectures, with discrete components and filters, to new, direct conversion ones that eliminate vast amounts of complexity through architecture and advanced software algorithms.

We’re using essentially the same physical spaces in these towers but getting more bits per unit of energy on an order of magnitude greater than we did in 4G, so we need to deploy some very sophisticated radio antenna processing techniques. The next phase of 5G will bring some form of edge-based cloud systems to be able to do this dynamic provisioning of services for different types of businesses.

What new developments might potential 5G adopters expect to see this year?

The average person will experience 5G primarily through data intensive applications like gaming. Connections will get faster, with lower latency and more reliable service, even in dense areas such as sports stadiums. For people living in areas lacking fiber connections, 5G offers the promise of fixed wireless access to create fast internet in the home. In the second half of 2020, people will start using private networks at work, seamlessly connecting their devices, and jumping between private and public networks.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

5G is a very different and powerful beast. It has the potential to be big and significantly impact our lives for the better. But if we overcomplicate the roll out of 5G with politics, regulations, and hefty spectrum costs, in the end, we can kill it.

Analog Devices developed the technology to make 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G possible. Today, ADI’s experts are collaborating with customers to pave the way for 5G, 6G and beyond.

Alberto VanBurgh is the GM of the Wireless Systems Group at Analog Devices