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Big visions for 5G before the FCC

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 23, 2015
Drones, robots, balloons, satellites all suggested to be used in high-frequency wireless spectrum range.

Google, in its filing, said high-frequency bands could be "useful for offering broadband access via airborne platforms such as high-altitude balloons or unmanned vehicles, where deployment of terrestrial networks is uneconomic." Qualcomm, in its filing, introduced the idea of connecting drones, robots and industrial machines for 5G services "that are not even imaginable today."

Several of the companies have already conducted 5G lab tests. Samsung, in a 94-page filing, said it has already performed a 5G network test with wireless transmissions of 7.5 Gbps, and included a YouTube video link depicting the test from October.

Even though many vendors are talking about 100-to-250 yard range from a handset to an antenna in a cellular configuration, Samsung said it also has conducted a line-of-sight test in the high frequency range covering a distance of about one mile.

Samsung also projected ways that many thousands of wireless base stations in major cities such as New York could be connected to satellites to expand coverage.

Given the number of FCC filings and the wide variety of technologies and uses for high frequency bands given by the vendors, it's difficult to predict how the FCC will respond, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. The high frequency bands will also be fertile ground for plenty of competition among equipment and service providers.

"Many new services could come into being if the flexibility is there to allow them without having to go through years of review by a licensing agency," Gold said. Given the physics involved, multiple high frequency band users could operate "very close to each other using the same channel without interference," Gold said. "That significantly expands the amount of bandwidth available."

Gold also predicted that whatever the FCC decides won't be universally shared by other licensing bodies around the globe. This lack of agreement could make things complicated for world travelers who want to take advantage of 5G smartphone capabilities in the U.S., and find those features may not work in other countries.

Gartner analyst Akshay Sharma said that in-building wireless coverage is more difficult with high frequencies, which don't penetrate walls easily. As a result, vendors will need to hand off signals from multiple radios operating in concert as Samsung is doing with trials of 64 antennas on a single device in the 28-GHz band.

Small wall-mounted cellular base stations (often called small cells) inside of buildings can also use higher frequencies, but Sharma said small cells operating at high frequencies that are mounted on lamp posts or the sides of buildings may be better used for mobile backhaul to carry signals to fast fiber-optic connections outdoors.


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