Wait, what the heck is 5G NR? No need to panic if you are not up to speed on this acronym yet, as it is relatively new and unknown at this point. 5G New Radio (NR) is the name chosen by 3GPP, the organization defining the global 5G standard, for the specification of a new 5G wireless air interface…well, at least temporarily chosen. But if Long Term Evolution (LTE) is any indication, we may be hearing the letters ‘NR’ for quite sometime.
Earlier this year, 3GPP kicked off a study item on 5G NR, defining a new OFDM-based wireless standard that will become the foundation for the next generation of mobile networks. A new kind of mobile network that will take on a much larger role than previous generations. Whereas 3G and 4G connected people, 5G will connect everything – a unifying connectivity fabric for the next decade and beyond. In other words, you will be seeing 5G NR connectivity in your smartphones, cars, utility meters, wearables, and much more.
5G NR will bring new levels of capability in data rates, capacity, latency, reliability, efficiency and coverage. It will need to adapt and scale to an extreme variation of services, devices, and deployment types. 5G NR will also need to get the most out of every bit of spectrum across a wide array of available spectrum regulatory paradigms and bands – from low bands below 1 GHz, to mid bands from 1 GHz to 6 GHz, to high bands known as millimeter-wave. And 5G devices will need to be able to work on licensed and shared spectrum concurrently. Defining a new wireless standard, especially with the level of advancements necessary to meet these 5G requirements, does not happen overnight.
Thankfully Qualcomm Research started design work on the new 5G wireless air interface well before 3GPP standard efforts kicked off. In fact, we have been designing 5G technologies for years, building upon our 3G and 4G leadership. This work is the foundation to our innovative and impactful 5G designs that are now being contributed to 3GPP to drive 5G NR standardization.
These innovative 5G designs would only be concepts on a piece of paper without the proper hardware, software, and firmware to advance them. This requires end-to-end (think smartphone to basestation) 5G NR prototypes to test, demonstrate and trial these 5G designs. And that brings us to the recent announcement and demonstrations at MWC Shanghai this week, which marks a significant 5G NR milestone for not only Qualcomm, but also the entire mobile industry, as we move toward 5G commercialization.
The 5G NR prototype operates in mid-range spectrum bands below 6 GHz, which are critical to achieving 5G NR requirements. Although a lot of attention has been given to 5G mmWave bands above 24 GHz for it’s ability to support large bandwidths capable of extreme throughput and capcaity, 5G NR will be much more than mmWave. “When we think about 5G, we are talking about enabling a very large number of use cases that go way beyond just mobile broadband,” said Durga Malladi, senior vice president of engineering, Qualcomm Technologies. “Spectrum bands below 6 GHz are important to make sure there is good, ubiquitous coverage and capacity to address these use cases.”
So what’s the big deal? It’s only a prototype, right? Wrong. The prototype system is not only being utilized as a testbed for our innovative 5G designs, it is also a trial platform that will track 3GPP standardization progress closely to enable timely 5G NR trials with leading mobile network operators, infrastructure vendors, and other industry players. This will also help drive timely commercial network launches in 2019 and 2020, as these advanced prototype systems are critical to early interoperability testing and will contribute heavily to development of standards-compliant device chipsets and network infrastructure for commercialization. And this is why this marks an important 5G NR milestone for not only Qualcomm, but the entire Industry – it marks real progress toward 5G commercialization.
We are – and will continue – utilizing our end-to-end prorotype system to showcase our 5G designs to enable new wireless capabilities not possible in today’s networks. For example, at MWC Shanghai this week, we are utilizing the system to demonstrate multi-Gbps data rates at significantly lower latency than is possible with LTE today. This will allow your smartphone, as well as your future mobile devices (think head-mounted display), to deliver amazingly fast and real-time user experiences. The significantly lower latency will be coupled with higher reliability and security to also enable mission-critical control services such as control of drones, industrail equipment, robotics and autonomous vehicles.
Oh, and before I wrap up this blog post from MWC Shanghai, I would like to point out that our excitement about 5G NR sub-6 GHz is by no means an indication that we are not also leading the way in mobilizing mmWave for 5G (loosely defined as spectrum bands above 24 GHz). In fact, we also showcased our 28 GHz 5G mmWave prototype system in Shanghai, which we first demonstrated at MWC Barcelona earlier this year. The 28 GHz system demonstrates advanced antenna techniques (smart beamforming and tracking) to address non-line-of-sight scenarios, improve indoor/outdoor range, and provide robust mobility. The system is already being utilized in 28 GHz field testing today, uniquely showcasing the ability to utilize mmWave bands for robust and sustained 5G mmWave broadband access. It is also flexibly designed to support testing, demonstrations and trials at additional mmWave spectrum bands in the future, such as the 32 GHz band being considered in Europe.
If you happen to be in Shanghai, come check out the prototype systems at the Qualcomm booth. If you can’t make it to Shanghai in the next two days, check out this video on the sub-6GHz prototype. Also learn more at our 5G site and stay tuned for our next major milestone in our journey to 5G!