OnQ Blog

Durga Malladi Explains: What Is 5G and the Future of Mobile Broadband?

29 Nov 2016

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

The next generation of wireless broadband is going to forever change the way we communicate and connect. With the emergence of 5G, mobile bandwidth will expand, bringing to life a new era of immersive experiences and connectivity.

Take AR and VR, for example. The two will merge, and headsets will be able to support either, depending on what’s needed. Smartphones will become more powerful and engaging. Data speeds will increase dramatically, allowing us to stream 8K video with surround sound to create the ultimate on-the-go entertainment.

This level of technological progress won’t happen in an instant. Incremental development and careful planning will pave the way for us to take advantage of innovations that were years in the making. And Qualcomm is there as it has been with previous generations of wireless.

So how will we create an instantaneous, unlimited pipe to the cloud that’s available to everyone, everywhere — a wireless connection that’s as reliable as a wired one? We sat down with SVP of Engineering Durga Malladi to get the answers and discuss how 5G will impact mobile broadband.

How would you describe the current mobile broadband landscape?         

4G was originally designed to bring broadband to mobile devices, and it has delivered, enabling the mobile industry to become the largest technology platform in human history. These advances connected billions of people. And those numbers will only continue to grow.          

There were roughly 7.4 billion total cellular connections as of Q1 2016. This number is expected to be around 8.8 billion connections by the end of 2020. So consider how enormous that is given that our current world population is about 7.4 billion.

That’s mind-boggling.                                                        

I know! It’s pretty incredible. The world looks so much different than what we imagined when those early pioneers invented wireless technology. Early on, voice calls used to operate at 9.6 kbps, whereas a single 4G phone can support Gigabit LTE today; that’s the equivalent of 100,000 voice calls — as many as you’d expect in a mid-size city.                                                                                                         

Qualcomm has played an essential role in advancing the mobile industry to this point. Look how far we’ve come since 1G: We went from modulating analog signals to this incredibly complex landscape of connectivity. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done so far, and excited for what’s coming. Because now we’re ready for the next big step: 5G.                                                                                                                

How has Qualcomm been preparing for 5G?

This is one of the things that excites me about working at Qualcomm. We knew this next big transformation was coming because we’ve seen — and done — this before. We’ve been connecting people around the globe for 30 years, working with the standards bodies and deploying next-gen networks with the rollout of 3G and 4G.

A few years back, as we started looking at use cases beyond licensed spectrum-based 4G cellular mobile broadband, we analyzed the requirements of spectrum sharing, aggregation of multiple radio technologies, IoE, direct communication between devices (D2D) leading to vehicular communication (V2X), low latency and reliable communication links, usage of small cells, self-organizing networks (SON), integrated backhaul and access relays, etc. This laid the groundwork for fundamental research in these areas, along with standardizing some of it in 4G domain.

Today, we’re creating 5G as a system that enables enhanced mobile broadband, mission critical and IoE services at a broad level. 5G will encompass all of these technologies (and unforeseen ones) in a forward compatible manner                                                                                            

What will 5G mean to mobile broadband users?

Two great examples that I love talking about are augmented reality and virtual reality.                                                                                                    

5G will offer the enhanced mobile broadband data rates and low latency needed to enable wireless AR and VR. VR headsets can allow people to immerse themselves in live experiences from nearly anywhere. Imagine “attending” a sporting event on the other side of the world while sitting in your home office or on a commuter train. That’ll be amazing!

And such headsets won’t just be for entertainment. With augmented reality (enhancing the view of the real world with digital information), users will be able to bring critical data into whatever task they’re performing. The possibilities are endless, ranging from engineers planning the construction of a new truss bridge to surgeons performing medical procedures and emergency response teams working in disaster zones.

Can 5G handle the bandwidth demands of these new mobile experiences?                                                 

In order to meet the growing demand for data, we’ll need to squeeze the most out of all spectrum bands. Mobile wireless services have traditionally used the spectrum between 500 MHz and 3 GHz. However, for 5G, we’ll need more bandwidth than what’s currently available.

We’re pioneering solutions in all spectrum bands — low (below 1 GHz), mid (1 to 6 GHz) and high (6 to 70 GHz). The high band, which is sometimes referred to as millimeter wave (mmWave) — has historically been used for fixed wireless backhaul communication. Our 5G research has focused on key technologies that make the mmWave band suitable for mobile communication with analog beamforming, fast beam tracking, and beam switching within and across access points.

By using the wider bandwidths available, along with supporting advanced technologies, we’re providing low latency (very short delays) and multi-Gbps speeds. In the mid and high bands, one such advanced technology is Massive MIMO, which uses tens of tiny antennas built into devices to support fine beamforming and reliable high-speed data transmission.          

In advance of its launch, how is 5G being tested?

We’re developing end-to-end 5G prototype systems to provide multi-Gbps over wide bandwidth — scalable in units of 100 MHz — with support for Massive MIMO in mid (3 to 6 GHz) and high (mmWave) bands. In addition to multi-Gbps data rates, these systems enable ultra-low latency (less than a millisecond) communication in the airlink.

This will provide a platform for 3GPP spec compliant 5G NR trials with operators and other industry stakeholders in 2017.

How will those bandwidth issues be addressed?

We’re pioneering 5G solutions to overcome challenges. This includes using many antennas that include intelligent beamforming and tracking and optimizing the design to provide support for mobility. Beamforming in the mid and high bands acts like a spotlight to focus on and follow your device and provide extreme throughput as you transition between different beams within and across small cells.

We’re already commercialized mmWave technology today with 802.11ad at 60 GHz and will be a key contributor to the initial mmWave trials deployments in 2017.

With so many companies focused on 5G, what makes Qualcomm unique?                                                                                      

I really believe in the people and philosophy here at Qualcomm. In his post about 5G, Steve [Mollenkopf] said, “Qualcomm is an invention company. We’ve been developing these 5G building blocks for years — just as we pioneered many of the building blocks for 3G and 4G. It hasn’t been easy. … But that’s what Qualcomm does.”

We have a proven end-to-end system approach, which is required to drive new technologies from concept to commercialization at a rapid pace and massive scale. In addition, our ability to manage wireless complexity in highly integrated chipsets and platforms is crucial to fuel progress on the way to 5G. We have the unique ability to simplify things so manufacturers and providers can focus on creating new devices and services.

That’s what differentiates us, and I’m extremely proud to be a part of that. 

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