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What new indoor opportunities will 5G NR mmWave bring?

5G is finally here. Mobile operators around the world are racing toward rolling out commercial 5G services in their networks, and just a month ago, we witnessed the world’s first commercial 5G NR network launches in the U.S. and South Korea. Without a doubt, we will see 5G momentum continuing to build, as more commercial networks come online in the next few weeks and months. As the lead of the Engineering Services Group (ESG) at Qualcomm Technologies, I am excited and proud of all the progress made so far, as my team has worked tirelessly with key stakeholders in the mobile ecosystem to successfully deploy commercial 5G NR one year ahead of its original schedule.

What to expect with 5G NR mmWave in 2019

To realize the full potential of 5G for enhanced mobile broadband, it is undeniably essential to mobilize mmWave (millimeter wave) for smartphones. To date, not only have we seen multiple 5G NR mmWave smartphone announcements, but many global mobile operators are also expected to support mmWave in their networks starting this year, with U.S. leading the way with live commercial networks today. We anticipate mobile operators prioritizing mmWave service rollouts at metropolitan cities that need more network capacity to address the growing mobile data demand (e.g., Verizon has now launched in 20+ cities including Chicago and Minneapolis), and gradually expand their mmWave footprint to smaller cities. It’s also worthwhile to note that these 5G NR mmWave networks will initially focus on providing macro outdoor coverage, while indoor deployments for indoor coverage are expected to come later.

Taking 5G NR mmWave indoors

With more than 80% of mobile data traffic originating or terminating indoors, one enormous opportunity for mobile operators and service providers is to bring mmWave services to indoor locations. Today, we are already seeing deployments of 5G mmWave for fixed wireless access. On this front, we have analyzed potential deployment scenarios in various dense urban cities, and one example is how a dense metropolitan city with an existing outdoor LTE network can re-use sites deploying 5G NR mmWave. By using rooftop CPEs, our simulation showed that co-siting 5G NR mmWave with LTE small cells can deliver service speeds of 1.6 Gbps downlink and 150 Mbps uplink to 80% of the buildings in the city.

The fact that mmWave does not propagate well from the outside to inside is beneficial for deploying mmWave indoors as well, since the same mmWave spectrum can be reused indoors with limited coordination with the outdoor deployment. This benefit opens new possibilities for mobile operators to offer private indoor mmWave networks, in addition to expanding mmWave indoors as part of their public networks.

Complementing existing indoor Wi-Fi services, 5G NR mmWave can elevate user experiences to new heights by bringing multi-Gigabit speed, ultra-low latency, and virtually unlimited capacity to a wide range of devices such as smartphones, tablets, XR (extended reality) headsets, and always-connected laptops. At ESG, we have been working with indoor venue owners and operators to understand how 5G NR mmWave will perform in a wide range of indoor environments.

Taking 5G NR mmWave to a wide range of indoor locations

Taking 5G NR mmWave to a wide range of indoor locations.

For indoor enterprises

One exciting opportunity for 5G NR mmWave is indoor enterprises. Today, most offices have Wi-Fi connectivity for computers and other enterprise devices. With 5G NR mmWave private networks, enterprises can realize the vision of “mobile office of the future”, bringing enhanced performance, convenience, security, and user experiences not possible with today’s connectivity solutions.

Opening doors to new and enhanced enterprise user experiences

Opening doors to new and enhanced enterprise user experiences.

To understand how 5G NR mmWave performs in enterprise settings, we have studied a few different office layouts and performed comprehensive system-level simulations. As an example, we looked at one office floor at our San Diego headquarters and simulated coverage and performance with 5G NR mmWave small cells placed at the same locations as existing Wi-Fi access points. The rationale behind co-siting is that both power supply and wired backhaul connectivity are already available at these locations, and it is the most efficient way to start any 5G NR mmWave deployments. With 1-to-1 co-siting, we were able to achieve ~98% downlink coverage and ~99% uplink coverage. The median throughput achieved with this setup is 5 Gbps. Note that the red outline shown in the figure below are areas not covered by the co-sited mmWave small cells, as they are surrounded by concrete walls (e.g., balcony, stairwell). Such areas could typically be covered with macro sites, or if needed, additional small cells can be deployed to provide a more comprehensive coverage.

Co-siting 5G NR mmWave (28 GHz) with Wi-Fi on the Qualcomm Campus for significant coverage and performance

Co-siting 5G NR mmWave (28 GHz) with Wi-Fi on the Qualcomm Campus for significant coverage and performance.

For dense venues

Large venues, such as convention centers, concert halls, and stadiums, are often plagued with wireless connectivity issues. As the venues are packed with large number of visitors during events, many users will be accessing the wireless network at the same time. The key challenge is for the wireless network to have enough capacity to sustain reasonable performance. While LTE and Wi-Fi network densification helps, they are still limited by the amount of available bandwidth. With 5G NR mmWave, venue networks can now have access to 100’s of MHz of mmWave bandwidth that can satisfy the growing data demand.

Bringing enhanced venue experiences with 5G NR mmWave

Bringing enhanced venue experiences with 5G NR mmWave.

Similar to our previous analysis, we have simulated 5G NR mmWave coverage and performance for a wide range of venues. One such simulation happened at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where we co-sited 5G NR mmWave small cells with existing 3G/4G cellular DAS (distributed antenna systems). The results were very encouraging — ~95% downlink and uplink coverage and a median downlink burst rate of 5 Gbps.

Simulating 5G NR mmWave (28 GHz) at Las Vegas Convention Center

Simulating 5G NR mmWave (28 GHz) at Las Vegas Convention Center.

For transportation hubs

Lastly, we also looked at various transportation hubs, such as airports and train stations. For an airport concourse that is about 160 thousand square feet in size, comprehensive coverage and a median throughput of ~4.2 Gbps could be achieved using just ten co-sited 5G NR mmWave small cells.

Delivering 100% 5G NR mmWave coverage and multi-Gbps speeds with at an airport concourse

Delivering 100% 5G NR mmWave coverage and multi-Gbps speeds with at an airport concourse.

Watch for 5G NR developments coming in 2019

Qualcomm Technologies and key players in the mobile industry committed to accelerate 5G NR commercialization just over two years ago, knowing that the game-changing standard had the ability to to spur innovation and growth throughout the mobile industry and beyond. I encourage you to watch for exciting 5G NR developments and deployments as they happen.

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