Sep 24, 2019
Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.
5G is here now, and we are seeing new 5G NR devices and networks being launched at a rapid rate — significantly faster and more globally than LTE during its first year of commercial deployment. But this is just the beginning. Next year, we will see 5G proliferating to more smartphone tiers and reaching more consumers, expanding to new global markets and device classes like the always-connected PC. On the network side, 5G coverage in both sub-6 GHz and mmWave will continue to grow, thanks to new 5G spectrum being made available through auctions and dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS). With DSS, we will not only see even broader 5G coverage in lower bands, but also the enablement of direct migration from today’s non-standalone (NSA) networks to standalone (SA) networks. Thus far in 2019, our focus has been on commercializing 5G NR enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) — as well as fixed wireless access — so it’s an interesting time to consider how we got here and what’s next for 5G.
How did we get here?
As the head of 5G wireless R&D at Qualcomm Technologies, there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing our 5G vision coming to fruition. It felt like yesterday when I first started talking about our 5G advanced research in public more than five years ago, but in fact, we embarked on our journey to 5G much earlier than that. Our work that established the foundation for 5G NR began a long time ago, and one such example was when we first envisioned and demonstrated cellular-based mobile internet in 1993. At that time, Qualcomm Technologies realized that a fundamentally new system design was needed to efficiently support the mobile internet (while others were simply adding data to 2G), so we invented EV-DO technology — a data optimized TCP/IP-based solution that we first demonstrated in 1998 and commercialized soon after. When the world entered the 3G era, the fundamental concepts from EV-DO formed the basis for HSPA, subsequently led to 4G LTE mobile broadband, and ultimately became the foundation to 5G NR eMBB.
Since EV-DO, we continued to imagine and invent new technologies that ultimately culminated to the “5G” we know today. There are many examples of 5G technologies that we pioneered, including mobile VoIP, carrier aggregation, expanded use of OFDM, reciprocity-based massive MIMO, mobile mmWave, and the cellular use of unlicensed spectrum — just to name a few. I believe, a true technology leader sets the industry vision, proves the engineering/business concept, and becomes the first to commercialize the inventions. And with 5G, we have done just that. I am proud to say that today, we have led the world to 5G, and with our deep systems expertise and over 30 years of experience, we are about to take 5G to new heights.
Where is the 5G evolution headed?
One question I am often asked is: “why did we need 5G?” Its first goal was to address the world’s insatiable demand for better mobile experiences. Additionally, we also wanted to design a unified platform to enable new services and address new industries with deployment across a range spectrum types. Our engine of continuous research coupled with new technology breakthroughs and hardware progress allow 5G to deliver capabilities that were not possible when 4G was defined. For instance, 5G brings a more efficient and unified TDD design with faster turnaround that can scale to a variety of deployment scenarios and spectrum use, including low sub 1 GHz, mid 2-7 GHz, and high mmWave bands like 28 GHz, 39 GHz, and 60 GHz — even considering designs for higher frequencies beyond 100 GHz. What’s also fundamentally different with 5G is its flexible architectural framework that allows us to invent in new ways and now expand 5G’s reach.
5G is the innovation platform for the next decade, and we will continue to push technology boundaries to address new market needs and support future services that are not yet defined. If historical trends continue to repeat, the next-generation technology leap after 5G will happen in approximately 10 years’ time, and in the meantime, we are continuing fundamental research that progresses the industry toward new technology breakthroughs. Regardless if it’s called 6G or something else, Qualcomm Technologies will be there to provide foundational contributions and drive forward progress.
What is the role of technologies that intersect with 5G?
In addition to the details of 5G technology evolution itself, it’s important to look at the evolution of other key technologies that intersect with 5G; and in particular, the role of artificial intelligence (AI). Today, we’re already enabling a wide range of power-efficient on-device AI inference use cases such as computer vision and voice recognition. While AI is often considered to be cloud centric, we envision AI to become increasingly distributed in the future with lifelong on-device learning, bringing benefits like enhanced personalization and improved privacy protection.
The advanced capabilities of 5G make it ideal for playing the role of connecting distributed on-device AI engines and allowing them to be further augmented by the edge cloud — a concept we call the wireless edge.
Based on economic and performance tradeoffs, we believe there are compelling opportunities to distribute functions such as processing or AI over 5G and that these can fuel the technology evolution to unlock new possibilities for low-latency services in the 5G era. At Qualcomm Technologies, we are not just focusing on delivering the best on-device capabilities, but also new technologies that will power the end-to-end system. And a good example of that is our expanded expertise in providing power-efficient AI inference capabilities to the edge cloud.
What new 5G technologies are we working on?
5G was envisioned to be much more than just eMBB — it’s instead a unifying connectivity fabric that will connect virtually everything around us. Beyond 3GPP Release 15 — the basis of the current 5G networks — not only do we expect an accelerated expansion of 5G in terms of commercial availability, but also a larger technology reach that can enable new industries. Along with the mobile ecosystem, we are already making great progress expanding 5G technologies, with Release 16 expected to be completed in early 2020 and the scope of Release 17 to be officially defined at the December Plenary meetings in Sitges, Spain.
Today, we hosted our Future of 5G workshop at our San Diego headquarters to provide a sneak peek into our 5G future. At this event, we showcased a wide range of “behind-the-scenes” 5G demos that cover many of our wireless research focus areas, including end-to-end 5G system development, 5G NR foundational enhancements in both sub-6 GHz and mmWave, and the expansion of 5G into new industries such as indoor mmWave enterprise, industrial IoT, Cellular-V2X (C-V2X), and boundless extended reality (XR). I plan to publish another blog post early next week to discuss what we are working on in greater detail, so stay tuned.
Did you miss the 2019 Qualcomm 5G Workshop? Watch the important keynotes here:
For those of your who couldn’t make it to our 5G workshop be sure to view our 'Qualcomm Future of 5G Workshop' overview video below.
You can also check out our 5G technologies website for more information, and sign up to our wireless technologies newsletter.