With the explosion of mobile data, current wireless networks are reaching their limits, which created a need for more research on how to create a powerful next-generation mobile network. The 5G research is moving quickly and vendors and operators are already involved in 5G testing and trials, which will soon lead to a finalized standard.
Top 5G Research Topics
The 5G communications standard will be the means for connecting billions of devices and sensors, introducing the age of the Internet of Things (IoT). It will also revolutionize consumers’ lives by transforming major industries and enabling future-world services such as smart cities/homes, automated cars, virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR), robotics, holograms, and telesurgery. Most 5G research has focused on these kinds of essential use cases—and the technologies that will make them possible:
- Multiple input, multiple output (MIMO). 5G research in MIMO has found that the technology enables base stations to support many more antennas than 4G base stations. With MIMO, both the source (transmitter) and the destination (receiver) have multiple antennas, thus maximizing efficiency and speed. MIMO also introduces interference potential, leading to the necessity of beamforming.
- Millimeter waves. Millimeter waves are broadcast at frequencies between 30 GHz and 300 GHz, compared with the bands below 6 GHz used for 4G LTE. The new 5G networks will be able to transmit very large amounts of data—but only a few blocks at a time. Although 5G research has found that the standard will offer the greatest benefits over these higher frequencies, it will also work in low frequencies as well as unlicensed frequencies that Wi-Fi currently uses, without creating conflicts with existing WiFi networks. For this reason, 5G networks will use small cells to complement traditional cellular towers.
- Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). NFV offers a new way to design, deploy, and manage networking services. Essential to 5G research is the fact that NFV decouples the network functions—such as network address translation (NAT), firewalling, intrusion detection, domain name service (DNS), and caching, to name a few—from proprietary hardware appliances so that they can run in software.
- Small cells. Small cells are low-powered portable base stations that can be placed throughout cities. Carriers can install many small cells to form a dense, multifaceted infrastructure. Small cells’ low-profile antennas make them unobtrusive, but their sheer numbers make them difficult to set up in rural areas. According to 5G research, consumers should expect to see ubiquitous 5G antennas, even in their own homes.
- Software Defined Networking (SDN). Whereas today’s network hardware integrates both the control and data planes, 5G research incorporates the notion of separating these planes. This separation allows network equipment to be externally configured through independent management software, thereby improving flexibility, facilitating centralized control, and ensuring easy network slicing.
- Spectrum sharing. Shared and unlicensed spectrum will permit 5G networks to offer greater capacity, better spectrum utilization, and unique deployment scenarios. A key takeaway from 5G research is that spectrum sharing will allow mobile operators with licensed spectrum as well as those without licensed spectrum to take advantage of 5G New Radio (5G NR) technologies.
The Importance of 5G Research
In the preceding topics and areas, 5G research has given operators and vendors valuable opportunities to understand — and influence — the performance and power of 5G.