NI’s view: What keeps telco engineers and scientists up at night

National Instruments (NI), known first and foremost as the provider of testing equipment for engineers and scientists, has launched the world’s first software-defined radio (SDR) for the millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum.

The millimeter-wave region of the electromagnetic spectrum corresponds to radio band frequencies of 30 GHz to 300 GHz and is sometimes called the Extremely High Frequency (EHF) range.

NI’s Senior Manager, Advanced Wireless Research Group, Ian Wong described their mmWave transceiver briefly as a “platform to prototype real-time communications systems, up to the level of field trials.”

He shared about the mmWave transceiver system at the recent IEEE International Conference on Communications in KL, Malaysia, at which NI also conducted a technical demonstration, detailed presentation of its hardware and software architecture, and relevant case studies.

Being a recognised provider of equipment to test telco equipment, as well as design and implementation tools for 5G which is the anticipated next-generation of cellular technology after 4G, NI had also organised a 5G roundtable at the sidelines of the international conference.

At this 5G roundtable, experts and researchers from around the globe converged to share presentations of current trends, academic research and even case studies of practical and industrial implementations, among themselves.

Top of mind for telco engineers and scientists

Wong also observed from not just the roundtable but also his many years working with the telco industry, “There are four vectors to 5G to be investigated.”

The first of these is massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), which is the use of antennas at base stations. “Currently there are two to four, but the industry is looking to increase to anywhere from 64 to hundreds (of antennas).”

The idea is to be spectrum-efficient when higher than 6GHz, as spectrum below it are already too expensive.

The second vector is about using new network architectures by mixing and matching different networks, creating what that is called a heterogenous network or hetnet. What if there was a way to use more spectrum in the higher frequencies, or even free and unlicensed spectrum like 2.4GHz and 5GHz?

Engineers and scientists have used SDRs ubiquitously in the spectrum below 6GHz for years. But, companies are investing in mmWave as a potential core technology for 5G. Wong described this third 5G trend, the mmWave as spectrums above 30GHz that is “harder to deal with, although bandwidths can be wider – up to 2GHz.”

This 2GHz real-time bandwidth, is unprecedented.

The fourth hot topic that keeps telco scientists and engineers up at night is the new physical layer that converts bits into electromagnetic waves. “One of the areas of research here is wave forms modulation schemes so that there is minimum interference, agility, efficiency and the lowest latency possible.

Are we ready for 5G?

Third-generation cellular technologies (3G) came, and never really fulfilled its promise before 4G came along. Some say it’s the perfect storm of better networks, better devices, and better content and applications that really pushed 4G forward, and helped it take off.

We are pretty happy being able to stream songs and videos on 4G, and enjoy these content while-on-the-move with our mobile devices.

The experience is lacklustre outside of the urban centre areas, but that is to be expected. Our expectations are still manageable. So, what does 5G mean for us?

Wong opined, “The leading operators will adopt the latest technologies quicker. Ultimately, it’s the market that will push telcos to adopt new and upcoming technologies.”

For a market like Malaysia, is there space for 5G? What new wondrous applications will 5G bring along with it when time comes? Holograms? 4k video? Mobile vid conferencing?

Are we ready for these?

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