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Seems Like Old Times

By Ernest Worthman, Executive Editor, AWT magazine, Senior Member, IEEE

Ern’s Perspective


Lately, I have been receiving a ton of reports, white papers, news releases (well, maybe half a dozen) implying that, all of a sudden, platforms like 5G, the Internet of Anything/Everything (IoX), semiconductors, mmWave, and more are poised to take off.

Could it be that the vaccine may be giving us a false sense of security and lulled us into thinking we are about to return to normal (RTN)? Are we hoping that a positive attitude and a government stimulus is going to fix all the inherent problems, both global and local, with the pandemic as well as national issues? Those are the only things I can think of that might be responsible for all of this, since, from a logical standpoint, there is little evidence to support a massive RTN is in our immediate future.

Are we not listening to what the warnings of the medical community? According to them, we are quite far away from being out of the woods with this pandemic. Yet it seems that, for the most part, many of us think it is over, to the point where several states are unleashing the masses without any restrictions or concern for transmission. I certainly hope my opinion is wrong. However, it will be interesting to see what happens when the restrictions are lifted on a mass basis.

Another unknown is the supply chain. We have not made any significant changes in our off-shore semiconductor supply chain, other than taking Chinese companies out of the equation, nor undone much of the damage wreaked by the last administration in interchange with other countries. The onshore production has not ramped up sufficiently to make much of a dent in it.

We are in the “fixin’ to start” stage in most areas. The government is still working at throwing some money at it. And we are in the midst of a bit of a semiconductor shortage, especially with high-power devices. So, what gives, why the optimistic outlook? I am going with the need to present the best-case scenario and have a positive outlook with fingers crossed.

As I read these documents and reports, it is pretty obvious that they are making best case-educated guesses to wishful thinking and in between. The fact is, over the years, some of these have been wrong (as well as many being right, of course). But in this day of challenges, I think it is difficult to predict with any real accuracy. So, let us take a bit of a drill down on some of what they say in a couple of these.

In the report from Mobile Experts, Millimeter Wave 2021, they say “In the long-term forecast, we expect the United States, Korea, and Japan to expand the mmWave rollout as the demand for data will undoubtedly move up and to the right. China will begin to contribute to RU [remote unit] demand in 2023 and will fuel the second large wave of deployments. This is the next major wave of infrastructure worldwide because only mmWave networks can meet the huge demand of the 5G era.” This was from a report that looks at the industry up to 2026.

First, as volatile as the pandemic is, the current state of affairs between the United States and China, as well as China’s other issues, I find it hard to believe this will not have an effect on the deployment of 5G for the next couple of years, at least. So, forecasting a second wave in 2023 is, IMHO, risky. And to say that we will have a major buildout of 5G mmWave is also risky. While there is no doubt that we will have a 5G mmWave buildout, I doubt it will be any large waves of deployments, rather more of a square wave step function that may take a bit longer to roll out than is being suggested. That is because there are still many issues around 5G mmWave deployments that need resolution.

There is also the issue of the proliferation of small cell mmWave APs. It is not just buying a chunk of land and putting up a tower with high-power transmitters. 5G mmWave will require dense radiator deployments and no one is yet quite sure how that will go because of where they need to be placed (low and proximity) and how interference will play. It is not like they can just hang mmWave antennae off of a tower and skip happily off into the sunset, nor throw them up on every pole, building, signpost or other close to the ground locations.

A white paper from Beecham Research has the headline “5G to Turbocharge IoT growth.” There is little doubt that the IoX, as I prefer to call it, wide-scale deployment hinges largely on 5G. However, exactly how that will develop is still a bit hazy. I have issues with statements like “IoT will be everywhere and 5G is set to make it happen. Pretty soon, there will be more connected cellular IoT devices than cell phones.” A rather grandiose statement but hardly relative to the many different platforms the IoX will involve.

My experience shows that many IoX devices will run in non-cellular networks. Wi-Fi of various grades, edge networks (both cellular and mmWave), 4G (yes, it is still growing), private networks, other unlicensed platforms (BT, ZigBee, Nest, etc.) and some yet to be developed.

Another vector is our government’s participation in supporting things like the semiconductor industry and the supply chain. About a week ago, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), Office of Technology Evaluation, (OTE) (whew!) issued a notice of request for public comments. It is seeking expertise in how to implement Executive Order 14017. The order has set in motion an encompassing government strategy to develop more resilient and secure supply chains for the United States.

Basically, it calls for a comprehensive review of domestic production, research development capabilities, and the formulation of strategies to strengthen critical sectors. While the order has a 100-day window for gathering all the data, it is hard for the government to move rapidly. So, while there may be a report in 100 days, I am not confident this will produce anything meaningful (beyond discussion) for a year or two. Remember, there has already been some noise from legislators and regulators to flush money into the semiconductor industry by the government but so far, nothing has materialized.

Then there is the issue of the economy. Nearly all knowledgeable sources point to 2023, best case, before we start to see the light at the end of this economic pit (the honest numbers for unemployment in this country are still near 10 percent). Many companies have been struggling, and not just here (a recent example is Nokia, despite all their recent new business deals, laying off 10,000 individuals). Certainly, some countries will take longer to recover. While the stimulus money will certainly aid some of the struggling businesses, it is a long way back to normal for them and recreating the tons of lost jobs.

This is still a difficult time, even though we are on a promising road to recovery. There are a lot of speed bumps that can pop up (such as the recent halting of vaccine administration in some European countries around emerging blood clot concerns). Therefore, I find it hard to believe that we can predict with any amount of certainty.

There is more but, as usual, I already got carried away. Anyway, all that being said, everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that we keep the shiny side up and do not run into any major roadblocks that set us back. If that works, hopefully, these future prognosticators will be accurate.

Note: Recently I had penned a column on the state of MWC Barcelona on Ericsson’s cancellation. As an update, Sony, Nokia, and Facebook have also bailed on an in-person showing.

AT&T Begins 5G Trial with Business Customer

December 8, 2016 — AT&T has launched the first U.S. 5G business customer trial, millimeter wave (mmWave) technology to power a 5G network experience in one of Intel’s Austin offices.

The carrier worked with Ericsson to conduct its first public 5G demo featuring streaming 4K HD video, real-time camera feeds and reaching speeds of nearly 14 gigabits per second. Now, it’s testing the 5G-related technology developed with Ericsson and Intel into the field.

During the trial, the carrier will test multiple enterprise proof of concept use cases, including internet access, VPN, Unified Communications applications and 4K video streams. The trial will showcase the potential of 5G VoIP over the 15 GHz and 28GHz spectrum bands.

Tom Keathley, senior vice president, wireless network architecture and design, AT&T, said, “This trial gives us an opportunity to test 4K HD video streaming across further physical distances between pieces of equipment. With our 5G and 4G LTE advancements, we expect speeds rivaling what we see from cable providers. Our path to 5G will help make this vision a reality faster.”


Huawei, Vodafone Achieve 20 Gbps Speeds in E-Band

July 26, 2016 — Huawei and Vodafone have completed a mmWave field test, covering single-user multiple input multiple output (SU-MIMO) with a strong reflection path to reach 20 Gbps UE peak rate, and multi-user multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO) for long-range UE to reach 10 Gbps peak rate.

“It is the world’s first 5G outdoor field test at E-Band reaching 20 Gbps peak rate for a single user device with high spectrum efficiency. This peak user rate is targeted by ITU-R as a 5G requirement. This is a key milestone after the two companies signed a strategic MoU on 5G technologies last year and a 5G Acceleration MoU this July,” said Johan Wibergh, chief technology officer, Vodafone Group.

The demand for spectrum to provide higher-capacity mobile access and self-backhaul has been rising drastically due to soaring mobile broadband communications traffic, according Vodafone.

“As traditional lower bands used in current cellular access become ever more crowded, there is an increasing effort in the industry to explore the centimeter wave (cmWave) and millimeter wave (mmWave) bands to meet broadband speed requirements,” Eric Xu, rotating CEO of Huawei, said. “This test will contribute to the study of spectrum above 6 GHz for 5G enhanced mobile broadband, and to promote global spectrum harmonization in the coming World Radio Congress in 2019 (WRC-19).”

E-Band is millimeter wave (mmWave) band and can be used as a complementary spectrum band to the lower-band to deliver ultra-high mobile broadband speeds, which will enable applications such as VR/AR and will act as self-backhaul for the 5G mobile service traffic.

FiberTower Invests in PHAZR, Millimeter Wave Technology

June 22, 2016 — PHAZR and FiberTower have announced a partnership focused on developing high-speed 5G millimeter wave systems where FiberTower will participate in the initial round of funding along with iTimeFund and other investors. The PHAZR 5G-type systems will be capable of 16 gigabits per second per cell over FiberTower’s wide area licenses.

“The FiberTower investment will help PHAZR accelerate the deployment of its 5G technology for gigabit-per-second mobile and fixed access system utilizing mmWave bands between 24GHz and 39GHz,” said Pulin Patel, PHAZR board member from iTimeFund. In conjunction with its investment in PHAZR, FiberTower will also create the Technology Advisory Committee to its board of directors led by PHAZR CEO Farooq Khan.

“The ability to utilize FiberTower’s long-standing deployment capabilities and relationships across industry sectors, combined with FiberTower’s millimeter wave licenses, represents a unique and actionable opportunity to swiftly bring PHAZR’s solutions to the marketplace,” said Khan.

PHAZR’s millimeter wave system, which will be available in 2017, will be one of the industry’s first integrated, high-power, commercial, millimeter wave antenna array. At peak rates the system is expected to deliver 16 Gbps throughput per cell over a 200 MHz channel block, which will be an industry-first for these exclusively-licensed bands. Prototype equipment is expected to be available in 4Q 2016.