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Smartphones and other home electronic devices use frequencies on the radio spectrum, typically under 6 GHz, but these microwave bands are starting to get crowded. As more devices come online, carriers can only squeeze that much data on the same radio frequency spectrum, resulting in slower services and dropped connections.

5G benefits from hundreds of megahertz (MHz) of bandwidth that can be deployed in frequency bands from sub-1 gigahertz (GHz) up to the millimeter-wave (mmWave) range above 24 GHz.  Experiments are ongoing with mmWave that fall between 30 GHz and 300 GHz to achieve that much-need bandwidth and connectivity speed for modern, hyper-connected networks. 5G mmWave delivers a wide spectrum and capacity along with ultra-low latency; however, it comes with its share of challenges and improvement opportunities.

mmWave Network Trails in UAE

In October 2016, Etisalat demonstrated the first live 5G mmWave in the Middle East at 36 Gbps. In November 2017, the company conducted a live pre-commercial trial over an e-band of 2GHz and massive MIMO at 71 Gbps. In December 2020, Etisalat achieved the world’s fastest 5G download by aggregating 2.6GHz, 3.5GHz, and mmWave at 9.1 Gbps. Then in June 2021, Etisalat in collaboration with Ericsson deployed 5G mmWave across its commercial network, achieving high-performance 5G downlink data speeds of 4.2Gbps and latency of 8 milliseconds (ms). Similarly, du successfully deployed the MENA’s first 5GmmWave site at the du arena in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, achieving ultra-high mobile broadband speeds of up to 2.1 Gbps using 26GHz frequency.  Other big operators in the Middle East have also done successful trials of their mmWave deployments.

Challenges for mmWave Deployment Globally

While low-band networks provide wide-area coverage with limited throughput, mmWave networks provide high throughput but in very limited range. Millimeter waves cannot travel well from buildings or walls and also tend to be observed by plants and rain. Operators need dense small cell deployment for mmWave to overcome propagation limitations. There are physical as well as financial constraints to re-design wireless backhaul networks to efficiently connect the small cells to the macro base station (BS) instead of fiber.

An immature device ecosystem with low mmWave handset adoption is a primary cause of the delayed deployment of the technology. However, almost 202 million 5G mmWave-supported devices were reportedly shipped in 2021 and are likely to reach 1.1 billion units by 2026.

High power consumption at both node and user device sides is an issue that needs focused attention as it involves higher costs impacted by energy usage. The viability of the services enabled by 5G and Beyond (5G&B) is directly tied to energy efficiency, which needs to be addressed across the whole ecosystem due to up-time requirements and reliability of the network. The higher cost incorporates not just CAPEX (equipment and installation) but also OPEX (maintenance and energy cost).

Technological Advancements

MmWave communication has in recent times matured owing to hardware design advancements and has been proposed to support the high bandwidth demand in 5G cellular networks.

3GPP Release 17 introduces further improvements in integrated access backhaul (IAB) for distributed deployment. This release introduces operating in full-duplex mode and introduces mobile relays to improve coverage, capability, and QoS. 5G NR mmWave IAB can be used for cost-efficient dense deployments.

Improvement of power efficiency for 5G mmWave can happen through device-assisted power savings and low power modes. New devices are expected to provide additional information on battery level and temperature and allow the network to select carrier or power mode. The device can also provide antenna information to enable more power-efficient beam sweeping/switching through multi-panel beam management.

Advanced techniques including beamforming and beam management at base stations can improve

cell range over multiple kilometers providing a better Gbps experience. MIMO beamforming has been suggested to support long-range transmissions between the macro cell and the cluster heads.

Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (RIS) have recently gained extreme popularity as they can create Smart Radio Environments by EM wave manipulation and act as passive relays of wireless communication systems via software with the advances in low cost, high energy efficiency.

Moreover, new tests are ongoing to create seamless transition between mmWave and C-band, with the technologies able to combine and de-combine as people move in and out of range with high-power devices for the enhancement of ultra latency coverage.

Potential for 5GmmWave

Among the key capabilities of 5G, the ability to connect huge numbers of IoT elements, now forecast in the trillions, will be the enabler for broad sensing and control applications, especially in industrial, robotics, agriculture, and mobility sectors. The majority of mmWave use cases focus on 5G enablement and there is a long list of experimental cases to follow including VR/AR, immersive customer experience, connected vehicles, robotics and automation, mission-critical communication, and others.

5G technologies will not be limited to telecom operators but will expand to support verticals including first responders, public safety, tactical networks, defense, agriculture, entertainment, eHealth, smart cities, and so on. Enterprises will take advantage of 5G enablers such as Edge Cloud, SD-WAN, network slicing, virtualization, orchestration, and AI/ML to customize their private 5G networks and support a variety of applications including ultra-low latency, enhanced mobile broadband, and massive machine-type communications.  Moreover, with carriers beginning to sunset their 3G networks, additional spectrum for 5G-SA networks will free up.

To benefit from the full potential of 5GmmWave networks, 5G ecosystem players will require active participation and collaboration with industry authorities such as ITU, 3GPP, and GSMA and lead negotiations with other regions on harmonization of technical and regulatory specifications of IMT within the mmWave bands and the adoption of feasible emission limits of IMT system. Contributing to international coexistence studies including sharing and compatibility between IMT and earth exploration satellite service (EESS) is also a proposition worth pursuing.

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