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Samsung takes first 5G steps with advanced antenna

But not everyone is convinced the underlying technology will work

Samsung Electronics plans to use advanced antennas to boost the bandwidth in mobile networks by what it said was "several tens of Gbps per base station", but the improved bandwidth won't be commercially available until 2020.

The company said it can now transmit data at up to 1.056Gbps over distances of up to 2 kilometers using the 28GHz spectrum band.

Spectrum bands that high, which are called millimeter-wave because of the short wavelengths, have both pros and cons. They allow for access to lots of spectrum, which means higher speeds, but signals are not transmitted well over long distances.

Samsung thinks it can overcome that problem with a new adaptive array transceiver that uses 64 antenna elements. The company hasn't provided much detail on how the array works. But, in general, adaptive arrays are used to electronically control the direction of a signal, according to Jens Zander , professor and dean at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

However, Zander isn't convinced that Samsung can overcome the poor signal propagation characteristics.

"At these frequencies the wavelengths are so short that all obstacles become massive. Even your own body casts a large shadow. That has been shown by a number of studies," Zander said.

The key to building faster networks, especially indoors, lies in coming up with better ways of putting a larger number of smaller base stations closer to users, according to Zander.

Today, millimeter-wave spectrum is increasingly being used in cellular networks, but for wireless backhaul links. They are used to connect base stations of all sizes with the rest of the operator's network. The market is set to double in 2013, fueled by the growth of LTE networks, according to Infonetics Research.

Here adaptive arrays can be used simplify network configuration. Instead of having personnel in the field manually setting up the antenna it can configure itself, Zander said.

Samsung isn't the only company experimenting with next-generation networks. Earlier this year, NTT DoCoMo announced it and the Tokyo Institute of Technology had transmitted data at 10Gbps, using 400MHz of spectrum in the 11GHz band. The amount of spectrum compares to current LTE networks, which use up to 20MHz.

To make the higher speed it too used multiple antennas: eight to transmit the data and 16 antennas to receive it. The underlying techology is multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), which is already used in current LTE networks, but with fewer antennas.

Interestingly, the Japanese operator never used the 5G term in its announcement, instead referring to "super-high-bit-rate mobile communications."

But more announcements regarding 5G advancements will surely come, because even though it will take many years before the first networks become commercially available the race between vendors and countries is very much on. For a vendor like Samsung -- whose mobile network equipment isn't as well known as its devices -- it is important to show technological prowess and that the company is in it for the long haul.

"Samsung is still small, but did really well last year compared to the market. It has the ambition to grow and part of that is wanting to be seen," said Sylvain Fabre, research director at Gartner.

Others have also announced 5G plans, including the European Commission. In February, vice president Neelie Kroes announced a €50 million (US$65 million) investment in research to deliver 5G mobile technology by 2020, with the aim of putting Europe back in the lead of the global mobile industry.

NTT DoCoMo's experiment, meanwhile, was sponsored by Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

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