5G breakthrough as Vodafone and Ericsson achieve 15Gbps speeds

7 Feb 2018

Ericsson Ireland managing director John Griffin with Vodafone Ireland CTO Madalina Suceveanu. Image: Naoise Culhane Photography

5G is likely to go mainstream in 2020 on 3.5GHz spectrum.

In the first live demo of pre-standard 5G in Ireland, Vodafone and Ericsson achieved a network speed of 15Gbps using beam-forming technologies.

The live test achieved a latency of less than five milliseconds.

‘We expect 5G to launch in the next 24 months’

Vodafone Ireland chief technology officer Madalina Suceveanu said that the fifth-generation evolution of mobile will be defined by superfast broadband speeds, high reliability and ultra-low latency.

“5G technology will complement the narrowband internet of things [NB-IoT] network we rolled out last year. They are part of the same 5G tech family. Existing narrowband combined with 5G will support the growth of the internet of things in Ireland, making society smarter and even more efficient.”

A network for a faster, smarter and safer society

Suceveanu said that the advent of 5G will not only mean faster speeds on mobile devices but it could also have a revolutionary effect in areas such as healthcare and remote patient monitoring.

“5G will be transformative in areas like robotics, smart manufacturing and, in particular, in cars that will receive real-time information. The most important thing is that this ultra-low latency technology will help in the future of infrastructure in terms of buses, rail and other transport services.”

That’s all very well, but when?

“We expect 5G to launch in the next 24 months. This journey will see Vodafone prioritise investment to ensure customers enjoy seamless digital experiences. Until then, we will enhance our strong 4G networks by deploying 5G attributes in the short and medium term.

“The journey to 5G started with NB-IoT last year and with our enhanced 4G network also.”

Vodafone Ireland’s head of network strategy, Steve Allen, said that in terms of the evolution of the technology, it will be about a myriad of devices and things, not just smartphones.

“We are currently in the 4G era, which is the era of the smartphone, and customers are using smartphones to access services and that’s what’s driving traffic today.

“The 5G era will be about connecting everything else, everything from a cow to a lightbulb to a car, a world of autonomous vehicles and robots.

“5G technology itself is quite revolutionary and, for the first time, we will be deploying a new generation on top of the existing 4G base stations. So many of these building blocks are already in place today.”

Allen said that ultra-low latency will be improved in two ways: from the air interface between the device and the base stations, and mobile edge computing inside Vodafone’s own network.

“Reduced latency will make networks more flexible, reliable and secure.”

More data

Also present at the Dublin demo was Hans Hammer, global programme director at Ericsson.

Hammer said that the average mobile user is consuming more and more data. In 2012, the average user consumed at least 1GB of data a month. “Now they are using several gigabytes of data per month today and we believe in the very near future, this will be 15 gigabytes per month.

“To accommodate this, we need to make mobile broadband a lot more efficient, and the key to that is active antennas that improve the efficiency of capacity and free up more spectrum.”

Using 3.5GHz spectrum, Hammer said that 5G over millimetre wave will help remove capacity bottlenecks for a long time to come.

“The key will also be enabling things that consume and deliver small amounts of data, with long battery lives. For example, you can’t put a smart meter in a basement or a sensor in a lake and constantly change the batteries. But now, you can put 10 years of battery life into these devices.

“For robots and remote-controlled cars, low latency will be a key technology delivered by 5G.”

Hammer said that Ericsson has been trialling 5G in a variety of industries, including manufacturing and mining.

“Today, every industry is going through digitalisation and we believe that 5G technology has a very clear role in that journey.

“We have self-driving buses in Stockholm and we are also building the very first wireless factory with SKF – a global manufacturer of ball bearings in Sweden – and we are working with Vodafone to develop solutions to help deliver productivity in manufacturing.”

Spotlight on beam forming

During the demo, Hammer revealed how beam forming – a process inspired by comparing radio waves with beams of light – in 5G will be a catalyst for achieving speeds of up to 15Gbps on smart devices.

“In one 5G active antenna, there will be 500 radio transmitters that can form a beam like a spotlight directed to a single user that can make sure you can get perfect transmission at the highest possible speed.”

In the demo, the receiver achieved speeds that fluctuated between 14Gbps and 16Gbps, settling on a steady 15Gbps.

“Several of these spotlights can be used individually and we can enhance the user experience but also the capacity of the network.

“We have already done tests with race cars on tracks at 70kph, and the beam followed the car and did a handover to another antenna. This is a technology that is becoming very mature.”

Hammer said that in the near future of 5G – around 2020 – standard 4K video streams will be possible with no lag.

“Chipset suppliers are racing to get to market with smartphones that have 5G connectivity,” Hammer said.

He predicted that smartphones with 5G-ready chipsets will start to debut in the first half of 2019.

And, in keeping with Suceveanu’s prediction, he said that 2020 will be the breakthrough year for 5G.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years