Every 10 years or so a new generation of mobile technology emerges. The next wave of mobile technology will be the fifth generation. 4G started rolling out around 2010 which means 5G might start rolling out in 2020. Some eager people want to get a pre-standard 5G system ready for an unveiling at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
It’s possible 5G could be the last major mobile technology upgrade cycle we see in a long time.
“if we get 5G right, there won’t necessarily be a 6G”. -Andy Sutton
Andy Sutton further adds.
“5G always delivers sufficient rates such that the end consumer perceives there’s infinite capacity, we’ll continue to evolve our networks, but we’re moving away from this major generational shift every 10 years to a more general evolutionary capability. Whether we call that something new or not will become more of a marketing question than a technology question. “
If 5G is the last major generational shift in mobile technology then the companies with the most 5G patents should be the winners not only in the changeover but because of 5G long lifetime.
The standards for 5G are not set yet. But the IP Watchdog breaks down the three most critical areas and the largest patent holders in each.
Wireless Radio Front End/Radio Access Network
The wireless network technology of 2G,3G and 4G have been primarily used sub 6GHz carrier frequency but 5G is expected to use centimeter wave (10GHz-30GHz) and millimeter wave (30GHz-300GHz) radio front ends. The high frequency operation allows for very high bandwidth, hence multi gigabit wireless data communication. The disadvantage of high frequency carriers is that they are susceptible to high path loss and require line-of-sight radios. To overcome this beam steering solutions will be required in dense urban deployments. Google (Project Loon) and Facebook are already using mmW radio front-ends to test next generation gigabit internet network deployments. Massive MIMO is another technique used to improve data throughout and spectral efficiency by using multiple antennas at the transmitter and receiver. MIMO uses complex digital signal processing to set up multiple data streams on the same channel. LTE networks and 802.11ac support MIMO but 5G will use more scaled up massive MIMO.
Modulation resides in the baseband processor of a mobile system. LTE-A which is a bridge between 4G and 5G allows for spectrum sharing and improved spectral efficiency through use of OFDM (Orthogonal frequency division multiplex) modulation. OFDM is a transmission technique that uses a large number of closely-spaced carriers that are modulated with low data rates. The 5G will require non-orthogonal transmission schemes. Several modified multi-carrier modulation schemes are also under consideration for 5G radio access such as, Filter-Bank Multi-Carrier (FBMC) transmission, Universal Filtered Multi-Carrier (UFMC) transmission and Generalized Frequency-Division Multiplexing (GFDM.
Core Packet Networking Technologies
The higher layers of 5G networking will require network function virtualization and will involve several smart networking technologies. These smart networking technologies include higher Inter-Node Coordination and backhaul as well as access Link Integration to improve network data throughout and efficiency. The network control will require Self-Organizing-Network, Context Aware Networking and Information Centric Networking. There will be increased Cellular and Wi-Fi network interworking and device-to-device communication to provide gigabit connectivity for very short distances.
Internet of Things
We’ve been hearing about the “Internet of Things” for several years now. 5G is supposed to be the culmination of interconnectivity. From driverless cars, industrial robots, telehealth systems, to smart city infrastructure. The companies with the most patents and the most “high strength patents” stand to benefit the most from the shift to 5G and the “Internet of Things”.
Across all patent searches for 5G Qualcomm is a leader. 5G standards are not set and it remains to be seen how valuable those patents are, but Qualcomm is in a great position for the shift to 5G. If 5G is the last major mobile technology shift then the benefits for Qualcomm will compound over time.