This year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) has once again come to a close, and we can already tell that it’s going to be another exciting year for new mobile technology.
Not surprisingly, 5G technology took center stage at the event, running the gamut from new 5G consumer products like smartphones and internet-of-things (IoT) devices to groundbreaking new commercial solutions that will help to drive the adoption of 5G to new heights.
Even though new smartphone announcements were a big part of MWC this year, they didn’t dominate the event nearly as much as they have in the past. Instead, the promise of 5G has companies looking at ways to keep us connected as never before — beyond the smartphones in our pockets.
The Snapdragon X70 is an upgrade over last year’s Snapdragon X65, which is most prominently found in Samsung’s new Galaxy S22 lineup. This time around, Qualcomm is focusing on adding intelligence rather than speed. After all, the same 10Gbps peak performance should be more than enough for what 5G networks will be able to deliver over the next few years.
However, the name of the game today is making sure that the chip can make the best use of whatever 5G signals are available, while being easier on your phone’s battery. As 5G networks become more complex, the Snapdragon X70 is clearly the way ahead, with A.I. features on board that will help it to optimize antennas and reception to give you the best 5G signal possible, wherever you are.
By comparison, the Dimensity 8000 is more of a workhorse chip that focuses on the sub-6GHz 5G frequencies — for now at least. Its secret sauce, however, is the company’s Dimensity 5G Open Resource Architecture (DORA) program, which allows manufacturers to customize the chip for their specific needs.
Both of these are targeted at flagship smartphones, although as a step down from the more expensive Dimensity 9000, the new 8000 series chips could result in a few more affordable options showing up in the next few months.
With its incredible speeds and low latency, the arrival of 5G has brought the vision of an interconnected world where wired broadband connections and even home routers will no longer be needed.
Although we’re still likely years away from having ubiquitous 5G connectivity for every connected device in our homes, bridging 5G into a contemporary wireless network is much more achievable.
In this scenario, a traditional Wi-Fi router still sits on the edge of your home network, but instead of using a wired cable or fiber connection, it connects to the internet via the same 5G technology found in your smartphone. You don’t need every PC, laptop, game console, and IoT device in your home to be 5G-capable, since everything still connects via Wi-Fi. In fact, your home devices don’t even know the difference.
This week, TCL showed off a new router for exactly this purpose, promising to deliver extremely fast internet speeds to your home without wires. We’re talking about theoretical speeds reaching up to 4.67Gbps, even over sub-6GHz 5G frequencies, and enough horsepower to distribute those speeds to every device in your home.
With all the pieces falling into place on the hardware side, the ball is now in the court of the mobile network operators to deliver the kind of fast and widespread 5G that will make true wireless home internet a reality.
It looks like 2022 could be the year that open 5G equipment standards finally go mainstream, thanks to more companies embracing the Open RAN initiative.
While Radio Access Networks (RANs) may sound like boring and technical concepts, these are actually the building blocks of modern 5G networks. Without them, you don’t get 5G, and if they’re expensive and complicated to deploy, it’s going to take longer for your preferred carrier to bring faster 5G service to your neighborhood.
This is where the O-RAN Alliance comes in. For years, deploying cellular networks was a slow and complex process involving expensive proprietary equipment. Once a mobile network operator (MNO) had chosen a vendor, they were mostly locked into buying the rest of their equipment from that vendor to ensure that everything would work together.
Thanks to the demand for 5G, carriers, equipment manufacturers, and researchers realized they needed to find a better way, and the O-RAN Alliance was born. Short for Open RAN, it’s an agreement between manufacturers to build equipment that’s interoperable. This means that MNOs can adopt a modular approach, selecting the best equipment available to build the best networks — more cost-efficiently and more quickly.
The move toward open standards has also resulted in a separation of the software and hardware components of 5G equipment. Rather than embedded systems — where you’d buy a “black box” that had proprietary software built-in — the software is now a distinct layer. This also means that much of the software used to manage 5G networks can now be installed on off-the-shelf server hardware. Plus, it can be virtualized so that a single physical server can perform functions that once would have required a dozen different hardware devices.
This year we’ve seen an explosion of these new O-RAN and virtual RAN (vRAN) products, and they’re already driving the expansion of 5G more quickly than ever before. From HPE’s 5G virtual base stations in Japan to seamless melding of Wi-Fi and 5G on private networks, it’s an exciting time for 5G connectivity.
Private 5G networking
In most cases, 5G is supplementing Wi-Fi, rather than replacing it. Companies like HPE are building new ways to make this work seamlessly, creating networks where you’ll be able to roam around a campus, moving between the organization’s private 5G and Wi-Fi networks without missing a beat.
Although it will likely be years before 5G replaces Wi-Fi entirely, the two technologies complement each other very well. Wi-Fi is still less expensive, but private 5G can offer coverage in areas and at ranges where Wi-Fi just won’t cut it. Plus, the need to authenticate using eSIM makes private 5G even more secure than Wi-Fi, making it a superior choice for industrial and other closed networks.
The demand for private 5G is actually growing at a rapid pace, too. A study last month estimated that 5G adoption in retail stores will triple by 2024.
The telecommunications industry isn’t sitting still, either. As great as 5G may be, experts are already looking ahead to the next generation of cellular technology.
6G could deliver theoretical wireless speeds of up to 1 Terabyte, although it’s expected that typical performance will sit around the 100Gbps range.
Most importantly, however, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is already looking ahead. Even though we aren’t likely to see the first 6G deployments until closer to 2030, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel wants to make sure we’re ready.
During her MWC Keynote Address, the Hon. Ms. Rosenworcel made it clear that the FCC plans to learn from the mistakes of the past, and expects the rest of the industry to do the same. This means allocating new spectrum well in advance, and ensuring that everybody from the aviation industry to the Department of Defense can study the proposed spectrum and have its say long before the first 6G towers start going up.