Previous Blogs

July 17, 2018
California Data Privacy Law Highlights Growing Frustration with Tech Industry

July 10, 2018
Dual Geographic Paths to the Tech Future

July 3, 2018
The Changing Relationship Between People and Technology

June 12, 2018
The Business of Business Software

June 5, 2018
Siri Shortcuts Highlights Evolution of Voice-Based Interfaces

May 29, 2018
Virtual Travel and Exploration Apps Are Key to Mainstream VR Adoption

May 22, 2018
The World of AI Is Still Taking Baby Steps

May 15, 2018
Device Independence Becoming Real

May 8, 2018
Bringing Vision to the Edge

May 1, 2018
The Shifting Enterprise Computing Landscape

April 24, 2018
The "Not So" Late, "And Still" Great Desktop PC

April 17, 2018
The Unseen Opportunities of AR and VR

April 10, 2018
The New Security Reality

April 3, 2018
Making AI Real

March 27, 2018
Will IBM Apple Deal Let Watson Replace Siri For Business Apps?

March 20, 2018
Edge Servers Will Redefine the Cloud

March 13, 2018
Is it Too Late for Data Privacy?

March 6, 2018
The Hidden Technology Behind Modern Smartphones

February 27, 2018
The Surprising Highlight of MWC: Audio

February 20, 2018
The Blurring Lines for 5G

February 13, 2018
The Modern State of WiFi

February 6, 2018
Wearables to Benefit from Simplicity

January 30, 2018
Smartphone Market Challenges Raise Major Questions

January 23, 2018
Hardware-Based AI

January 16, 2018
The Tech Industry Needs Functional Safety

January 9, 2018
Will AI Power Too Many Smart Home Devices?

January 2, 2018
Top Tech Predictions for 2018

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TECHnalysis Research Blog

July 24, 2018
5G Complexity to Test Standards

By Bob O'Donnell

As exciting as the forthcoming world of 5G connectivity will be, it’s fraught with incredible complexity as well. Many technology pieces must come together in a seamless manner for us to enjoy the kind of speed, reliability, and responsiveness that the telecom industry has promised.

The required pieces include everything from beam-forming antennas for efficiently connecting to speedy millimeter wave spectrum, to tens of thousands of Carrier Aggregation (CA) combinations of RF frequencies that modems designed for 5G smartphones must be able to negotiate. In total, there’s an impressively lengthy list of technologies that will be underpinning 5G—particularly when it comes to mobile phones.

In fact, in part because of this complexity, the first versions of 5G will sit on top of existing 4G LTE standards in what’s referred to as non-standalone (NSA) mode. Practically speaking, this means early 5G-equipped smartphones will actually have two modems—one for 4G and one for 5G. Similarly, 5G networks will be built on top of 4G ones and early phones will provide connections to both. This provides a fallback network operation in the event a 5G signal is lost (much like standard 4G does for LTE connections today), and it allows network operators to leverage their significant investment in the existing 4G LTE infrastructure. This is what’s allowing the major US carriers to start talking about enabling 5G services in several cities across the country as early as later this year (and promising the first 5G-enabled smartphones in early 2019).

Eventually, we’ll move to standalone (SA) 5G networks, but that’s still several years away both for the phones and the network infrastructure to which they connect. In the meantime, there’s a great deal of testing going on to ensure that all the various technology pieces work together. Companies like National Instruments, for example, have been playing a critical role in helping to enable 5G interoperability across multiple equipment suppliers for several years now.

Of course, companies like Qualcomm, who have strong core technologies in most every aspect of the 5G component food chain, are particularly well positioned in the highly complex world of 5G because of their ability to make sure all their own technology pieces work well together.

Qualcomm demonstrated this recently with the launch of its millimeter wave antennas and sub-6Ghz RF module: two critical components that work hand-in-hand with its previously announced X50 5G NR modem to enable 5G-capable smartphones. Essentially, the pieces work together to allow a smartphone to connect to a wide range of different radio frequencies that will be used as part of 5G deployments by network carriers in the US and around the world.

For smartphone and other device vendors looking to bring 5G connectivity to future smartphones and other computing devices, the ability to integrate a complete solution from a single vendor looks to be a key competitive advantage—particularly in the early days of 5G.

Despite all the interoperability testing that’s occurred, there are likely to be major differences in real-world throughput and data connection speeds between early 5G phones. Different combinations of modems, RF front ends, antennas, network infrastructure equipment, and overall network coverage are significantly more complicated than in the past because of the complexities involved with 5G. In addition, there could be large variances in battery life across different smartphone designs, depending on how the various pieces of the overall 5G solution are integrated together. Early commentary from industry insiders suggests that challenges in making 5G phones both speedy and battery-friendly are significantly harder than with 4G phones.

Worldwide industry standards, such as the 3GPP’s Release 15 and forthcoming Release 16 ensure that all 5G devices that follow the standards will be able to interoperate. However, there is a significant difference between simply being able to communicate and doing so in the fastest and most power efficient manner. Given the enormous complexities involved in making the new 5G standard real, companies who don’t take advantage of fully integrated solutions could face some big competitive challenges.

Here's a link to the column:

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

Leveraging more than 10 years of award-winning, professional radio experience, TECHnalysis Research participates in a video-based podcast called Everything Technology.
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