Millimeter wave expert Rappaport encouraged by U.S. operators' 5G tests

Verizon's purchase of XO shows '5G is coming faster' than most think
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Just a year ago, NYU Wireless was concerned the U.S. was falling behind in the global race to 5G. Fast forward a year and a few weeks, throw in a few dozen announcements leading up to and at Mobile World Congress 2016, and things are looking much better for the U.S.

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Rappaport

It doesn't hurt that just this week, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) announced it will buy XO Communications' fiber optic network business and use its 29 GHz and 39 GHz spectrum for 5G tests. So what does one of the industry's most renowned researchers think of the situation? "I think it's a brilliant move by Verizon, and it shows that 5G is coming faster than most people would think," said Ted Rappaport, IEEE fellow and founding director of NYU Wireless.

Rappaport and his students at NYU Wireless have conducted extensive research in terrestrial radio propagation, communication system design and antenna technology at the millimeter wave frequencies. Their contributions set out to prove that mmWave radio propagation and associated radio technologies can easily provide multi-Gigabit per second transmissions in CMRS settings.

Broadly speaking, "I'm very, very encouraged to see that the world's standards body for cellular, 3GPP, is taking millimeter wave very seriously and starting to look at use cases beyond today's 4G LTE," he told FierceWirelessTech. That the global wireless industry is thinking about backhaul in millimeter wave spectrum, the Internet of Things and the idea of communicating with unlicensed and licensed devices at millimeter wave spectrum are all great positives, he said.

"I'm also very excited to see that there's a tremendous amount of work going on by the companies to do their own radio propagation measurements and channel modeling experiments," Rappaport said. When companies around the world start building channel sounders and start having their own staff take measurements and do trials of the equipment, it shows that the industry is very serious about learning and mastering the technologies. "I see this happening at a remarkable clip over the last six to 12 months. I think it means the engineering know-how and the technology progress will both be very rapid."

He also said he thinks that other governments around the world should probably take the lead from the FCC. A lot of regions are still dragging their feet about spectrum allocation, and that's an area of concern. Citizens around the world won't gain the advantage of millimeter wave spectrum, or what he calls "massively broadband wireless," until there's enough spectrum available to create a global market throughout the world, and governments need to quickly allocate spectrum for 5G. "I see that going a little slower than I thought," except in the U.S. and a few Asian countries.

While the FCC is still accepting comments on proposals to make more spectrum above 24 GHz available for 5G, the International Telecommunication Union's World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15) met for a month-long meeting in November where future spectrum allocation was on the table, but no worldwide consensus was reached.

"I was glad to see the FCC and some other governments promoting 5G millimeter wave," he said. "I was disappointed that there wasn't a consensus reached, but I'm not terribly surprised because that's typical."

Oftentimes, individual countries are ahead of the WRC. However, he was a little concerned by Russia and Great Britain's suggestion that the amateur radio spectrum in the millimeter wave band be used for mobile. "I think it's very important that the WRC maintain protections for the amateur radio service where non-business hobbyists can operate and experiment," he said. "We need that to continue, to retain and create an arsenal of trained experts in millimeter wave."

Besides NYU Wireless, Rappaport previously founded two academic wireless communications research centers that are among the largest in the world: the University of Texas at Austin and Virginia Tech.

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