Ericsson, Huawei and others delve into 5G via METIS 2020

METIS developmentStruggling to catch up with Asia and North America, which have set the pace for LTE deployments, Europe is focusing on the next generation of mobile communications, commonly called 5G. The flagship project leading this effort is METIS 2020, which aims to position Europe as a 5G leader.

The GSMA's recent Mobile Economy Europe 2013 report highlights Europe's sluggishness when it comes to adoption of the latest mobile broadband technology. At the end of 2012, LTE accounted for just 0.3 percent of total devices in Europe, compared to 11 percent in the U.S. and 28 per cent in South Korea. Further, the GSMA expects LTE penetration to barely creep up to 2 percent in Europe by year's end, paling in comparison to the expected 20 percent U.S. penetration in the same time frame.

The European Union, therefore, intends to not just hop on the 5G bandwagon, but actually steer it. "I want 5G be pioneered by European industry, based on European research and creating jobs in Europe, and we will put our money where our mouth is," European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said in February 2013.

She made her comments as the EC committed €50 million ($69 million) in research grants to develop 5G technology by 2020. Nearly one-third of that total has gone to the METIS 2020 research project, with METIS standing for "Mobile and wireless communications Enablers for the Twenty-twenty (2020) Information Society."

Afif Osseiran

Osseiran (Source: METIS 2020)

METIS funding falls under the auspices of Horizon 2020, the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, which is an initiative of the Europe 2020 growth strategy for the coming decade.

METIS itself was created in November 2012. The total cost of the METIS initiative is estimated at around $37 million, with the private sector contributing the remainder of funding not covered by the EC.  "METIS is considered the EU 5G flagship project," said Afif Osseiran, project coordinator.

Osseiran is employed by Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), which is spearheading the METIS project.  Other consortium partners span telecommunications manufacturers, network operators, the automotive industry and academia. In addition to Ericsson, top infrastructure vendors that are involved include Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU), Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Solutions and Networks and Huawei. Japan's NTT DoCoMo is also participating.

METIS Members
Ericsson National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Aalborg University Nokia 
Aalto University Nokia Solutions and Networks *
Alcatel-Lucent University of Oulu
BMW Group Research and Technology Poznan University of Technology
Chalmers University of Technology RWTH Aachen
Deutsche Telekom Institut Mines-Télécom
NTT DOCOMO Telecom Italia
Elektrobit Telefónica
France Telecom-Orange University of Bremen
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft University of Kaiserslautern
Huawei Technologies  Universitat Politècnica de València
KTH - Royal Institute of Technology  
* forrmerly Nokia Siemens Networks
Source: METIS 2020

The METIS effort is slated to last only 30 months, wrapping up on April 30, 2015. During that time, it will conduct activities needed for "pre-industrial alignment," said Osseiran, via email. After that, regulatory and standardization activities are slated to kick in.

METIS timeline and objectives

(Source: METIS Project presentation, EU FP7 ICT-317669-METIS)

Defining 5G

In September 2013, METIS released a list of 5G "scenarios" and a set of requirements derived from these scenarios. The scenarios are broken down as "amazingly fast," "great service in a crowd," "ubiquitous things communicating," "best experience follows you," and "super real-time and reliable connections."

More specifically, the horizontal topics METIS hopes to address include device-to-device communications, massive machine communications, moving networks, ultra-dense networks and ultra-reliable communications. The project has considered a number of test cases--such as wireless use in a shopping mall, an open-air festival and a virtual-reality office--and mapped those into the five scenarios.

METIS test case scenarios Venn diagram

Venn diagram mapping 12 test cases onto five scenarios. (Source: METIS Deliverable D5.1, ICT-317669-METIS/D5.1)

METIS has derived a number of 5G requirements from these scenarios and horizontal topics. Those requirements include a necessary speed boost that delivers data at 10 to 100 times the current typical user data rate and has a five times reduction in end-to-end latency.

An executive from METIS partner Huawei earlier this year predicted 5G technology will be able to deliver 10 Gbps speeds by 2020.

Of course, 5G is still technically undefined, hence the need for initiatives such as METIS. Osseiran said some, but not all, 5G performance targets can be achieved by simply building upon the capabilities of LTE and LTE Advanced.

For certain new test cases, where the focus is on machines, ultra reliability and higher frequencies, "there will be a need for a new air interface(s)," Osseiran said. "For others cases, such as mobile broadband, "the evolution of LTE-A will be enough," he added.

"In addition, we do not see one single air interface defining the 'G' in contrast to 2G to 4G. In fact,  5G will be the aggregation of the new air interface(s)--or I prefer to call them new radio technologies--with the evolution of LTE-A," Osseiran said.

5G Requirements According to METIS
* 10 to 100 times higher typical user data rate where in a dense urban environment the typical user data rate will range from 1 to 10 Gbps
* 1,000 times more mobile data per area (per user) where the volume per area (per user) will be over 100 Gbps per square kilometer (resp. 500 Gbyte/user/month)
* 10 to 100 times more connected devices
* 10 times longer battery life for low-power massive machine communications where machines such as sensors or pagers will have a battery life of a decade
* Support of ultra-fast application response times (e.g., for tactile internet) where the end-to-end latency will be less than 5 milliseconds with high reliability
* A key challenge will be to fulfill the previous requirements under a similar cost and energy dissipation per area as in today's cellular systems
Source: METIS

In addition, vertical industries are expected to play a more central role in the next generation of wireless than they have before. "It is not only about convergence of ICT (information and communications technology), but also about automotive, transport, smart grids and e-health, etc.," Osseiran added.

While it is still too early to specify all of the key technology components that will make up 5G systems, Osseiran cited a few of the more obvious ones. Those include massive antennas (also called massive MIMO), device-to-device connections, multi-hop capability, network coding, advanced multi-node cooperation and advanced receivers. He said the picture will become clearer by mid-2014.

He added that software-defined networking (SDN) "is considered inherent of any new generation."

Tackling spectrum issues

Of course, bringing the 5G vision to reality is more than just a technological challenge. The availability of suitable radio spectrum is a key enabler.

"Spectrum issues are of political and economic importance. The METIS findings on spectrum will be available and provided to spectrum policy makers," Osseiran said.

METIS has committed to study new bands, in particular by extension of the spectrum range for mobile communications to rarely used higher frequency bands, development of new spectrum-sharing concepts that help to improve spectrum usage efficiency, provision of enablers that guarantee coexistence and interference management, and design of an overall spectrum management concept.

The project is examining broad swaths of spectrum to consider their use in tomorrow's 5G applications. Specifically, it is looking at various bands within the frequency ranges 380-5925 MHz, 5.925-40.5 GHz, 40.5–95 GHz and 95-275 GHz.

In D5.1, the project's first deliverable on spectrum, which was released in August, METIS observed that without new spectrum options "many of the upcoming applications depending on wireless connectivity cannot be implemented."

However, METIS said "using higher frequencies more extensively is an attractive option but will not solve all problems," and added that efficient spectrum-sharing concepts might help activate additional spectrum resources in many bands.

Given that perspective, METIS' finding will likely play a role in driving debate over spectrum-sharing concepts such as Licensed Shared Access (LSA), which is currently being assessed by the European Commission's Radio Spectrum Policy Group.

METIS intends to contribute to CEPT (the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) and be involved in the International Telecommunications Union's preparatory process towards the World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15), scheduled to take place during November 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.

"The aim is to get METIS contributions agreed on a CEPT level and to contribute to European harmonization," a METIS fact sheet said.

So, will 2020 really bring a technology revolution in the form of 5G? Considering recent history, it seems possible. Osseiran noted that based upon prior experience, every decade has produced a new generation of communications technology.

Ultimately, whether 5G arrives in 2019, 2020 or 2021 is beside the point. What form 5G will actually take is the interesting part.

Updated Nov. 7 to clarify vendor names and roles.

Ericsson, Huawei and others delve into 5G via METIS 2020