CableLabs exec: Cable industry could provide mmWave small cells with 40 Gbps for 5G

The cable industry is in the midst of gearing up for 5G. Specifically, according to a top executive from the cable industry's technology research consortium, cable operators could provide the high-speed small cells to wireless operators that would support connections up to 40 Gbps.

"We're charged by our MSOs to think about the future," explained Peter Smyth, CableLabs' VP of wireless and head of broadband evolution. "We're looking at the opportunities. They [the cable operators] can decide when and if they want to do that stuff."

Created by the nation's cable operators, CableLabs is a non-profit research and development consortium that is "dedicated to creating innovative ideas that significantly impact its cable operator members' business," according to the firm. Smyth explained that CableLabs is currently growing its team in the 5G space, and is also helping to fund the research that NYU Wireless is doing into millimeter wave communications. CableLabs is also active in various wireless standards bodies like the 3GPP, Smyth said.

Smyth explained that CableLabs is researching both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, including 3 GHz to 7 GHz and 64 GHz to 71 GHz. Those bands are critical, Smyth explained, because they will be able to transmit so much more data than lower-band spectrum. "If you want to dramatically improve the speed of wireless connectivity, you need to go to the millimeter wave bands," he said.

Indeed, he said small cell capacity could approach 40 Gbps with spacial reuse and higher spectrum bands: "There's an enormous amount of spectrum coming available through the millimeter wave bands," he said, noting that there's as much as 26 times more spectrum in those bands than the bands that are currently used for mobile services.

However, Smyth acknowledged that higher-band spectrum can't transmit signals as far as low-band spectrum. He noted though that, thanks in part to the research being done by NYU Wireless on radio waves reflected off various objects, some millimeter wave spectrum could conduct transmissions up to 200 meters -- a suitable distance for small cell applications.

"Cable operators are currently deploying public Wi-Fi access points so it's not unreasonable for CableLabs to think about upgrading those Wi-Fi locations to 5G technologies either in the licensed bands or in the unlicensed bands," he said. "There's an opportunity for the cable industry to provide locations in the future for the mobile operators to site their millimeter wave small cells and integrate them much more closely with DOCSIS and Fiber deployments to minimize latency."

The result, Smyth said, could be small cell networks operated by cable operators and linked into wider wide-area cellular networks that support Wi-Fi speeds up to 40 Gbps.

"It's our job to think about the future," Smyth explained.

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