Qualcomm takes wraps off 5G NR sub-6 GHz prototype platform

While a great deal of attention has been given to higher-band spectrum for 5G in the United States, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is busy showing off a 5G New Radio (NR) prototype system and trial platform for the sub-6 GHz spectrum bands.

The company is touting the prototype during the Mobile World Congress Shanghai event that takes place this week in China. China is an important market for Qualcomm, and there's a lot of talk there about using spectrum below 6 GHz for 5G.

With the unveiling of this prototype, Qualcomm will be covering the spectrum (pun intended). It previously showed off a prototype for 28 GHz, where the propagation characteristics are much different than the sub-6 GHz. In the U.S., the FCC is preparing to vote July 14 on a proceeding that will unleash untold amounts of spectrum above 24 GHz.

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Qualcomm's 5G New Radio (NR) prototype system operates in the sub-6 GHz bands.

Durga Malladi, senior vice president of engineering at Qualcomm, told FierceWirelessTech that this latest prototype marked an important part of the entire 5G NR exercise – 3GPP uses the term 5G New Radio as part of its standards development process – in part because it can be used to influence the standards-setting process and ensure interoperability with other wireless industry players.

"When we think about 5G, we are talking about enabling a very large number of use cases" that go way beyond just mobile broadband, he said. Spectrum below 6 GHz is important to make sure there is good, ubiquitous coverage and capacity. The sub-6 GHz prototype system is capable of very low latency compared with what's available today.

If you were to compare, say 3.5 GHz with the 28 GHz band, the propagation characteristics are such that more coverage is provided at 3.5 GHz with the same number of nodes compared with the 28 GHz band.

The density of the base stations needs to be greater at the higher bands. Massive MIMO is used a lot in the lower band, and there are a lot more antenna elements in the higher bands, where beamforming and beamsteering techniques are used.

Qualcomm said designs implemented in its prototype system are being used to drive 3GPP standardization for a new OFDM-based 5G NR air interface. The prototype can be used to help achieve timely 5G NR trials with mobile operators, infrastructure vendors and other industry players, as well as future NR commercial network launches.

The 5G NR prototype system consists of both a base station and user equipment (UE), and serves as a testbed for Qualcomm and partners. It supports wide RF bandwidths over 100 MHz, and he said it's capable of delivering multi-gigabit per-second data rates.

The hardware resides in San Diego, California, but Qualcomm is showcasing the prototype system for the first time with in a video presented at the MWC Shanghai show, which runs June 29 to July 1.

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