While it may seem like the rest of the world is marching down the path to 5G with more trials and demonstrations than what's occurring in the U.S., that doesn't mean the U.S. still can't be a leader in adopting 5G, according to the head of wireless research at Alcatel-Lucent's (NYSE: ALU) Bell Labs.
"It was clear in 4G that the U.S. led, and why was that? The service providers really saw the need and had the financial ability to invest quickly into 4G, and as a result, really accelerated the development and adoption of 4G faster than anybody else. There's no reason to believe that's not going to happen again," said Theodore Sizer, head of wireless research at Bell Labs. "Whether the actual algorithms that are going to be part of the standard are invented in Murray Hill, New Jersey or Stuttgart, Germany… it may be the U.S. can still lead in adoption if the service providers decide to invest and take advantage of the benefits that 5G will bring."
In an interview with FierceWirelessTech, Sizer acknowledged the 5G standards-setting process is a competitive one, with everyone wanting to advance their own ideas after working for years on them. However, at the end of the day, in order to make it real, "you have to compromise and come out with a single standard that can be supported by the entire ecosystem."
One of the exciting things about 5G, as opposed to 4G, is participation of vertical industries, such as the car industry, which is playing a stronger role in 5G than it ever played in any other generation for obvious reasons. "Whether it's the car or eHealth, or new types of sensors, industrial, automation industry, they will be sitting at the table as well for the first time," Sizer noted.
One of the solutions that Alcatel-Lucent has been pushing is based on Universal Filtered-Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (UF-OFDM), an extension of the Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (OFDM) and Single Carrier Frequency Division Multiple Access (SC-FDMA) technology used by LTE.
"We're starting to see consensus around our proposal," either exactly as presented or with slight modifications, Sizer said. "I think there's starting to be consensus, which is nice, around our proposal for filtered OFDM."
The UF-OFDM extension uses an additional variable filter stage in the transmitter, improving spectrum emission shaping and providing a flexible guard space between symbols, according to an Alcatel-Lucent white paper. "Working together, these two features offer higher performance and robustness than LTE, especially for narrow bandwidth transmissions typical of the short bursty transactions used by IoT services, messaging and device signaling while also enabling short transmission intervals to offer reduce latency bearers," the paper states.
One of the key things that Alcatel-Lucent believes is going to be important for 5G is to have networks that can be flexible and adapt to the type of application that's running, "rather than today, you really have only two types of applications that are supported: voice and high-speed download. Everything else is not handled as well as it could," Sizer said. "But if you had flexibility in the network [you would] be able to adapt to be different for, say, a machine terminal that needs a 15-year battery life and then in the next second, be something supporting Netflix high-speed download and in the next second be suitable for a car-to-car very low latency application." The network needs to support a wide variety of applications with different sorts of needs for uplink and downlink bandwidth, for latency, for understanding security issues or understanding battery lifetime at the terminal.
Network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) are expected to play a role in 5G as well. "SDN to me is really a tool that allows you to have a lot more flexibility in the way that you handle networks, and that's a tool we're applying today in the fourth generation version of networks," he said. "Is SDN going to have great relevance in 5G? Absolutely, just like it is in 4G. That flexibility is going to be essential."
"The one-size-fits-all [approach] needs to go out the window, and in order to enable that, things like SDN are the essential tools that will help us to make it happen," he said.
Like other vendors, Alcatel-Lucent is working with academic institutions around the world to tap talent and out-of-the-box thinking. Last month, Bell Labs announced a collaboration with the Technische Universität Dresden's 5G Lab Germany, whereby the two organizations will jointly analyze new air interface or radio frequency link proposals for 5G concept/prototype networks, which they will be proposing them in the 5G standardization process.
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