Millimeter wave devices
Back in July, Qualcomm successfully miniaturized its QTM052 millimeter wave antenna module to a point where multiple modules can fit into a smartphone form factor. In October the San Diego-based company announced it has further reduced the size of those modules by 25%.
“5G is a reality for smartphones and we have spent, as Qualcomm, a lot of time showing that the underlying technologies that will make 5G a reality with phones that we can hold in the palms of our hand,” company President Cristiano Amon said at the 4G/5G Summit. Noting that a variety of 5G smartphones, including flagships, will be hitting the market throughout 2019, Amon said, “It’s going to be all coming together.”
Another key piece on the device-side is the X50 modem, which supports up to 5 Gbps download speeds. As it relates to compatibility with non-standalone 5G New Radio networks, devices would pair the X50 with a gigabit-class LTE modem and up to four of the millimeter wave modules. To give OEMs an idea of what that total package looks like, Qualcomm also showed off a reference device that’s significantly smaller than the mobile trial platform device the company has used in other 5G NR testing. Expect a slate of Android smartphones kitted out with the millimeter wave modules and X50 modem to hit the market next year.
This level of component complexity means, “It’s not going to be viable to have competitive devices without thinking of it as a system solution,” Amon said. “It’s no longer a commodity.” Emphasizing the huge variety of band combinations NSA 5G NR comes with, from sub-6 GHz, to millimeter wave frequencies, and unlicensed and shared frequencies, Amon said, “I like to repeat this sentence that I have used with regulators worldwide–resistance is futile. Allocate everything to wireless.”
In November, Intel said it would have its XMM 8160 5G modem ready to go in the second half of next year. In a statement, Intel said the new modem will offer peak speeds up to 6 Gbps, and will be compatible with non-standalone 5G New Radio and standalone 5G NR networks, as well as legacy 2G, 3G and LTE networks. Simultaneous support for 5G and LTE will be key to early device-side support as most operators are going to market at first with 5G anchored by LTE core and radio access equipment.
“Intel’s new XMM 8160 5G modem provides the ideal solution to support large volumes for scaling across multiple device categories to coincide with broad 5G deployments,” according to Cormac Conroy, corporate VP and GM of the Communications and Devices Group. “We are seeing great demand for the advanced feature set of the XMM 8160, such that we made a strategic decision to pull in the launch of this modem by half a year to deliver a leading 5G solution.”
What’s the revenue opportunity?
Despite traction around spectrum allocation, network commercialization and device-side support, operators don’t necessarily expect any increase in attendant service revenues in 2019. AT&T CFO John Stephens, speaking recently at he Morgan Stanley European Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in Barcelona, said he doesn’t expect to report 5G revenue next year and pointed out that the current device upgrade cycle is 5% per quarter so it’d be 20 quarters before handsets are fully turned over. “The revenue opportunities are going to take some time…we’ll be ready before they get here.”
Verizon Chief Financial Officer Matt Ellis, speaking at the same conference, echoed the point his counterpart made. He said there would not be a “massive impact on revenue in 2019” but he expects 5G to “have an impact on the financial starting in 2020.”
While consumer revenues likely won’t be significant for some time, the longer-term revenue opportunity with 5G in general, including at millimeter wave frequencies, relates to driving digital transformation in key enterprise and industrial sectors.
Millimeter wave for more than smartphones
Qualcomm’s Durga Malladi noted the three primary 5G use cases: enhanced mobile broadband, massive internet of things and ultra-reliable low latency communications. Inside a manufacturing plant, he said, there are industrial robots, automated guided vehicles, sensors, cameras, head-mounted displays and handheld terminals among other connected devices. “If you look at it from a 5G perspective,” Malladi said, “…here’s a perfect example of one network which has all three different use cases. This is really where we think 5G is heading as we go into the 2020, 2021 timeframe.”
Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon highlighted the role 5G can play in the automotive sector, which provides benefits to the automotive manufacturer, the consumer and other value chain stakeholders like an insurance company, which could tap into vehicle data to potentially adjust rates schedules or get a better understanding of what happened during a car accident.
“We see 5G being part of every single RFP for the connected cars,” Amon said, further noting that C-V2X is “starting to get standardized in all geographies. The combination of 5G and C-V2X will be “much more profound than we see in 4G with the connected car.”
Doug Castor, senior director of InterDigital Labs, said the mobile communications R&D specialist is also considering how millimeter waves and 5G can support vehicular applications, as well as private networks and fixed wireless.
For private networks, Castor and his colleagues called out the unlicensed 60 GHz band as a good candidate for applying the 5G New Radio standard. “This is something we’re starting to talk to our partners about,” he said. “We see lots of opportunities for taking NR into 60 GHz. It can reuse some of the phased array equipment that has been developed for Wi-Gig. I think there’s a really good opportunity to take 5G into that space.
InterDigital Director of Engineering Fred Schneider said the concept would be useful to enterprise and industrial players. “Oil and gas refineries need connectivity in a big area. They want a private network. They want the things a real network can do, a 3GPP-based network as opposed to Wi-Fi. I think NR-U is going to be interesting.”
For vehicular communications, cellular seems to be poised to overtake DSRC as the go-to connectivity medium. C-V2X, or cellular vehicle-to-everything, connects vehicles to other vehicles, infrastructure, pedestrians, cloud services, etc…Castor said automotive is a “huge area that’s opening up. To get all of that data off a vehicle, millimeter wave is great spectrum to do that.”
On using millimeter wave for mobility, Phil Leithead, a member of InterDigital’s technical staff focused on R&D, said initial looks at fixed use cases are promising but line-of-sight and reflection issues need to be solved. “It’s not there yet,” he said.
Castor added: “I think that a huge challenge is continuing to track the beams with millimeter wave. We’ve known this from the beginning—the probability of outages is high unless there’s more technology put in to fill those holes. There are people out there looking at how you could use AI to come up with decisions on how to steer the beams. If we’re still at that stage, there’s still a lot of research that needs to continue.”