Raj Radjassamy: 5G Use Cases and the Broadband Interplay

What are the three core use cases of 5G network architectures? What are their respective benefits?

When it comes to 5G use cases, we are all aware of the often quoted enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), fixed wireless access (FWA), and ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) as key ones. An honorable mention also goes to massive machine-type communications (mMTC), which holds the promise to completely transform the IoT industry by meeting the demands of the growing number of connected devices. 

Enhanced mobile broadband is truly the first major use case of 5G. To put it simply, it’s a broadband service (greater than 100 Mbps per user; greater than 10 Gbps peak) on a mobile device that is purely about how much content you can pack in and send back out. Allowing for faster data speeds and greater coverage, eMBB will benefit applications that require streaming outside of the home. This could be as simple as using Google Maps while driving or video conferencing for work on the go. Additionally, as virtual reality, augmented reality, and extended reality continue to gain popularity, eMBB will prove to be critical in providing seamless connectivity.

As we know, FWA is an alternative to wired broadband and is an offshoot of eMBB, but for indoor purposes targeting the consumer segment. It utilizes small cell and/or macro cell towers that can communicate directly to end-user equipment – just like a cell phone. A huge growth in FWA subscriptions has been reported by carriers, and it has been a welcomed opportunity for 5G monetization. When FWA operates at the millimeter wave (mmWave), which offers a much higher frequency (for example, 24 or 32 gigahertz), the bandwidth it can provide is comparable to – and can exceed – what wired broadband can offer.

With URLLC, mission-critical applications such as industrial automation and autonomous robotics can operate with high reliability and low-latency communication. As with all the aforementioned use cases, URLLC enables high data speeds and lower latencies, allowing more connected devices to achieve real-time communication. 

Are these use cases commonplace in the U.S. today? Globally?

Used by millions worldwide, eMBB is a step up from what was already achievable with 4G and LTE. With 5G, eMBB provides faster downloads with fewer delays than previous generations. FWA and mmWave technology, on the other hand, have started gaining traction – particularly in the U.S. – in the last few years. Singapore, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and New Zealand are among the countries that have already advanced in this effort, with mmWave phones becoming more widespread within the last two to three years. With the fourth industrial revolution well underway, URLLC has also seen an increase in adoption and is anticipated to stimulate the market in the coming years. 

What needs to be done to boost adoption of these use cases? What are the challenges impacting adoption?

For eMBB, FWA, and URLLC, the number one thing that can be done to boost adoption is to invest in and improve network infrastructure to offer the coverage, speed, and latency promised. At present, 5G coverage has been mostly using non-stand-alone (NSA) technology that falls back on 4G and uses cramped spectrums in the low and mid bands. Carriers will have to transition to “stand-alone” 5G that can take advantage of advanced features such as network slicing and beamforming in massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) radios operating in high band (mmWave) spectrums. Without this, neither capacity, reliability, nor coverage can be enhanced enough to handle the higher number of connected devices and, in turn, data.

With respect to FWA, wireless carriers are using the available capacity offered by macro towers. At some point, as more and more 5G radios come online, the carriers will have to deploy dedicated small cells to offer the speed and throughput touted for FWA. One challenge impacting the adoption of FWA, in particular, is the line-of-sight requirements for higher frequencies, such as mmWave. This means small cells must be able to clearly reach the customer premise equipment (CPE) to achieve optimal performance. This is a challenge in urban settings with tall skyscrapers as well as in sparsely populated rural areas.

While infrastructure is being upgraded and expanded, the development and availability of “killer mobile apps” in the future will play a key role in the success of 5G networks. The emergence of novel, highly sought apps will motivate end users to take advantage of the benefits that 5G offers.

What do you envision as the future of 5G broadband?

There is a digital divide right now where there is not enough infrastructure to extend high-speed broadband to underserved locations. Rural broadband is an area that 5G broadband will be able to grow into in the future. In tandem with satellite-based connectivity, FWA will be paramount in this effort.

Raj Radjassamy, director, 5G and Wireless Segment at OmniOn Power. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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