The future of 5G mmWave in wireless

1st February 2023
Paige West

5G is the next generation of connectivity that will power businesses, homes, and cities. It provides the ability to combine communication links and technologies in new ways and leverage new bands of spectrum, such as the powerful mmWave bands, which can carry huge quantities of information.

This article originally appeared in the Jan'23 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

Electronic Specifier’s Paige West speaks with Mark Barrett, Chief Commercial Officer and one of the Founders of Blu Wireless about 5G mmWave and how it is disrupting the market.

Barrett is a wireless engineer, having started out working for Philips. His experience includes radar signal processing, electronic warfare, communications for satellites, in car multimedia fibre networks, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and DECT wireless terminals for telecoms operators with about a dozen chip designs along the way.

“That led me to start Blu Wireless, along with two of my colleagues, because we saw the future of mmWave in wireless,” said Barrett.

What is 5G mmWave?

5G opens up wider bandwidths and leverages new bands of spectrum that were not being used to their full potential before – such as mmWave. Millimetre waves are very short wavelengths, ranging between 10mm (at 30GHz) and 1mm (at 300GHz), created by very high frequency radios. The wavelengths are small but powerful as due to the wider channel widths they can carry huge quantities of information. With expert engineering, they can provide reliable connectivity with fibre-equivalent data speeds of up to 40Gbps.

“The main motivation for any wireless technology is spectrum. If you have spectrum, you have capacity and if you have capacity, then you can deliver data rates,” said Barrett. “And mmWave provides the largest amount of spectrum available today in any wireless band.”

5G mmWave enables significantly faster and more reliable communication networks, which in turn enable a whole host of existing and new use cases that were previously limited by speed, delay, reliability, and cost. This includes applications for high-speed transport, remote healthcare, manufacturing, defence, and entertainment.

“Moreover, the particular frequency range that we’re focused on at Blu Wireless is also licence exempt, meaning that you don’t need to pay millions or even billions of pounds to the Government for the privilege of operating in those frequency bands,” notes Barrett.

That band is the 57-71GHz frequency band – that’s about 14GHz of free-to-use bandwidth, as long as you stay within the rules that are mandated by the regulator.

“We maintain during our development as a technology company that if you want to deliver gigabits, you need to go where the gigahertz are and where the gigahertz are is in this particular band,” said Barrett.

The challenges

One of the main challenges of this wireless technology is that it’s difficult to implement.

“This is state-of-the-art, cutting edge electronic engineering and software,” said Barrett. “And to do that you need people with a high advanced capability across several areas: advanced system on chip, design for start, analogue and digital design, millimetre wave radio design, antenna design, real time software skills around Linux digital signal processing and related skill sets and, finally, a system understanding of how to combine all that and deliver it to meet the needs of various use cases.”

Having said that, Barrett has noted that there is clear evidence that this technology is absolutely correct. Just recently, the Californian train operating company, Caltrain, evaluated several proposals for their next generation of broadband services on their trains running through Silicon Valley – these included Nokia’s 5G, Wi-Fi 6 and a solution from Blu Wireless.

“The Blu Wireless solution outscored all other bids by 20 points out of a possible 100,” said Barrett. “That’s an independent validation … that 5G mmWave does indeed offer the benefits that I’ve been talking about, compared to current generations of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G coming from manufacturers like Nokia.”

mmWave projects

Blu Wireless currently has several ongoing projects integrating 5G mmWave into various applications.

The company has developed unique mmWave technology for the Liverpool 5G project, to provide coverage in densely populated city streets. This project was a great proving ground for how the mmWave networking equipment performs in a dense, urban environment.

FirstGroup is also currently rolling the technology out on the Southwest rail network and next year it will be on the West Coast. This will deliver over 1 gigabit per train to be shared across passengers.

It’s also been deployed in the US, with partners, into private networks. Another project also involves integrating mmWave with an OpenRAN for 5G small cell deployments.

When it comes to the consumer side though, Barrett believes that mmWave isn’t that well suited [to things like] a smartphone.

“We think using the low frequency bands for smartphones is absolutely fine, but we do think it’s important for mmWave to be put into the infrastructure.

“If you’re a mobile operator, one of the key problems you have is backhaul – how to get the data rate you need to the base station, which in turn delivers the wireless system to the smartphone. Right now, there’s a big trend to having those base stations located at street level, in order to maximise the signal-to-noise ratio at the mid-band frequency and have a maximum data rate. But to get the data rate that you need is really hard because you have to dig up roads, putting in fibre … which is incredibly expensive.

“What mmWave does is provide a very high data rate, wireless backbone using this free-to-use licence and frequency band from the core network to the street cells in order to deliver the increased data rate … that’s the sweet spot in the commercial networks.”

The future of 5G mmWave

“We believe in mmWave,” concludes Barrett. “We believe it delivers what we think customers need, which is Gigabit performance.”

Blu Wireless recently launched the first outdoor mmWave 5G testbed site in France, showcasing how 5G technology is driving mobility, 5G backhaul and security applications for multiple industries.

The testbed combines Blu Wireless’s IEEE 5G mmWave products with complementary products from Mentor Consultant, Lynceo and 4G Technology, demonstrating high bandwidth, low latency 5G backhaul in a real wireless environment.

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