5G to fuel the IoT boom

| Environmental Testing

Software Defined Radio can test interoperability between base stations and IoT devices

Jonathan Newell talks to National Instruments about 5G developments and how these will affect a new technology boom in the IoT and V2x communications.

It was a year ago since I last spoke to experts at National Instruments (NI) about developments in 5G technology and, as the company forecast at that time, a lot has changed in the intervening period. I spoke again to NI’s Product Marketing Manager, Sarah Yost, and the company’s Director of RF and Wireless Test, Jason White, about what’s happened and what the company announced at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018.

Structured developments

One of the most significant developments in 5G during the last 12 months was the 3GPP ratification of Part 1 of the “New Radio” (5G) standard in December 2017. The significance of this is that it creates a set of specifications and therefore a structure against which companies have something to develop and build against.

However, as Yost explained, this is only Part 1 and there’s still a long way to go before full implementation. “To meet the original KPIs that were laid out for 5G, the standard is being rolled out in two phases and the December release was part 1 of the first phase,” she explains.

Phase 2 is expected to be released in June this year and will complete the roll out of Phase 1 of the standard, which addresses data throughput, one of the three KPIs calling for a tenfold increase in speed.

The other KPIs address latency and connectivity with ambitions to achieve latencies of less than 1ms and more than 1000 times increase in users. This is phase 2 and will cater for the expected explosion in new applications in transport and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Rapid development

NI is expecting rapid development in applications for 5G during the next 12 months and MWC 2019 will be packed with innovation based on this enabling technology. Despite the fact that Phase 2 won’t be expected for another year beyond that, the shackles are off and the mechanism for testing and prototyping is in place.

NI has already been working with Samsung in early prototyping and device interoperability testing using the NI SDR (Software Defined Radio), which models different types of devices rather than brands. For example, the SDR can emulate a handset or a device on the Industrial IoT and test it for interoperability with a Samsung base station using mmWave frequencies.

The SDR is a very flexible hardware platform and is driven by NI LabVIEW software giving the ability to test across the whole signal chain and giving test capabilities to silicon providers as well as end user equipment. White expects a lot of trials and collaborative projects to be commenced in the coming year with the first emergence of handsets below the 6GHz frequency.

White went on to explain that the technology and initial specification is already there and being exploited. “At MWC 2018, we’re showing the 5G sub 6GHz test reference system, which is being targeted at semiconductor testing,” he says.

NI is well positioned to help companies looking to exploit the potential of 5G throughout the supply chain, having been engaged with the technology right from the very start. “We were involved in the initial 5G research 6 years ago and we’ve evolved with the technology so we’re very much a part of it,” White continues.

More functions for IoT, VR & V2X

Beyond 2020, the release of the phase 2 standard will provide the technology to drive big changes in the Internet of Things, Virtual Reality and V2X (Vehicle to Vehicle / Infrastructure) communications.

IoT applications will benefit from the 1000x increase in connection capabilities, whilst the route to VR and V2X will be smoother thanks to the sub-millisecond latency.

A year ago, we discussed the generation gap, where I expressed concern that the 5th generation may not be around in time for its demand based on the rapid increase in connected devices. I asked Yost if this gap had been addressed.

“The IoT exists today, it won’t wait for technology to catch up and it doesn’t need to. What 5G will do is enable its further development and have additional functionality with richer features. VR over the IoT will be one such feature,” she explains.

Linking growth to technology trends

According to Jeffrey Phillips, Section Manager Product Marketing for 5G, Big Data and the IIoT at NI, the two booming areas for technology development are in the automotive industry and telephone handsets. These are the areas that will largely drive the pace and be the source of funding.

“Consumer demand for the latest handsets will be the main thing that drives infrastructure development and this will define the timeline to a large extent,” he says.

Managing Big Data

As 5G enables communications over the Industrial Internet of Things to become faster and the notion of Industry 4.0 becomes an achievable reality, the amount of data available to companies for analysing will grow enormously.

According to Phillips, this will need rich data management, aggregation and analysis. He believes that Artificial Intelligence will be of benefit based on the quality of the data that becomes available.

“We are already at a point where there is too much data for companies to handle meaningfully. Companies are going to have to move away from the current trend of analysing only 6-7% of the available data to a comparatively enormous 60% in the future,” he says.

To enter the realms of such Big Data analysis, Artificial Intelligence will have to take over so that the data can be swiftly and easily turned into usable information, according to Phillips.

mmWave take automotive communications above 6GHz

NI is currently collaborating with the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at the University of Warwick with a laboratory upgrade that now includes 5G mmWave technology.

The WMG will use the mmWave Transceiver System to expand the University’s research from traditional sub 6 GHz frequencies into the new mmWave spectrum and unlock significantly wider blocks of contiguous bandwidth. More bandwidth means higher data throughputs, which are already beginning to lead to a variety of improvements in the way Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) communicate.

Existing 4G systems are lacking for several reasons, most importantly high latency and lack of data throughput. Since Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Infrastructure communication needs to be fast in order to be meaningful, latencies above the 1 ms stated goal of 5G will not give the vehicle enough time to react.

Large bandwidths are necessary to send and receive the massive amounts of data potentially sent between sensors, the cloud, and other vehicles.

The research being performed at the University of Warwick will be one key element in the future of commercially viable autonomous transport systems.

Jonathan Newell
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