As wireless visionaries look ahead to the next set of standards, they are thinking about new ways to expand capacity exponentially. “We’ve done a pretty good job with 4G LTE being rolled out right now … but of course there will come a time when it too is completely congested when everyone has newer smartphones and tablets, and so we need to always be thinking to the future and how we can enable a 10x, 100x type of growth in capacity, which of course is a very difficult thing to do,” says Professor Jeff Andrews of the University of Texas’ Wireless Networking and Communications Group. Andrews believes there are three ways to achieve this: denser networks, use of spectrum at higher frequencies, and devices with hundreds of antennas that can operate on those higher frequencies.
“Fundamentally we are enjoying the benefits of Moore’s Law,” says National Instruments CEO Dr. James Truchard, who believes that increased processing power of devices and base stations will enable the fifth generation of wireless communications. “As Moore’s Law brings more processing power, we can make that available,” he says. “We all know what we like to see … higher bandwidths and lower latencies.”
“As we’ve gone from 1G to 4G most of the system capacity has come from the modulation scheme,” says Brian Modoff, who covers the wireless industry for Deutsche Bank Securities. “The modulation scheme has been the primary driver of aggregate system capacity … Now we’re looking at ‘what are other things we can do to the network?’, and it’s our view that it’s the architecture of the network that becomes the main area for system capacity gains.”
Modoff says carriers are projecting a need for a 1,000-fold increase in system capacity in the next decade. “The highest gains will come from network densification, but without the control plane elements … you can’t enable network densification, so they very much rely on each other,” he says. “Once you’ve densified the network then you can go up into higher frequencies and bring that in,” Modoff says control plane elements, densification and higher frequencies will be the three building blocks of 5G networks with exponential increases in capacity. “You’d probably say about half of it comes from network densification and another 30% comes from the control plane elements and the efficiencies they enable and the remainder comes from the higher frequencies,” he says.