In an increasingly connected world, the need for data and network capacity has become the driving force that prompts wireless technology innovation. As development into 5G technology advances, connected systems will continue to grow in complexity and reliance on one another. This increase in connectivity creates the challenge of improving wireless capacity at all bands from sub-1 GHz to mmWave and beyond.
While engineering organizations work to tackle the performance and bandwidth challenges associated with 5G, research and development of 6G is well underway, promising new use cases altogether. 2022 will prove to be a crucial year for major wireless technology trends, which include:
- Speed improvements over 4G enabled by mid-band
- The expansion of 5G applications
- Higher efficiency powered by GaN and SiC technology
- Increased momentum for Open initiatives
- Continued research networks managed by artificial Intelligence (AI)
Speed improvements over 4G, enabled by mid-band
5G mmWave deployments had been highly anticipated, promising faster data rates than ever before. However, the rollout of 5G mmWave has been slower than initially expected. What’s more, high density areas saw inconsistent performance in terms of speed, bandwidth, and latency. In 2022, we’ll continue seeing carriers (and the 5G ecosystem) prioritizing investments in mid-band and take a less aggressive approach to mmWave. While mid-band does not promise the dramatic increase in speed that mmWave did, users will still have access to more widely available incremental improvements over 4G.
Additionally, early Sub-THz research will continue as an enabling technology for 6G with the promise of even wider bandwidths. Researchers will need to show not only feasibility, but also compelling new use cases to make it a priority for the industry.
The expansion of 5G applications
Although 5G coverage is growing, many sub-6 GHz consumers are not experiencing an order of magnitude improvement over 4G performance. This in part because for consumers, 4G often delivered sufficient performance and because 5G’s throughput improvements were mainly accomplished through the elusive mmWave network deployments. However, with 5G, consumers aren’t the only target.
Going forward, carriers will continue exploring new, exciting use cases for the evolving technology. This will prompt new applications beyond enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) as Release 16 features for ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) are rolled out. URLLC will enable time-sensitive applications, some of the earliest of which will be seen in industrial IoT for factory automation like real-time robot control and AR/VR for maintenance and training. Combined with private networks, the URLLC enhancements in Release 16 will enable companies to deploy extremely reliable, high-performance networks.
Additionally, 5G-Advanced will become a trending topic as the 3GPP kicks off work on Release 18. Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) will continue to be a high priority for the transportation industry and crucial to enabling autonomous vehicles.
Higher efficiency, powered by GaN and SiC technology
Although the quest for more power-efficient RF Front end performance has always been a goal handset and infrastructure designs, we’re now seeing a tipping point in new process technologies. Driven from a combination of improved cost and performance, we continue to see an ongoing shift from silicon (Si) to gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) in RF front ends. This shift will continue to help increase the power efficiency of a myriad of devices. This will have a significant impact on 5G infrastructure as power amplifiers are positively impacted by this innovation. Electronic devices themselves will also be impacted by this trend and will ultimately benefit from extended battery life.
Increased momentum for open initiatives
The OpenRF Compliance Working Group released its first interoperability standard in December 2021. This marks a critical step toward an ecosystem of open RF front ends and 5G chipsets for 2022 and beyond. Establishing a development standard will help optimize configurations and specifications across the industry. Additionally, it will help manufacturers lower costs, speed up time-to-market and leverage an improved supply chain across many mobile devices.
Additionally, the pressure from operators and governments for Open RAN will continue to push progress in interoperability and production testing. Commercial deployments, however, will still be minimal in 2022 as members work towards longer term design wins.
Continued research networks managed by artificial Intelligence (AI)
Wireless technology will significantly impact artificial intelligence (AI) applications this year. In this space, one of the most significant innovations is a move to make software simulation closer to real life. In 2021, Northwest University took a huge step by demonstrating the real-time control of an Open RAN cloud-native cellular network based on artificial intelligence. The development of AI-managed networks has many benefits including automation, optimized cloud architectures, increased security and much more. The progress made in 2021 will enable researchers to collect large-scale datasets and perform experiments to make AI-managed networks closer to reality.
2022 will prove to be a pivotal year in wireless technology, where 5G and 6G innovations promise new levels of connectivity. The combination of performance improvements, the benefits of open standards and the increase of power efficiency will exponentially boost the potential for new applications enabled by 5G in 2022. As the industry continues to address growing data bandwidth needs and the increase in connected devices, connection will span people, ideas and new innovative technologies.