The improvements of 5G networks are undisputed, but how can the faster downloads and better network connectivity be used?
Caroline Hayes looks at some real cases at a Bristol urban network weekend and the recent Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang.
Improved download speeds of 10Gbit/s – a considerable increase from the 150Mbit/s of 4G LTE and 300Mbit/s of 4G LTE-Advanced – move 5G wireless access networks beyond 4G’s communication and information sharing status. These download speeds will enable networks in industrial, municipal, retail and transport areas where machines will be able to monitor and control the information and data sent around the network.
An example of just how far 5G can reach was demonstrated by a weekend deployment of a 5G urban network in Bristol. In March this year, the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab ‘took over’ the city’s Millennium Square to demonstrate 5G services, such as smart cities’ synchronised traffic systems, autonomous transport and augmented reality.
The Layered Realities Weekend was, says the Smart Internet Lab, the world’s first demonstration of an end-to-end 5G urban network.
The network testbed consisted of 5G New Radio (5G NR) heads, the air interface between the mobile device and basestation. These were connected to the 5G virtualised baseband pool using multiple protocols with dynamic low latency aggregation and variable bandwidth allocation to the fibre backhaul via an end-to-end software defined networking (SDN) -controlled environment.
Dimitra Simeonidou, Smart Internet Lab’s director, credits the programmability of Xilinx devices used in the 5G network testbed for enabling the different edge functions. “Central to our architecture has been the flexibility and programmability of the network edge, including traffic aggregation and computing, as well as disaggregation of hardware-hosted network functions across the infrastructure,” she says. “We used Xilinx’s platform to support this architecture.”
The Smart Internet Lab 5G open hardware solutions are transferable, and there are plans to deploy it in other cities across Europe, she says.
The project was funded by the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sports (DCMS) in conjunction with BT, CCS, Nokia and Zeetta Networks.
All communications and networks were channelled through the university’s lab, which
created ‘5G‑in‑a‑box’ (above), which included Xilinx’s Virtex FPGAs.
A Massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antenna was used to boost network capacity and reduce congestion. Standard MIMO networks use two or four antennae to transmit and receive multiple data signals simultaneously over the same radio channel. Massive MIMO increases the number of antennae to 10s or 100s of antennae to provide multiple signal path options.
Increasing the number of antennae packed into a space means that they operate at higher frequencies than conventional mobile networks, boosting signals. This is a particular advantage for outdoor signal paths. Using beamforming technology allows networks to target a spectrum to use, while a multitude of antennae means that signals are less likely to jam and be more resistant to interference.
To accommodate the expected 50 million or more connected devices, 5G networks must be able to accommodate multiple technologies, including Massive MIMO and CloudRAN’s (cloud radio access network) centralised baseband processing to increase coverage and data throughput. Networks need to be relied on to securely connect. “The increased bandwidth from 5G will require extra bandwidth capacity,” advises Gilles Garcia, director of communications business (wired and wireless) at Xilinx.
“There will be a ripple effect, with backhaul and fronthaul both seeing aggregation levels, and cores will need to support them from multiple pipes into the core,” he says.
Garcia explains that programmable FPGAs and SoCs are critical in implementing 5G proof of concepts, testbeds and early commercialisation trials. It is partly because silicon does not yet exist and ASICs are not viable in the early stages of a 5G standardisation phase. FPGAs can be reprogrammed to support enhanced algorithmic implementations or to support functionality, he points out.
“Programmability is required to evolve algorithms and to aggregate different data to many clients to accelerate connectivity,” he says. “Xilinx devices are the only way to achieve this in production volumes and to avoid the obsolescence of devices through programmability.”
Xilinx believes its All Programmable technology can support multiple standards, multiple bands and the multiple sub-networks for diverse IoT-driven applications, securely.
Xilinx Kinetix devices were used in the Massive MIMO, and Zynq All-Programmable SoCs were used for the control plane.
The increased performance of 5G can be used in smart cities to monitor and control traffic systems, and also lighting and energy utilities for improved efficiencies. It can also be used to monitor remote systems, such as water management in agriculture, and in retail, it could enable shoppers to use augmented reality to drive sales, suggests Dan Isaacs, director for connected systems, corporate strategic marketing at Xilinx. Another example he gives is that machine learning can be used for security functions, exploiting the download speeds to transfer alerts or images for surveillance.
At this year’s Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, 5G was deployed in many forms to improve the experience of those attending and watching the games, says Paul Bradley, head of 5G strategy and partnerships at Gemalto. As well as a 5G network for mobile users, there were also examples of virtual reality and artificial intelligence for visitors and 5G even had a role in athletes’ training.
Fun and games
Two speed skaters on the Netherlands team were using SmartSuits during their training, allowing them to communicate with the team coach while on the ice.
Each tailormade SmartSuit had five sensors, sending data about body position to the coach’s Galaxy S8 smartphone. An app on the phone calculated the racer’s body position as they sped and turned on the ice. The coach could send a signal to one of the sensors on the suit to signal that the skater’s position should be adjusted.
There were also 85 hospitality robots around the event (see Electronics Weekly 18 April 2018). These robots provided information about transport, attractions and schedules, and were able to communicate in Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English. One highlight, says Bradley, was a humanoid robot, built by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), which used 5G’s connectivity to serve as a bearer for the Olympic torch last December, on part of the route near the institute itself in Daejeon, 160km south of Seoul.
“Leveraging the 5G network, self‑driving buses were in action throughout the games, serving thousands of fans who required swift, efficient and safe transport between the multiple venues,” says Bradley.
The buses were the result of a joint project between KT and Hyundai and thanks to the speed of the network, they received information in real time from a control centre, helping them avoid obstacles or collisions with other vehicles en route to each destination.
“The buses were powered by electric fuel-cells, helping cut pollution around the venues. And for the buses that did have human drivers, they used the latest safety technology to ensure no errors are made. There was no danger of drivers falling asleep at the wheel either, as the buses monitored each driver’s facial expressions (such as how long their eyes might be closed) and generated an alert when distractions or tired driving were detected.
“The buses were able to download and display large 3D video files on transparent screens, giving fans front‑row seats to the action, before they’d even arrived at the venue of their chosen event.”
“Fans in PyeongChang were able to witness the capability of 5G and the future of telecomms in the new 5G village, which was located at Uiyaji Wind Village, close to the venues,” says Bradley.
“There, the ICT centre hosted virtual reality (VR) experiences. Visitors could experience riding a speeding bobsleigh, or snowboard along some of the most challenging courses, all from the comfort and safety of a simulator.
“Live VR experiences were also running. Thanks to the power of 5G, fans could enjoy real-time clips of skiers and snowboarders flying past large camera rigs positioned next to jumps and near the middle of ski runs, bringing the action closer to home than ever. Throughout the games, Intel’s True View multiview cameras captured approximately 50 hours of real time 360o VR footage of at least 30 of the winter sports, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies,” he says.
A 5G wireless network covered all the venues. “This enabled broadcasts at speeds of up to 50 times faster than the current LTE network,” and allowed people to instantly distribute crystal clear images of the action, according to Bradley. “5G made this year’s Winter Games the most exciting so far, helping to create a demand for faster, better networks around the world. What was tested in PyeongChang is still an early showcase of the technology’s capabilities, and so it is very exciting to see how 5G will develop in the near future.”
Asia is expected to see the first deployments of 5G; China Mobile expects 5G to be ready next year and Japan’s largest mobile service provider, NTT Docomo, is developing 5G wireless communication systems using channel‑sounding at mmWave frequencies and Keysight’s 28GHz Channel Sounding Solution with wideband MIMO data capture techniques. Engineers can measure angular spread with fewer measurements and improve resolution of the multi-path parameters and understand the channel behaviour at mmWave frequencies travelling at high speeds.