After being badly battered by the global pandemic, Mobile World Congress (MWC)—the mobile industry’s biggest show, is back to its old glory. It will again be the place where futuristic technologies and products are revealed as well as market trends are set. If you are looking to understand the future of 5G and the roadmap to 6G, make sure to check out Qualcomm R&D’s technology demos at their booth at Hall 3, Stand 3E10. This year they seem to be compensating for the missed last two years and showing a large number of live, over-the-air demos, proving that these technologies work in flesh and blood. They also have a slew of simulation demos that provide a first impression of very new concepts.
Last week, I got an early view of these demos at Qualcomm’s headquarters in San Diego. Here are some of the ones I found interesting and will give a glimpse of the future.
Side note: If you would like to understand more about 5G Advanced, check out this article and a recent Tantra’s Mantra podcast.
The complexities of the wireless link (air interface) are well hidden from consumers who enjoy the simplicity of modern mobile devices. When you look more closely, how wireless link works is no short of black magic. It works based on sophisticated data models. Hence its management is a fertile ground for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). AI/ML for link management is being introduced in 3GPP Rel. 18, and I am convinced that this is only a first step and will be a significant focus area for 6G and beyond.
Qualcomm’s current demo shows AL/ML application to two areas—channel state feedback (CSF) and mmWave beam management. CSF is the primary input to decide modulation, coding, and other settings used for wireless links. So, accurate CSF is highly critical to link performance. Currently, the network obtains it through continuous reporting by devices. The proposal in Rel. 18 is to use AI/ML models on both networks and devices to estimate CSF instead of actual reporting. This will significantly reduce the overhead and improve capacity. Moreover, it also improves latency, as there is no need to wait for feedback. The demo shows how the AL/ML CSF estimation closely matches the measured CSF.
5G mmWave performance is solely dependent on accurate beamforming and beam-steering. These are also based on statistical models, and using AI/ML for beam management is a no-brainer. The demo shows improved performance with the AI/ML approach.
No demo is complete without Metaverse! Qualcomm has many AR/VR/XR research initiatives that far predate the recent euphoria about the Metaverse. Qualcomm has demos that touch many of its aspects. These include boundless XR with split rendering, latency optimizations, mmWave based sensing for tracking, to better match the physical and digital realms, and others. In my view, the most significant among them was developing a new modem-based API to expose radio conditions to app developers. This will allow AR/VR and gaming applications to quickly adopt their characteristics, be it rendering quality, positioning, or action moves, to fast-changing radio conditions.
If you think mmWave spectrum is a higher band, then brace for this: Qualcomm is working on 145 GHz, called sub-Tera Hertz band. That high frequency requires a special antenna technique called Lensed MIMO and promises Terabit/sec speeds. The demonstrated working prototype provides up to 100 Gbps speeds using more than 100 GHz of the spectrum. This has the potential to write another new chapter in connectivity.
There is a demo utilizing the 13 GHz spectrum on the mid-band side, called the upper mid-band. The demo shows that a system with a similar antenna size and 5x higher bandwidth can provide the same coverage and magnitudes higher capacity than the current 3. 5GHz system. The band itself stretches from 7 to 24 GHz.
Before any such futuristic concepts come to fruition in 5G Advanced and 6G, there are also ample demos of technologies for the near future, such as Sub-Band Full-Duplex (SBFD) and mmWave evolution. SBFD was introduced in Rel. 18 to improve latency, especially for industry verticals,and has the potential to evolve to single-frequency full-duplex in 6G. The demo showcases the performance improvements SBFD can bring. Qualcomm has been working on this technology for a long time. There seems to be a lot of traction for this, enabling the next phase of 5G. There was also an announcement from Kumu networks on SBFD a couple of days ago.
There are also mmWave enhancement demos that include improved mobility enhancements for applications such as AR/VR that need extremely low latency, shared spectrum deployment, and mmWave network planning tool that utilizes 3D street models to predict coverage better.
Precise positioning has become a critical need, especially for applications such as Industrial IoT, where industrial robots in factories need to be managed. There are a variety of prototypes and simulations showing positioning using mid-band, 5G mmWave, 60 GHz mmWave, and the Reduced Capacity (RedCap) category defined in Rel. 17. These utilize various techniques, including RF fingerprinting, AI/ML, angle of arrival/departure, and others.
We all know how vital radars are for autonomous vehicles. But radars, too, can have blind spots. The collaborative radar demo shows how radars of vehicles connected either through the cloud or through vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication can collaborate to eliminate these blind spots. This is one demo where you don’t even know such pitfalls exist unless you see them.
There are other Cellular V2X demos that utilize roadside units for accurate positioning for areas with poor GPS coverage (e.g., urban canyons) and other safety applications.
There is also a range of demos related to IoT.The wide-area IoT demos include capacity simulation of RedCap devices to illustrate how the network can support a very high density of lower complexity devices, extending the coverage of IoT devices through mesh connectivity. The Industrial IoT demos showcase the robust high-reliability connectivity in factories complying with O-RAN Alliance specification and others, using techniques such as Coordinated MultiPoint (CoMP).
Additionally, there are demos to illustrate how power saving in networks can be achieved as part of 3GPP’s initiative to enable green networks. Power saving is one of the critical objectives of Rel. 18
For easy reference, Qualcomm has posted videos of all the demos onYouTube.
MWC has become an annual pilgrimage for the mobile industry participants to witness new technologies and discover new trends. MWC 2022 is turning out to be a worthwhile event after two years of a lull because of the pandemic. Qualcomm always shines at the event with its cutting-edge technology demos. This year is no different. Qualcomm demos provide a sneak peek into the future of 5G and the path toward 6G. So, if you are in Barcelona for the event, don’t forget to visit the Qualcomm booth for these demos. If you couldn’t make it, make sure to check out the videos.
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