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4G wireless vs. 5G wireless

Shorter distances to base stations key in 5G networks

By Mikael Ricknas, IDG News Service
November 02, 2011 06:08 AM ET

IDG News Service - Using more spectrum and advanced antennas, vendors and operators plan to increase 4G mobile speeds. But the key to increasing speeds as researchers look at future networks, which will someday be dubbed 5G by marketers, is to shorten the distance between users and base stations, and allowing them to automatically be reconfigured.

Historically, a new mobile generation has included two basic components, a mobile standard and spectrum allocation, according to Håkan Djuphamma , vice president of architecture and portfolio at Ericsson.

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Because LTE is at the limit of what is physically possible it now makes less sense to develop another standard from the ground up, Djuphammar says. Also, the allocation of spectrum has become increasingly fragmented, because the airwaves are so crowded.

That said, networks will still continue to evolve going forward, according to Djuphammar. But, at the moment, the industry isn't working towards a big 5G launch.

The development of so-called het nets, or heterogeneous networks, which use a mixture of traditional large base stations and smaller cells, placed in areas where there are a lot of users, will be key to how mobile networks evolve, according to Djuphammar.

The basic idea is the same as with today's femtocells, which are most often placed in homes to offload the rest of the network, while also improving coverage and providing better capacity for subscribers connected to it. But in a het net, the smaller base stations would be more integrated with the rest of the network.

It's about building network structures that would allow devices with 2G, 3G, 4G and in most cases Wi-Fi, as well, to jump between different forms of access depending on the load in the different parts of the network and the application currently used, and can dynamically manage device access in an intelligent way, according to Djuphammar. Doing all that is a pretty challenging task, he says.

The same spectrum bands will also be used for different mobile standards. Depending on what kind of devices are connected to a base station it will be able to change the amount of spectrum used to maximize performance in real-time.

"Today we have a static allocation of spectrum, but in the future it will be completely dynamic. For example, if there are no phones in a cell that need to use GSM the entire spectrum can be used for 4G. But when a GSM phone comes back into the cell, the base station again reconfigures its spectrum allocation," Djuphammar says.

At the KTH Royal Institute of Technology they have started to examine what networks could look like by 2020, which is when 5G would arrive if the telecom industry continued to launch a new network generation every 10 years.

The aim is a thousand fold capacity increase, according to Jens Zander, a professor in Radio Communications at the university and head of its center for wireless systems Wireless@KTH, who is also a big proponent of denser mobile networks where the distance between base stations is much shorter.

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