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Have you figured out yet how 5G will affect you as a developer? I’ve been posting this series of articles about 5G to show you what’s coming up and to get the wheels of innovation turning in our developer community. In this piece, we’ll look at enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), the part of 5G designed for better user experiences on consumer devices that can take advantage of extreme network speeds and capacity.
Where did 5G come from?
Imagine that you sat down with your peers about seven years ago and looked at the landscape of 4G/LTE wireless communication around you. “What are we going to need in ten years?” you asked. “What do we need to improve? In which directions do we want to grow wireless?”
That’s about what engineers did at 3GPP – the industry organization that defines cellular specifications. Realizing that the first four generations of mobile networks connected people through better voice and faster data services, the engineers envisioned 5G as a platform for all the Next, Big Things. 5G would need to connect virtually everyone and everything from workers and patients to robots and crops.
The main requirements for 5G were sorted into three main usage scenarios for mobile communications:
- Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), an important aspect for the next wave of consumer devices
- Mission-critical control, including can’t-fail services like vehicle-to-vehicle communication and factory automation
- Massive IoT to connect low-power, low-complexity devices such as smart meters and environment sensors
The high expectations of 5G needed to realize those scenarios are quantified and summarized in the image below:
Each of the three sets of requirements appears to pull 5G in a different direction. So we describe 5G as a unifying connectivity fabric precisely because of everything it’s designed to unify: fixed wireless access, mobile computing, eXtended Reality (XR), the Internet of Things (IoT), enterprises and automotive, to name a few.
Why is enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) important?
For that matter, the term “enhanced mobile broadband” itself unifies a lot of things like network capacity and peak data rates in the always-changing area of consumer needs and wants. eMBB has to cover not only a diverse present but also a future that will follow consumers wherever they may lead.
First, there’s the way people use mobile communication. In a joint paper, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and Nokia cite survey results from 5800 consumers to questions about the pain points of using mobile devices. What’s at the top of their wish list? Almost half (48%) of them don’t want to have to log on to public Wi-Fi again; the same number want lightning-fast browsing on their smartphones. Not far behind is their desire to download content 10 times faster (37%) and to enjoy better quality in their video calls (27%).
Then, there are all the innovative directions in which mobile communication is poised to take consumers:
XR — We see XR as the sum of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and versions of reality to come. XR gaming with photo-realistic graphics, for example, will reach its full potential only with the seamless internet connectivity of 5G and useful cloud services.
Head-mounted displays — HMDs are primed to deliver AR content to consumers in contexts ranging from meal preparation to cloud gaming.
PCs — If laptops were as connected as smartphones are, people could use their personal computer to accomplish much more throughout the day, creating and editing video, for example, or collaborating with colleagues.
Video and media consumption — Improvements in speed and capacity pave the way from watching today’s 360-degree, 4K video at 30 frames per second to enjoying tomorrow’s interactive, 3D 8K video at 90 to 120 fps.
How does 5G deliver eMBB?
To meet those expectations, 5G needs to achieve higher throughput, lower latency, greater capacity, better uniformity and complete mobility — and do it all at a lower cost to mobile operators. Here are some of the technologies built into 5G that make eMBB possible:
Massive MIMO — Multiple Input, Multiple Output refers to techniques that increase cellular coverage and capacity through the use of large numbers of antennas. There are limits to fitting antennas inside a mobile device, but 5G is designed to support massive MIMO, using up to 256 antenna elements in the base station. That sets the stage for intelligent beamforming and beam-tracking in spectrum bands under 6 GHz.
Device-centric mobility — Devices expend a lot of battery life monitoring and processing reference signals from all nearby cells. Device-centric mobility in 5G also makes use of the device to send out periodic reference signals for the access network to monitor. Based on the strength of the signal coming back from the device, the network can trigger cell reselection or handover. Plus, instead of sending system information regardless of device presence, the 5G network will send out minimum system information only periodically.
Spectrum sharing — These are techniques for unlocking more spectrum and extending the 5G network. As I mentioned in my post about spectrum in 5G, spectrum sharing can free up frequency bands that are only lightly used by operators. And, especially in the higher bands, large swaths of spectrum may be shared or unlicensed. 5G NR is designed to support all current spectrum types, with the flexibility to use sharing paradigms yet to be rolled out.
mmWave — "None of this [millimeter wave technology] should work, but it does. It’s crazy, but it works." That’s how we describe mmWave, a feature of 5G that uses some of the biggest disadvantages of mobile communication (path loss, susceptibility to blockage from physical barriers) to its advantage. It will mean high-speed, high-capacity data links in the greenfield spectrum bands above 24 GHz.
- Gigabit LTE — 4G/LTE isn’t going anywhere yet. Gigabit LTE will be essential to delivering mobile broadband services along the 5G rollout, which is why work on LTE Advanced Pro will continue well past the debut of 5G. For example, an operator may initially deploy 5G mmWave hotspots for high capacity in dense urban areas and rely on existing Gigabit LTE networks for 4G/5G mobility and coverage.
When you think about the biggest advantages of 5G for your customers and users, think eMBB. Compared to the current generation of wireless, it’s a vision of 100x traffic capacity and 10x experienced throughput, with 1/10th the latency.
My next post in this 5G series will cover mission-critical control, the second of three main usage scenarios for mobile communications. Meanwhile, we believe that the opportunity for innovation in XR is particularly compelling for developers, so have a look at our presentation, Boundless photorealistic mobile XR over 5G. You’ll find plenty of grist for the innovation mill.