In conversation with Qualcomm: The prospects of 5G mmWave


February 2, 2023

6 Min Read
In conversation with Qualcomm: The prospects of 5G mmWave
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As 5G rollouts and coverage continue to expand globally, conversations around mmWave (frequency bands between 24GHz and 42GHz) capacity and offload capabilities are also beginning to gather pace.

To date, dozens of countries have awarded frequency bands of 24GHz or above with more expected to follow suit in 2023. Meanwhile, Analyst forecasts suggest that by 2027 just under half of all smartphone shipments will be supporting 5G mmWave.

On the back of their recent participation at the DigiWorld Summit in Paris, we spoke to Philippe Poggianti, Vice President, Business Development, Qualcomm France S.A.R.L about the prospects of 5G mmWave, discussing current and future use cases, regions and markets best suited for the adoption of those frequency bands, any challenges that they foresee constraining the deployment of 5G mmWave, and finally, how operators can make the most of its full potential.

What were the key takeaways from the event?

There were two key takeaways from Digital World Summit. The first centred around the importance of appropriate regulation in Europe to promote a healthy 5G ecosystem. This was a key point for Konstantinos Masselos, the new chair of BEREC – the Body for European Regulators for Electronic Communications. Mr Masselos was clear that the priority for Europe should be investment in high quality mobile communications networks, which will enable nations to build better, more equal and more prosperous societies. A vital factor in achieving these goals will be making full use of Europe’s available 5G millimetre wave (5G mmWave) spectrum.

The second aspect highlighted was the advanced 5G mmWave use cases presented by providers all over Europe. These examples demonstrate the diversity of 5G mmWave offerings, with powerful use cases ranging from agriculture to education, to augmented reality. It is incredibly positive to see the momentum in Europe around 5G mmWave use cases which are delivering tangible benefits for cities, nations, mobile operators, and business and consumer users alike.

At present, the 5G mmWave spectrum is largely set up for commercial use, how will providers ensure there’s enough spectrum to support future consumer demand?

The spectrum available is enough to deal with current demand, but as demand grows, the GSMA predicts we’ll need more. A study released by the GSMA predicted that by 2030 there should be an additional 5x GHz of mmWave spectrum to cope with expected increases in consumer demand. The use cases across Europe today are a fraction of 5G mmWave’s potential, so demand is certain to grow in the coming years as more and more businesses and mobile operators realise the commercial benefits of 5G mmWave.

As 5G evolves where does 5G mmWave fit in the ecosystem?

The main offering of 5G mmWave is more bandwidth. MmWave fits into the 5G ecosystem as a complementary technology to the current mid-band offering. On average in Europe, 5G mmWave will offer 8x the spectrum made available for mid-band 5G, complementing the current 5G rollout in Europe and around the world. Adding more spectrum at the same total cost of ownership means you are dividing it at a lower cost per bit. This is particularly appealing for providers who will have a much lower cost per bit to deliver the same amount of data to users. Specifically, calculations have shown 5G mmWave would be 6x less cost per bit vs. 5G mid-band, offering providers an opportunity to greatly enhance profitability and reduce cost.

In addition, the GSMA has released a series of white papers demonstrating the pain points consumers are experiencing in the current 4G/5G deployment. Three of the top five pain points were related to high density locations where consumers were unable to communicate or download/upload content because base stations were overloaded. This shows there is a real consumer demand for 5G mmWave which opens up far more capacity at base stations. A separate RootMetrics study has also shown 5G mmWave can deliver a more uniform user experience even over congested part of the networks, such as high footfall areas. Quite simply, without 5G mmWave, the current spectrum cannot keep up with the pace of mobile traffic evolution demanded by consumers.

What are the biggest advantages of 5G mmWave, and which industries do you expect to have the most use cases?

5G mmWave delivers on the promise of providing extreme capacity and blazing-fast speeds under heavy network loads. 5G mmWave, combined with 5G mid-band, can deliver almost the same quality of experience in congested parts of the network as 5G mid-band does in uncongested parts of the network. This means better user experience and new and enhanced applications, all for a lower cost per bit. It’s the definition of a win-win situation.

There will be a wide array of use cases but where we see 5G mmWave’s most immediate potential is in four key areas: fixed wireless access (FWA) to help bridge the digital divide; better quality of experience in high-density areas such as indoor/outdoor venues and transportation hubs; to enable indoor enterprises to free up mobility and power hybrid work; and in industrial IoT to unleash Industry 4.0 to be more cost efficient.

Which markets will benefit most from 5G mmWave and why?

5G mmWave is already a commercial reality in many parts of the world, so we can clearly see two types of markets deriving significant benefits. The first is the fixed wireless access (FWA) market which is helping to bridge the digital divide by accelerating the deployment of fixed broadband across all economies, but most significantly in developing markets where traditional wired internet broadband such as fiber is not practical or cost effective. The same applies of course to rural areas across Europe, where FWA can provide high quality, reliable high-speed internet access to previously hard-to-serve communities, creating new commercial opportunities for operators in the process.

The second type of market that will benefit most from 5G mmWave is advanced economies, where users are consuming ever more data. Here 5G mmWave unleashes additional capabilities for consumers and delivers on the full 5G promise, and in time will enable the widespread uptake of brand new mobile use cases such as AR and VR applications.

As companies balance benefit vs. investment, where should they prioritise their investment in 5G mmWave?

As 5G mmWave has a lower cost per bit, it needs to be deployed where there is a lot of data traffic. Operators will want to see a high density of subscribers physically present, which is what we call an “island of capacity”, where it is less economical to provide more base stations of 5G mid-band. We have calculated that in many high-density areas such as shopping centres, transportation hubs and entertainment arenas, the 5G of today leaves operators with a choice. Either they add more 5G mid-band base stations to cope with consumer demand, or they add 3-4x fewer base stations with mmWave – thus making the project 3-4x more economical. Therefore, companies should prioritise investment in high-traffic density locations where they can save 60-70% of their capex and reduce their electricity bill in the same proportion. This then positions the operator as a quality leader, cost efficiently.

What would you say is the biggest obstacle preventing 5G mmWave being used to its full potential?

Less of an obstacle and more of a call to action shared by Konstantinos Masselos, the BEREC chair, is for each and every one of the European countries to prioritise bringing in these high-quality networks to build better societies. We need to accelerate the availability of 5G mmWave spectrum to all member states, and operators need to roll it out in “islands of capacity” complementing the 5G mid-band spectrum and deployments.
Finally, deploying 5G mmWave is the best way to get used to high frequency bands which will heavily be used on the way to 6G.

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