Getting ready for the 5G 'revolution'
The introduction of 5G networks looks set to revolutionise mobile communications and will play a major role in building a connected Europe. EU-funded research is developing a new generation of wireless infrastructure to ensure that people, business and industry can make the most of this technological advance.
© CWT/e, Bart van Overbeeke, 2015
5G promises to be a major step forward for wireless communications in Europe, providing connections that are up to 100 times faster than the current 4G networks. Furthermore, 5G can serve more users at the same time without losing speed.
Many of these additional users will be machines and sensors that can provide new and exciting services and applications. From self-drive cars to networked home devices controlled via the Internet of Things, 5G offers exciting opportunities for both the domestic and industrial markets.
The speed and capacity of 5G relies on extra frequency bands to deliver signals. The current problem is that these extra frequencies are relatively weak, which means a lot of power is needed to boost the signal. The EU-funded SILIKA project is addressing this challenge by researching and developing more efficient antennae, electronics and signal-processing algorithms. The technologies are being rolled together in a new base-station concept.
To make use of the new frequency bands for 5G, SILIKAs base-station combines the signal power of many antenna elements into beams that can be automatically directed towards the users, explains project coordinator Ulf Johannsen from Eindhoven Technical University. Based on this concept, the project team is working towards a system demonstrator and has already manufactured the first components.
The project can boast real innovation in its work through its development of different beam-forming concepts to cater for 5G users across different locations. For users located far away, SILIKA uses reflector antennas similar to satellite dishes used in rural areas. For those closer to the base-station, a phased-array antenna is used which is similar to antennas used in modern radar systems. This latter technology can help the base-station follow fast-moving users and distinguish between many different users at the same time.
SILIKAs combination of antenna concepts is expected be an important breakthrough in developing sustainable 5G base-stations. The next move will be to translate these concepts from niche market applications to mass-market technologies.
Strong signals from industry
The projects work is highly relevant for the European telecommunications industry as well as associated industries such as the semiconductor sector. Many of its activities have been developed in close collaboration with industry, ensuring that the results are directly useful. SILIKAs beneficiaries and project partners include world leading companies, such as telecoms giant Ericsson and NXP, a Dutch semiconductor manufacturer.
The projects activities are being driven forward by 12 early-stage researchers (ESRs) who are working within leading R&D labs in European industry, universities and technology institutes which specialise in wireless infrastructure. The researchers have been funded through the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme.
The ESRs managed to work out specifications for a 5G base-station at a time when such tools are not readily available. They then worked out a system concept through a series of conference calls and a final workshop, adds Johannsen.
The first components of the demonstrator have just arrived and show promising results. Given the fact that such a system requires the coming together of several technical disciplines and that the ESRs had no previous experience, this result is very impressive, he concludes.