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Architecture for What You Can’t Build

November 24, 2014

Hey, anyone up for doing a bunch of research on something doesn’t exist?  In tech, that’s the norm.

Ericsson and IBM have announced a collaboration to jointly research phased-array antenna designs for 5G, which might prove interesting as nothing has yet been agreed on what 5G might involve.

Crucially for this work, nobody’s yet decided what frequencies 5G will operate on – although Ericsson has previously said it’s looking for 500MHz of contiguous spectrum at above 6GHz and that the technology will be an evolution of LTE.

Hey, what the heck.  Just because nobody knows what it is, doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about what it could be.  To the point, wireless has always had to balance three factors: number of connections, bandwidth to the connection, and physical distance of the connection.  Most of the time, the number was fixes, and the distance was defined by where you could stick a tower, so it all came down to the bandwidth.  Which means that the bandwidth always suffered.

For the future, I expect that the big change will be, as the article states, directional antennas.  The implication is that micro-cells can be installed to focus on very set areas, with rapid hops from cell to cell.  In really population-dense areas, this could mean a cell every quarter mile or maybe less.  In this way, the bandwidth can be significantly increased, even over what you’d normally see with that much spectrum available.

Of course, radios that have to operate at this frequency will have to be completely redesigned.  If you ever experienced frustration with the battery life on 4G phones… the radios were not significantly changed from the 3G, but the frequency was increased.  That killed battery life as fast as the expanded screens did.  So whatever happens for the next generation, we’d better hope that some good analog engineers are available to do some power saving.

But anyway, this is cool, and it promises to advance connectivity to be even better as time goes on.  The change in the world in the last couple decades continues to astound me.  I can’t wait for technology to completely pass me by, if it hasn’t already.

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