Markt&Technik: 5G has developed into a real hype topic. Many industries are waiting for the practical implementation of the new communication standard. However, many people don’t seem to know what 5G actually is. In your opinion, what are the main aspects?
Dr. Joachim Peerlings: The main requirements for 5G are to increase bandwidth – and thus data throughput –, to reduce latency times and to achieve appropriate network coverage. In order to realize the fastest possible network expansion and to make partial use of existing infrastructure, 5G is implemented in two frequency ranges: in the sub 6 GHz range, in which LTE and 3G and 4G also operate, and in the millimeter wave (mmWave) range. In the low frequency bands, the implementation of 5G poses the challenge that the bandwidth used becomes higher overall and the modulation methods become more complex. However, there are more serious changes for the millimeter wave range, because the wave propagation here is fundamentally different from that at lower frequencies; a directional wave is needed to compensate for the high losses of the distances to be covered in mobile radio and to provide sufficient power between antenna and terminal device. This directional wave must be able to be tracked by the termination device. This means that you have a spatial and time dependent dynamic of the millimeter waves. In addition, millimeter waves have so far only been used in the military sector. The challenge now is to implement them in the commercial sector, and to be able to test them. A further challenge is that measurements, especially in the millimeter wave range, must now be performed wirelessly via the air interface, Over-the-Air (OTA), whereas up to now there was usually a wire connection between the terminal device and the measuring device.
You have been involved in the standardization from the beginning. Do you experience it as faster compared to previous standardizations for 2G, 3G and 4G?
Yes, there is a lot of interest in the industry to implement the standards as quickly as possible. In addition, there were different standards in each of the previous mobile phone implementations – even in different countries. There is only one standard worldwide for 5G. This is certainly an advantage. However, complexity comes from the fact that 5G coexists with 4G or LTE and you have implementations with low and high bandwidths.
Do you consider that the government regulation is sufficient?
The higher the regulation, the more effort this means for testing. And also the longer the standard will take. I think it’s more important to make best use of the things that are available and thus to drive the implementation of 5G. For us as a test and measurement equipment manufacturer, it is important that we make optimal use of state-of-the-art technology and the regulation so that the spread of 5G progresses as quickly as possible.
At the beginning of 2019, Germany’s Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Network Agency) intends to auction spectrum in the 2 GHz and 3.6 GHz frequency ranges for 5G. Parallel to the auction, further frequencies will also be offered for local and regional networks in the 3.7 GHz to 3.8 GHz and 26 GHz ranges. Do you think this is sufficient?
The question is, rather, how effectively can the approved frequency bands be used? No efficiency gains were achieved in the transition from 3G to 4G. Now – from 4G to 5G – new, more complex modulation methods are being used. More data throughput can be achieved with the same bandwidth. For this purpose, the existing bands must be used more effectively. For us as a test and measurement equipment manufacturer, it is important to achieve all options, which could be implemented, with the test coverage. By the way, this does not only apply to mobile radio test and measurement. Because: We are talking about 5G and wireless technologies, but 5G has, of course, also a big impact on the entire network structure. A mobile device connects to a base station, which forwards the data to a fixed network – in other words, a fiber optic network that ends in a data center or on servers. In order to truly take advantage of 5G, the entire communication path must be optimized. With 5G, we not only have a high dynamic in terms of the new technologies, but it also extends through the entire network.
So pure mobile radio testers are not sufficient?
5G as a technology can be measured with wireless testers, but to really use 5G as an industry, the entire industry must improve wireless networks on the one hand, and also the entire fiber optic infrastructure and data centers on the other hand. This is because the requirements, already mentioned, high bandwidth, short latency times and high coverage, run through the entire network structure – wireless and wireline. And, for the testing phases as well as for the time when 5G is implemented, it is important to test the network under stress – for security and for user experience. This is where devices that can emulate user behavior are important.
There is therefore a lot of future potential in 5G for you as a test and measurement equipment manufacturer...
The entire industry will benefit greatly from 5G – including the test and measurement equipment industry. This is because for test and measurement, 5G has a much greater impact, because it’s not just wireless technology that’s changing, but also the fiber optic and server industries. And once the networks are installed, other industries will develop through the use of 5G. For example, the automotive industry will use 5G for autonomous driving, and in general a lot of test and measurement equipment is needed for the entire vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication. In addition, a very broad industry is emerging around the topic Internet of Things (IoT) – in both the commercial and industrial sectors. Furthermore, aerospace and defense will also be using 5G. We will therefore see the impetus through the actual testing of 5G technology, but in the broader sense the various industries using 5G will also have a need for 5G test and measurement equipment.