The 600+ seat auditorium at the Beijing International Convention Center was the setting for the plenary session at EDI CON 2014 last month as attendees gathered to hear from this year’s keynote speakers. The opening program, featuring invited dignitaries from Chinese government research institutions, academia and industry, provided a range of perspectives on the direction of telecommunications and the underlying requirements for future hardware and architectures. Central to these talks was the topic of where mobile communications will be at the end of this decade, a theme we are exploring in this month’s cover feature. All projections from current trends show continued exponential growth in data delivery leading to 1 gigabyte of personalized data per user per day by 2020.

This 1000 times increase in capacity is coupled with calls to lower energy usage as part of a green initiative to reduce global warming and to cut operating costs for carriers that have seen demand and profitability move in opposite directions. These system requirements (more capacity, speed and coverage; less consumed energy and operating costs) fall under the 5G umbrella as presented by speakers from China Mobile Research, Agilent Technologies, National Instruments and Rohde & Schwarz.

Every section of the physical layer in the mobile communication pathway is being investigated for ways to increase data throughput, which in turn impacts requirements for electronic devices, passive components, antenna systems and everything in between. Professor Junde Song, chair of the EDA/CAD department at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and a consultant to the Chinese government on telecommunications, set the stage for attendees with a look at the massive communications requirements behind providing mobile internet access to a market of 1.5 billion users. From the carrier perspective, R&D director Corbett Rowell presented the challenge of 5G as it is being investigated and conceptualized by China Mobile Research.

China Mobile is focused on rethinking five main areas to improve networks by 1000×. These areas are 1. Signaling; 2. Radio design; 3. Antennas; 4. Shannon (impacts capacity through spectral efficiency and modulation methods); and 5. Ring & Young (cell configurations). In particular to Rowell’s own area of expertise and the interests of the RF/microwave engineers in the audience, he spoke of the need for large scale antenna systems (LSAS) employing RFIC-enabled active antenna arrays to support more efficient (greater capacity, lower power consumption) beam steering techniques. This message is certainly in line with our cover feature this month. At the radio level, China Mobile is investigating cell level rather than link level full duplexing (same time/same frequency) to double capacity. The topic of cell configurations covers all the implementation challenges behind small cell and
HetNet architectures and hardware.

Corbett Rowell of China Mobile explained to the EDI CON audience that the principle interest in 5G for China’s leading carrier is not capacity but rather energy savings. The current power consumption by China Mobile’s Network is currently greater than the amount used by the county of Taiwan (annually). The goal of 5G is to reduce that by 90%.

The question of why we need 5G performance was addressed by James Kimery of National Instruments. Kimery is deeply involved in the activities of universities and consortiums grappling with the future of wireless technology, from identifying how telecommunication systems can be improved to how they can better serve humanity. Starting with the baseline requirement that 5G deliver 1 Gbps data rates in both the uplink and downlink, Kimery reinforced the notion of three key drivers calling for 5G performance: 1. communcation speed, 2. duration (lower power consumption) and 3. real-time control.

With regard to the third driver, researchers see great opportunities in large distance remote real-time control if current latencies in wireless systems can be reduced by orders of magnitude. Such applications are the focus of over 20 research institutes in partnership with industry. Kimery, who has authored articles on the subject for Microwave Journal recently, helped inform this audience in Beijing about the global research efforts and will hopefully help establish connections between the institutions pursuing 5G R&D in North America and Europe with their counterparts in Asia.

Test and measurement equipment manufacturers are always at the forefront of any new technical revolution and that is certainly the case for Agilent Technologies and Rohde & Schwarz, who were represented by Mario Narduzzi and Josef Wolf, respectively, as keynote speakers discussing the emerging challenges for high frequency electronic designers developing the hardware for 5G. In addition to the challenges of working at higher frequencies and significantly broader bandwidths, engineers will need to operate in multiple domains as digital and RF technologies further combine to improve spectral efficiency, MIMO techniques and a host of other technologies being pursued to achieve 1000× data rates.

In addition to the new, more capable test instruments being made available to engineers, there will be a need for greater technical support and expertise offered by industry. The plenary session at EDI CON provided the “what and why” of tomorrow’s 5G world. The conference, workshops, panels and exhibition provided the how. Now we look to continue the conversation in Tampa.