AT&T and Nokia test DIRECTV Now streaming over 39GHz mm Wave “Airscale” Technology
AT&T has completed a lab test of streaming broadband fixed-wireless signals of its DIRECTV Now (Internet TV streaming service) over 39 GHz millimeter wave airwaves using Nokia’s AirScale technology. The test, which Nokia termed a global first, showed how high-frequency spectrum can support over-the-top service delivery. The trial was conducted at the AT&T Labs facility in Middletown, N.J.
“With this trial, we’re doing something that no other operator has done – regionally or globally,” Tom Keathley, SVP of wireless network architecture and design at AT&T, said in a statement. “We expect 39 GHz to be an important 5G band in the United States, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with Nokia to further advance 5G technology in this band.”
AT&T has stated plans to trial 5G services using the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, with the former offering better propagation characteristics, while the latter has more available resources. The carrier is set to pick up control of 39 GHz spectrum through its recently announced purchase of FiberTower.
AT&T earlier this year announced plans with Ericsson and Qualcomm to conduct interoperability testing and over-the-air trials based on what they expect to be 5G technical specifications and using millimeter wave spectrum bands. The companies said the tests will tap spectrum in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands in an effort to bolster their expectations for the 5G “New Radio” specifications being worked on by the Third Generation Partnership Project as part of the expected LTE Release 15 standard.
Both bands are also included in the Federal Communications Commission’s Spectrum Frontiers proceedings, which has the federal government looking to open up nearly 11 gigahertz of spectrum above the 24 GHz band in support of mobile telecom services. The 28 GHz band has been receiving more attention from operators, with Verizon Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile US, C Spire and U.S. Cellular all announcing use of the band for 5G network trials.
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Millimeter waves, also known as extremely high frequency (EHF), is a band of radio frequencies that is well suited for 5G networks. Compared to the frequencies below 5 GHz previously used by mobile devices, millimeter wave technology allows transmission on frequencies between 30 GHz and 300 GHz. These frequencies are called millimeter waves because they have wavelengths between 1 mm and 10 mm, while the wavelengths of the radio waves currently used by smartphones are mostly several dozen centimeters.
So far, only radar systems and satellites use millimeter waves. However, now some mobile network providers have also started using millimeter waves (for example, to transmit data between two fixed points, such as base stations). Nonetheless, the use of millimeter wave frequencies to connect mobile users to nearby base stations is an entirely new approach.
There are two ways to increase the speed of wireless data transmission: increase the spectrum utilization, or increase the spectrum bandwidth. Compared to the first approach, increasing the spectrum bandwidth is simpler and more direct. Without changing the spectrum utilization, increasing the available bandwidth several times over can increase data transmission speeds by a similar amount. The problem is that the commonly used frequencies below 5 GHz are already extremely crowded, so where can we find new spectrum resources? 5G’s use of millimeter waves uses the second of the two methods to increase transmission speeds.
Based on communication principles, the maximum signal bandwidth in wireless communication is about 5% of the carrier frequency. Therefore, the higher the carrier frequency, the greater the signal bandwidth. That’s why, among the millimeter-wave frequencies, 28 GHz and 60 GHz are the most promising frequencies for 5G. The 28 GHz band can provide an available spectrum bandwidth of up to 1 GHz, while each channel in the 60 GHz band can provide an available signal bandwidth of 2 GHz (a total available spectrum of 9 GHz divided between four channels).
Comparatively, the maximum carrier frequency of the 4G-LTE band, 2 GHz, provides an available spectrum bandwidth of only 100 MHz. Therefore, using millimeter wave frequencies can easily increase the spectrum bandwidth by a factor of 10, allowing for a massive increase in transmission speeds.
The use of millimeter waves has one major drawback. Millimeter waves are not capable of penetrating structures and other obstacles. Even leaves or rain can absorb these signals. This is also why 5G networks will have to adopt the small base station method to enhance traditional cell tower infrastructure.
Because millimeter waves have high frequencies and short wavelengths, the antennas used to receive them can be smaller, allowing for the construction of small base stations. We can predict that, in the future, 5G mobile communication will no longer depend on the construction of large-scale base stations, but rather many small base stations. This will allow 5G to cover peripheral areas not reached by large base stations.
Silicon Talks author Li Yirei said that the present 5G band plans adopted by major carriers use more traditional frequencies below 6 GHz to ensure signal coverage in open spaces, and use micro base stations with millimeter wave technology to provide ultra-fast data transmission indoors.
Using millimeter waves and other 5G technology, engineers hope that 5G networks will not only serve smartphone users, but also play a critical role in self-driving cars, VR, IoT, and other fields.
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