As the race to 5G implementation is heating up, millimetre wave (mmWave) wireless frequencies have been receiving a lot of attention in the news. Plenty of US mobile network operators say they are using or considering it to deploy 5G. Achieving consistently strong mmWave connectivity is no easy technical feat, however. As Forbes journalist Patrick Moorhead states, “the industry is split between those who can do mmWave and those who cannot”.
mmWave has incredible potential for 5G, combining the rare duo of high bandwidth (faster connections) and low latency (less lag). Not only can mmWave achieve data transfer speeds of up to 100 times faster than a typical 4G connection, but it can power a vast range of applications which depend on fast, reliable, delay-free connectivity, from VR gaming to connected factories.
But as with any new technology, with more publicity comes more confusion. How does this technology actually work? And does it work?
At Blu Wireless, we’ve been developing mmWave technology for over a decade, so we’ve heard every possible fib, doubt and misconception about mmWave in our time. If you’re interested to find out the facts behind the fiction, here are our responses to some of the biggest and most controversial questions people inside and outside the wireless industry are asking about mmWave.
If mmWave can only travel short distances, how can it be reliable?
As the name suggests, mmWave is an extremely short wavelength. If there is less distance to travel, this means a much higher connectivity speed can be achieved.
The presumed downside of the rapid data transfer rates mmWave enables is the short distance mmWave technology can travel. The furthest mmWave can travel is a few metres.
The reality is that, though the same laws of physics apply to all types of radio, wavelength does play a part.
mmWave can be used for very high throughput at short range indoors with tiny antennas. For longer ranges, a bigger antenna is needed to intercept more of the transmitted energy – an antenna the size of a credit card can deliver range of more than a kilometre and an antenna the size of a small dish a range of many kilometres. At some frequencies, natural absorption by molecules in the air can be used to keep the range short, avoiding interference between systems.
mmWave augments existing connectivity infrastructure through a network of many small cells. The combined coverage of these many small cells ensures a reliable connection. These low-powered radio access points create 5G hotspots that provide a powerful boost of connectivity with all the advantages of mmWave, such as incredible speed and very low latency.
Installing hundreds of small cells must take a long time. How long does a mmWave network take to deploy?
mmWave equipment is sophisticated and heavy, requiring precise mechanical alignment and expert configuration.
Blu Wireless have been developing mmWave technology for over a decade, including electronically steered phased-array antennas, automated link adaptation and configuration. This allows us to design equipment that is small, light, uses little power and requires no alignment. In our experience, it only takes about 15 minutes on average to install one mmWave small cell unit – that’s around half a day’s work for a whole street in an urban area.
mmWave can provide fibre-level speed and reliability, but the key difference between mmWave and fibre is the implementation. Fibre deployment requires extensive planning and considerable disruption according to Google Fiber, with streets dug up and closed down for at least a week at a time per road. mmWave units, by contrast, can be installed in minutes on existing roadside infrastructure, such as lampposts without the expense of digging up roads.
I’ve heard mmWave gets blocked by physical objects. Is that true?
A common misconception about how mmWave works is that it needs line of sight to function and that any physical object that gets in the way of the signal will block the connectivity.
This one is actually true: almost any object in the line of sight between mmWave small cells, permanent or temporary, will block the link between those two cells. However, the cells are so small and have so much capacity that they can be deployed in meshes with self-organising technology that can simply re-route traffic around a blockage via neighbouring links.
If a wall or a door is in the way of a mmWave signal, this will reduce how far it can travel. That is why mmWave specialists have been working for many years to perfect self-organising network technologies. Now, when correctly set up by an expert, a mmWave signal can bend to avoid obstacles when needed and recalibrate to find the best route for the connection to pass through.
Is mmWave a health risk?
mmWave technology uses high-frequency waves to achieve fast connectivity. For some, there has been confusion around what high frequency really means in this case. Concerns around the safety of the technology have been expressed – is exposure to mmWave technology safe if much higher frequency waves are being used?
Radio-Frequency radiation, including mmWave, is in the non-ionising part of the electromagnetic spectrum that extends to sunlight and beyond. Safe limits for levels of exposure are recommended by The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The Commission is established as an independent and neutral scientific commission, which writes its guidance and recommendations on the basis of established scientific principles only. The Commission’s recommendations cover all frequencies of radio in use today, including mmWave, meaning that there are no health risks associated with exposure to this technology.
Interested in finding out more about the benefits of 5G mmWave and what it could do for your organisation? Get in touch today to find out how our ultra-fast and reliable connectivity solutions can power your innovation projects.