The mmWave spectrum: An opportunity for key applications

All generations of mobile connectivity are based on standards developed by the industry itself. The emerging 5GNR (5G New Radio) standards, which build on the success of 4G LTE with additional features to allow more efficient access to low, mid and high band spectrum – from UHF (700 MHz) to millimetre wave (up to 40 GHz).

5GNR technology can interoperate with existing licenced mobile standards as codified by the 3GPP organisation. Existing wireless technologies have been improved to exploit newly released licence-exempt mmWave spectrum at 57-71 GHz to provide gigabit grade performance.

What is the mmWave spectrum?

The mmWave spectrum refers to a vast range of frequencies between 24GHz and 100GHz. These short wavelength frequencies can offer high-speed wireless connections because they can carry more data and the data being transferred has less distance to travel, drastically improving latency. The increased bandwidth of 5G networks, especially in the mmWave bands, can offer huge potential for a whole range of new applications that have not been possible up until now. Applications within Smart Cities, Defence, High-Speed Transport, Manufacturing, Ports and Airports can benefit in particular from deploying 5G mmWave networks.

Unlicenced vs licenced spectrum

Traditional 3GPP frequency bands are used by mobile communications devices and are subdivided and licenced by regulatory bodies, such as Ofcom in the UK or the FCC in the US on an exclusive basis to mobile operators. Within that band, only that licensed operator has the right to transmit their service, which gives them a greater amount of power and control. They can typically transmit at much higher radio power levels from the base station to achieve a larger coverage area and control access to that part of the spectrum and as such licenced spectrum is a significant commercial asset to guarantee service for their customers.

In contrast, unlicenced mmWave spectrum is freely available to all users in the market without having to pay any licence fees. This is not unusual – both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi use unlicenced spectrum at 2.4 and 5.8 GHz for instance. There is a much wider mmWave licence-exempt frequency band, defined as 57-71 GHz, giving customers the ability to operate within an impressive 14 GHz of spectrum. This is the single biggest block of continuous spectrum available to date and orders of magnitude larger than the current technology on the market. Additionally, regulations for unlicensed operation from FCC, OFCOM and CEPT limit the radio transmission power levels, and with its shorter range and line of sight nature of propagation achieves extremely low interference levels.

5G mmWave delivers the necessary level of control and throughput for key applications

Customers wanting private or closed networks for applications such as factories, ports, railway lines, or airports will favour the use of private networks. A private network offers greater control over performance, parameters and access which benefit from being managed in-house rather than being dependent on a third party such as a mobile operator. The primary benefit is that businesses don’t have to get a licence from the government and are free to build a network within their own boundaries.

To create a gigabit grade network with high performance a large amount of spectrum at low frequencies is needed, which is expensive. By using licence-exempt mmWave spectrum, not only can customers control their own system, they can also access a very high-capacity equipment to exploit that spectrum. The deployment of small cells, particularly 5GNR radios, complements this system well as they increase the capacity towards mobile users for their data usage.

In dense urban environments, it can often be difficult to provide access from the small cell to the core network for internet connectivity. Similarly, large sites such as ports won’t have existing public network coverage available and need more control over their network than mobile operators can provide. While a fibre connection can be a solution to address both these challenges it is not always available or commercially feasible. However, unlicenced mmWave equipment can provide a high-speed wireless connection from each small cell back to the core network, which speeds up the deployment of 5G by reducing the time and cost of deploying where fibre isn’t an option.

To find out more about our mmWave technology and how it can be used for 5G networks, get in touch.