5G and the Push for Pervasive Connectivity: Q&A with VDC Research’s Daniel Mandell

5G could be the next wave, but it will take more than new waveforms for it to create a splash.

VDC’s Daniel Mandell leads research services for IoT gateways, embedded processors and other computing hardware. Recently he shared insights on 5G.

Chris “C2” Ciufo: Perhaps we need a baseline first. What is VDC’s view of 5G?

Dan-MandellDaniel Mandell, VDC: We view 5G as the maturing integration of next-generation wireless communications technologies—both for hardware and software. The concept is still fresh with no particular specifications yet published by any telecommunications standards bodies. 5G will deliver exponential increases in data speed and bandwidth in addition to pervasive coverage/connectivity across environments. Basically, there is no market opportunity yet present for 5G hardware and it is very much still in the “science & testing” phase.

C2: The U.S. went from being behind in broadband mobile technology (when we were 3G, at best) to broad 4G/LTE penetration. Is there much of a need for U.S. carriers (and their consumers) to ratchet up the bandwidth—and CapEx—yet again?

Figure 1: Factors fueling 5G and potential impediments to implementation. Courtesy VDC Research Corporation.

Mandell: U.S. carriers absolutely need to start planning for the next wave of mobile connectivity now to support the deluge of connected devices currently pouring into the market [see Figure 1]. While not all of these devices will feature their own SIM cards or connect to carrier networks directly (unless supporting high-value/mission-critical applications or remote locations) they will be likely connecting to an intermediary gateway, which themselves will still require progressively more bandwidth to sufficiently send the appropriate data to the cloud (as most IoT solutions are adapting) and harness the full power of analytics. The exponential growth of data traffic over the next several years is further complicated by spectrum limitations that carriers are already dealing with today.

In fact, 53.9% of respondents from one of our recent embedded engineer surveys to large communications organizations (1,000+ employees) already agree that 5G technology is critical to their organization’s ability to adapt to IoT/M2M market demands.

C2: What are the core technologies needed to implement 5G?

Mandell: Software-defined radios (SDRs) are critical to rapid prototyping of base stations supporting the development of 5G technologies over the next 3-5 years. Many of these devices feature a programmable fabric/FPGAs. FPGAs, too, have grown in importance across the embedded landscape because of their configurability and ability to adapt to supporting different applications or workloads (plus the growing support from semiconductor vendors for facilitating their programmability). The merger of Intel-Altera is indicative of the growing importance of programmable logic for prototyping and developing future high-performance embedded systems.

Other technologies that will be critical to defining 5G technology will be massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) systems, millimeter wave (mmWave) wireless and the development of new waveforms optimizing packet size, latency and the like. Software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) will be just as critical to optimizing new and deployed embedded systems supporting communications applications. The evolution of communications infrastructures to support 5G will extend through several seemingly different and distinct technologies, but will be ultimately defined by the culmination of their integration.

C2: Who are the key embedded vendors with technology to bring to 5G?

Mandell: National Instruments has been aggressive in this area and has several test beds currently underway for various 5G technologies like MIMO on its own campus as well as a few other installations at different universities. Other companies to really keep an eye on include Intel (NI partner for 5G), Xilinx and Ericsson.

C2: Will 5G use the same core technologies—such as RapidIO and ATCA—as are used in 4G/LTE, or is there something new?

Mandell: We do anticipate a dramatic slowing of the ATCA market over the next five years, but it remains to be seen which non-proprietary bus architectures or form factors will be favored or required for these types of systems.

C2: Will 5G be just a speed increase, or is there a fundamental network architecture change to Mobile Edge Computing (MEC)-—as companies like ARM have postulated?

Mandell: The move to 5G will be as much a move towards pervasive connectivity (indoor and outdoor) as higher data rates and throughput. In short, the vast requirements/expectations for 5G will necessitate a fundamental network architecture change by carriers.

ciufo_chrisChris A. Ciufo is editor-in-chief for embedded content at Extension Media, which includes the EECatalog print and digital publications and website, Embedded Intel® Solutions, and other related blogs and embedded channels. He has 29 years of embedded technology experience, and has degrees in electrical engineering, and in materials science, emphasizing solid state physics. He can be reached at cciufo@extensionmedia.com

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