Every wireless engineer learns how modern spread spectrum modulation evolved from work by the legendary movie star and inventor Hedy Lamarr. But where is wireless networking headed? A recent announcement by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) may provide the wireless community with a peek into the future.
Regardless of your opinion on the viability of technologies like LTE-U, TLPS, and WiFi offloading, everyone can agree that pretty much all wireless communications niches are thirsty for spectrum these days. Thankfully, there is hope beyond the typical headline buzz surrounding controversial plans by competing technologies to elbow each other out on existing spectrum. This is where the NIST comes in.
NIST is a both a federal agency and a physical sciences lab generally specializing in precision measurement. The work produced by NIST’s various programs become catalysts for new technologies. NIST has just formed an alliance with industry bigwigs including Qualcomm, Intel, Nokia, Huawei, and others along with the Federal Communications Commission, the IEEE, and a several universities to begin studying how signals behave in a couple of “millimeter wavelength” bands.
Specifically, this group (which expects its membership to grow) will study spectrum in areas that have never been examined in the range of 28-38 GHz and 70-90 GHz. Though discreet frequencies in these ranges are in use today -- such as 80 GHz for licensed point-to-point links -- there is a lot of undiscovered RF behavior within these ranges.
Calling itself the 5G mmWave Channel Model Alliance, the group has its work cut out. With a primary goal of conducting 3D channel modelling of the new frequencies, the group is up against the fact that tools capable of measuring in this space don’t yet exist.
Before the actual analysis signals behavior can occur, the alliance will first have to define exactly how it will conduct raw data measurements in key usage scenarios. The alliance also plans to define measurement, calibration and modeling techniques, and how its eventual modelled findings will be fed to standards groups for the development of new wireless communications technologies.
The main differentiator between the 5G mmWave Channel Model Alliance and other individual organizations (like Intel and New York University among many others) that are doing research on frequencies above 6 GHz is that the alliance hopes to comprehensively study the target spectrum more methodically than any group doing single-frequency, specific technology research. Through the alliance framework, NIST aspires to build a repository of important data contributed by all members, with each having various specialties.
The payoff should be less research overlap and a body of common knowledge that any member can leverage for faster development time on new cellular technologies in the new frequency ranges. This is refreshing given the often cutthroat competition that pervades the wireless industry.