It is no secret that one of the biggest barriers to entry for mmWave 5G is a physical one. The frequencies used have both a more limited range than previous mobile generations and are more easily blocked by physical objects. Some in the industry have asked, why bother? The answer is that the benefits of super high speed, high-capacity mobile data are too great to ignore, and as a result finding ways to navigate the difficulties is key. A recent report from analyst house Dell’Oro stated “we still believe the technology will play a crucial role in the long-term capacity roadmap”. Therefore, it is crucial that as an industry we continue to innovate and push the capabilities of technology in order to reap the potential benefits mmWave 5G has to offer.
Form factor as the X factor
We’ve spoken before about how we at ALCAN Systems are focusing on developing solutions to address this particular problem and we have seen great success with our demonstrations over the last year. However, it is not enough to develop equipment to solve the challenges. The solution has to take into consideration practicalities of real-world deployments and this is where form factor is critical. Let’s look specifically at indoor coverage and Customer Premisis Equipment (CPE) solutions.
Overcoming the challenges of delivering indoor coverage will be a big leap forward in terms of allowing mmWave 5G to see commercial success. With an increasing number of potential use cases poised to benefit from super-fast, super high capacity mmWave 5G developing solutions to deliver indoor coverage a must for the industry. However, the form factor of those solutions is more important than ever before. A solution that has a significant visual impact, regardless of how effectively it delivers indoor coverage, will not allow mmWave 5G to reach its potential. Users both consumer and businesses are not prepared to compromise to achieve coverage and so designing a solution, needs to take this into account and deliver both the technology to see mmWave thrive, with a form factor suitable for wide scale adoption.
Installation as the keystone of mmWave 5G adoption
To address the form factor challenge we have a big focus on developing transparent CPE equipment. This is an antenna that fits to a window with minimal visual impact. Light can still penetrate through, and it is possible to see through the antenna without the view being significantly obscured. At ALCAN, we know that this is not a marketing ploy or a neat demo that ultimately will never see widespread roll out. Instead, this will be the keystone of mass mmWave 5G adoption for indoor use cases. It offers the benefits of being easy to install and does not have a significant visual impact that makes the solution unappealing to the end user. Indoor use cases will be a vital part of the commercial success of mmWave 5G and as a result finding a way to deliver indoor coverage without visual impact issues will ensure operators see the fastest possible ROI on mmWave 5G investment.
How does it work
The technology we have discussed makes use of the unique Liquid Crystal (LC) based phased array technology to allow transparency. This can be added to existing windows with a discreet CPE unit. Also, because the solution uses liquid crystal, which is controlled by an electromagnetic field, this can change the direction of the received or transmitted beam without needing to physically turn the antenna for maximum performance. The solution is specifically designed for windows made using low-emissivity (low-E) glass. This glass type is now standard or a regulatory requirement across several regions due to the energy efficiency savings it offers and as a result accounts for a significant proportion of windows worldwide. However, a double-glazing unit with low-E coating reduces the mmWave signals by 30 dB, meaning just 0.1% of the signal penetrates inside the building.
We have been able to successfully demonstrate a transparent antenna with beam steering capabilities that addresses head on the form factor challenges we discussed, operating at 28 GHz frequency and offering a viable answer to the issues that have the potential to hold back mmWave 5G adoption.
The industry has moved on in the last few years and the conversation around mmWave has progressed from ‘will it be part of the 5G eco system’, to ‘when will it be part of the 5G eco system’. We’re seeing momentum in a number of regions but the step from test bed to roll out will be challenging. It is only by ensuring that those working in the space push the boundaries to develop solutions suited to widespread adoption that we will see a smooth and successful journey to mmWave 5G and transparent technology will be at the heart of that.