If the predictions come true, 2021 will be the year of 5G. But as 5G traffic grows on conventional cellular technologies, it will be difficult to handle the growing demand. After all, there is only a lot of bandwidth at our disposal. There are many key elements that today’s cellular bandwidth lacks are limiting the number of users and data rates which can be easily handled by wireless systems.
COVID-19 has further increased the demand for bandwidth, with more work being done online in addition to entertainment and communications. So how can 5G networks send more signals on existing bandwidth? That’s the real question for the majority of 5G companies and beamforming antennas comes on top of the lists in this regard.
These antennas send a range of signals to varying locations over the same frequency simultaneously. Currently, many companies are using design strategies that leverage Ansys HFSS to create antennas for cellular base stations to increase signal coverage and strength without increasing the installation and maintenance costs. This approach is more affordable than anything else.
5G Speed & Range
The fifth-generation cellular communication technology can operate in the millimetre wave. This frequency spectrum ranges from 24 GHz to 100 GHz. This increases the amount of spectrum available for data transfers on a fifth-generation network.
These networks will also increase the use of MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antenna arrays and rely on advanced beamforming technology. As a result, signals will transmit to end-users more directly as compared to the previous networks.
5th Generation technology also relies on ‘networking slicing’ that enables multiple networks to run on a common infrastructure where resources are partitioned as per the service or application being delivered. This is different from networking splicing, which joins two or more network slices for seamless service delivery. All this (and more) enables 5G companies to provide unprecedented speeds (up to 7 Gbps in some speed trials).
The rapid increase in speed coincides with a decrease in latency. This combination of factors is what’s needed to power automation and virtual technologies that require instant communication. Currently, 4G networks experience latency of around 20 milliseconds (ms). But it can drop to 1 ms with the adoption of the newest networks.
For higher speeds, end-users have to be within a limited range (a 500-metre range from the tower in mmWave). Fibre optic cables, on the other hand, can enable signals over 4 miles. These can be further obstructed by barriers, severely limiting the range potential. This has to be accounted for when designing networks for end-users. The most obvious solution is to invest heavily in MIMO antenna arrays to expedite 5th Gen deployment.
Designing HBF Antennas for Base Stations
3G and 4G LTE technologies cram signals on the existing bandwidth when there is increased demand. This happens by splitting the signal into smaller pulses as the frequencies are divided into segments. But this cannot continue for long. Ultimately, existing bandwidth will reach its maximum potential.
Holographic beamforming (HBF) antennas enable signals to pass through physical spaces, i.e., the highly directional antennas enable cells in two locations to use the same frequency simultaneously without conflating.
The use of variable capacitors and electronic components make these HBF antennas more affordable than their alternatives. Other companies that design antennas try to design devices by optimising factors like:
- Power (C-SWaP)
The mode of operation thus far has been developing prototypes, testing for flaws, improving the design, and manual integration. But the method is tough and time-consuming. But using HFSS has changed the game. This allows the 5G companies to design improved solutions using parametric studies. It enables 5G innovation and network design with Multiphysics analysis. Many companies have optimised factors like roll-off by inputting parameter values and simulations to see how each parameter affects the performance of a specific factor.
Other Ways to Boost Signals over Existing Bandwidth
Limited signal range may be a shortfall in Gen 5 technology. But this is one of those roadblocks that 5G companies can overcome with both investment and ingenuity. For instance, there is now a trend towards more flexible architectures in 5G. This allows the cellular base station to break down into new logical elements. As a result, the network can be deployed flexibly using the available bandwidth. Other alternatives to traditional cell towers include small cell technology.
As already mentioned, the shift to higher frequencies and behaviour of radio mmWave signals is one of the major challenges of 5G adoption. This results in shorter range as well as a further hindrance from obstructions like trees and buildings. The signals are also at danger from the elements, especially rain and humidity.
Simply relying on more antennas and networking slicing and splicing is not sufficient. There are also many environmental factors to be addressed. Apart from the deployment costs, antenna arrays also require ongoing maintenance and repairs. All this adds to the cost of deployment, rendering any economies of scale expected from 5G networks ineffective. And this cost will be transferred to the end-user, preventing widespread adoption.
Concepts like beams break down the coverage into much smaller units, which is considered as a distinguished improvement over older technology. The challenge is to coordinate and configure the smaller units while maintaining capacity and optimal usage.
Some providers are investing in antenna deployment to bridge the gap between old and new technologies. This can spawn competition and cost-cutting among providers in the deployment stages. Finally, providers should also focus on the overall quality of experience (QoE), as some applications require lower bandwidth as well. And let’s not ignore the role of fibre optic cables in offering a better internet experience in the years to come.