Is 5G really worth developing?
Is developing a 5G network viable in a world reeling from the effects of coronavirus?
The massive investment required to get 5G up and running is making a lot of people look closely at their budgets and the value of the technology, says Dr Ramsey Faragher, founder and CEO of Cambridge-based Focal Point Positioning.
The weight of 5G technology being added to masts is the first challenge, says the GPS expert, whose ‘supercorrelation’ technology dramatically improves GPS accuracy.
“The physical infrastructure in the ground will need to be changed if the masts are not strong enough to hold the 5G structures,” Dr Faragher notes. “5G can use five times the amount of power consumption than is used currently and is much heavier - not all existing masts can support those changes.”
The uncertainty comes as the first UK mobile operator switches on its 5G service, and 5G gaming platforms start up in the US. The main 5G markets are in Japan, South Korea and the US. But the technology is hugely controversial, with concerns about the increased exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) on one side set against those who say the risks are negligible. In the middle are those who suggest we have no reason to believe the technology is safe.
Another view is that 5G simply isn’t necessary. Dr Faragher says the William Webb book, The 5G Myth, “has been saying 5G isn’t needed basically”. Prof Webb’s argument is that 4G still hasn’t been fully utilised and should be before the costs of 5G become justifiable. Dr Faragher says improving efficiency is the solution.
“We’re trying to get to the bottom of how useful we can be for 5G,” he says. “The massive MIMO involved is very expensive.”
Multiple Input/Multiple Output - “MIMO” - refers to the use of multiple transmitters and receivers (multiple antennas) on wireless devices for improved performance.
“The equipment required to the masts is very heavy and uses a lot of power so the network operators are looking to lower costs and there is another method.
“Electronics beam steering is where the handset tells the mast where it is. The mast points a narrow beam to the phone and keeps it in use as you move. This method is cheaper in power terms and in the size of the masts required, as well as the amount of data processing required - but the device needs to be very accurate to tell the mast your location but this would involve lower costs and higher efficiency. We’re chipping away at this: speaking to people involved in the technology is important at this time.
“Traditional 4G sectoring uses three 120-degree beams to cover all of he directions around the mast.” In order to give you much higher bandwidths 5G “dedicates more of the frequency to you by only using a very narrow 20-degree beam - rather than 120 - and as you move around this beam needs to be steered to keep pointing at you. One way to enable this is for the phone to keep telling the mast exactly where it is - indoors or outside. So accurate positioning is very important.”
Focal Point Positioning was started in 2015 and has since successfully built two products based on supercorrelation: S-GPS and D-Tail. Both involve proprietary software-based improvements to existing technology by using GPS. S-GPS puts new software inside the GPS chip itself, and D-Tail provides its improvements outside the GPS chip, by combining data from other sensors with advanced models of movement. The company employs 28 people.
“We’ve been working very hard for five years filing the patents and building the software, and now it’s coming to fruition,” says Dr Faragher, whose company has been funded by venture capital thus far, with revenues from D-Tail and S-GPS commencing this year.
The company is “in the middle of negotiating a licensing deal with a major smartphone company, and has signed a deal with a major chip maker” which will include supercorrelation features in 2021 smartphones, thereby ensuring that those nagging issues of not being able to use your smartphone in busy areas or shops will soon be permanently eradicated.