In an increasingly connected world, the need for data and network capacity has become the driving force behind innovation in wireless technology. As the development of 5G technology progresses, connected systems will continue to gain in complexity and depend on each other. This increase in connectivity creates the challenge of improving wireless capability on all bands from less than 1 GHz to mmWave and beyond.
As engineering organizations strive to address the performance and bandwidth challenges associated with 5G, 6G research and development is well underway, promising new use cases. 2022 will prove to be a pivotal year for major wireless technology trends, including:
- Speed improvements over 4G thanks to the middle band
- The expansion of 5G applications
- Higher efficiency thanks to GaN and SiC technology
- Increased dynamism for open initiatives
- Continuous research networks managed by artificial intelligence (AI)
Speed improvements over 4G, enabled by the middle band
The 5G mmWave deployments were eagerly awaited, promising faster data rates than ever before. However, the rollout of 5G mmWave has been slower than initially expected. Additionally, high density areas experienced inconsistent performance in terms of speed, bandwidth, and latency. In 2022, we will continue to see operators (and the 5G ecosystem) prioritize investments in the middle of the band and take a less aggressive approach towards mmWave. While the midband doesn’t promise the dramatic increase in speed that mmWave has made, users will still have access to the incremental upgrades more widely available over 4G.
Additionally, early research into Sub-THz will continue as an enabling technology for 6G with the promise of even wider bandwidths. Researchers will need to demonstrate not only feasibility but also compelling new use cases to make it a priority for the industry.
The expansion of 5G applications
Although 5G coverage is growing, many consumers below 6 GHz do not experience an order of magnitude improvement over 4G performance. This is in part because for consumers 4G often offered sufficient performance and because 5G’s throughput improvements were primarily achieved through the elusive deployments of the mmWave network. However, with 5G, consumers aren’t the only target.
Going forward, carriers will continue to explore exciting new use cases for evolving technology. This will spark new applications beyond Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) as Version 16 features for Ultra-Reliable, Low Latency Communications (URLLC) are rolled out. URLLC will enable time-sensitive applications, some of the first of which will be seen in industrial IoT for factory automation like real-time robot control and AR / VR for maintenance and training. Combined with private networks, the URLLC enhancements in version 16 will allow enterprises to deploy extremely reliable and high performance networks.
Additionally, 5G-Advanced will become a hot topic as 3GPP kicks off work on version 18. Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) will continue to be a high priority for the transportation industry and crucial to enable autonomous vehicles.
Higher efficiency, powered by GaN and SiC technology
While the pursuit of more energy efficient front end RF performance has always been a goal for handset and infrastructure designs, we are now seeing a tipping point in new process technologies. Driven by a combination of improved cost and performance, we continue to see a shift from silicon (Si) to gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) in RF faceplates. This change will continue to help increase the energy efficiency of a myriad of devices. This will have a significant impact on the 5G infrastructure as power amplifiers are positively impacted by this innovation. Electronic devices themselves will also be affected by this trend and ultimately benefit from extended battery life.
Increased dynamism for open initiatives
The OpenRF Compliance Working Group released its first interoperability standard in December 2021. This is a critical step towards an ecosystem of open RF front-ends and 5G chipsets for 2022 and beyond. Establishing a development standard will help optimize configurations and specifications across the industry. Additionally, it will help manufacturers reduce costs, speed time to market, and take advantage of an improved supply chain across many mobile devices.
Additionally, pressure from operators and governments for an open RAN will continue to advance interoperability and production testing. Commercial deployments, however, will still be minimal in 2022 as members strive to gain more long-term design.
Continuous research networks managed by artificial intelligence (AI)
Wireless technology will have a significant impact on artificial intelligence (AI) applications this year. In this space, one of the most important innovations is a movement to make software simulation closer to real life. In 2021, Northwest University took a big step forward by demonstrating real-time control of a native artificial intelligence-based Open RAN cellular network. There are many benefits to developing AI-managed networks, including automation, optimized cloud architectures, increased security, and more. Progress in 2021 will allow researchers to collect large-scale datasets and perform experiments to make AI-driven networks closer to reality.
2022 will prove to be a pivotal year in wireless technology, where 5G and 6G innovations promise new levels of connectivity. The combination of performance improvements, the benefits of open standards and increased energy efficiency will exponentially increase the potential for new 5G enabled applications in 2022. As the industry continues to meet growing needs in data bandwidth and with the increase in the number of connected devices, the connection will span people, ideas and new innovative technologies.