On Monday, Samsung made a big news splash with the revelation it has successfully tested a “5G” network in its labs, delivering a 1 Gbps connection over airwaves that were previously useless for mobile communications.
From what few details Samsung has released about the tests, the feat sounds impressive, and its adaptive array transceiver technology could very well make it into the future networks we’ll one day call 5G. But for Samsung to call its technology 5G today is very disingenuous. Quite frankly a huge global vendor vendor and researcher like Samsung should know better than to play so fast and loose with media and technology perceptions. Samsung is grubbing for headlines, and it appears to have succeeded. A search of Google News for “Samsung” and “5G” yielded 97 separate stories.
The fact is, 5G only exists as barest concept today. Groups like METIS have just started investigating the technologies and network architectures that will comprise 5G networks a decade down the road. There is certainly no standards-based definition of 5G, and anyone who claims other is frankly making crap up.
Yet we’ve been witnessing a growing number of companies and tech media outlets start tossing the term 5G about, just as we saw the industry warp the definition of 4G years ago and are seeing carriers abuse the term LTE-Advanced today. Samsung certainly isn’t the first or worst offender. Broadcom attached the term 5G to its 802.11ac Wi-Fi gear — which isn’t even a mobile cellular technology – over a year ago. But Samsung and the rest of the industry aren’t doing anyone any favors by adding to the confusion.
That said, Samsung appears to have done something impressive in these tests. Packing 1 Gbps into a millimeter-wave transmission (A minor technical point: Samsung calls it millimeter, but the 28 GHz Ka-band frequencies it uses straddles the millimeter and microwave bands) is nothing new. Backhaul specialists for years have been cramming loads of capacity into broad swathes of high-frequency spectrum. The problem is those frequencies have been useless for mobile communications because they have no range. Shorter wavelengths can’t propagate at the power levels used for cellular transmission.
Samsung, however, seems to have solved that problem by using a boatload of antennas – 64 to be exact. It’s the same principle behind the MIMO antennas used in our Wi-Fi routers and LTE phones: if instead of a single high-powered transmission, you send several low-power transmissions that reinforce one another, your signal will propagate farther. Samsung claims that by using this technique it’s produced a link in the 28 GHz band that can travel 2 km and deliver a connection speed of just over 1 Gbps.
If Samsung and the mobile industry can commercialize this technology for cellular, it could open up whole new hunks of spectrum for wide area network use. There are plenty of obstacles to making such technology viable, not the least of which is shoving 64 antennas into a mobile phone, but it’s a start.
So kudos to Samsung for pushing the bounds of wireless technology, but shame on Samsung for conflating that accomplishment with its ridiculous pretensions to 5G. “Adaptive array transceiver” may not have the same ring on a press release as “5G”, but at least it’s honest.
Pinocchio image courtesy of Shutterstock user neven