Sure, Sprint (s s) swill deploy LTE-Advanced in 2013, which has the capability to offer gigabit speeds on fixed networks, but Samsung is actually talking about ways we can get multi-gigabit networks on wireless. Speaking at the Texas Wireless summit, Jerry Pi, a researcher with Samsung, showed how we can use millimeter wave spectrum to deliver up to 5.5 gigabit per second wireless connections.
While, Pi declined to say how far off something like this is, Ted Rappaport, director of the Wireless Networking and Communications Group with the University of Texas and the host of the conference said he imagined this sort of technology being about 5 years out. Indeed, Pi showed ways that a test network using millimeter wave broadband could be built today. Of course, to build a fully functioning mobile broadband network, many elements have to come together–some of which are out of Samsung’s control.
For example, the airwaves have to be available in the millimeter wave band, which sits between 3 GHz and 300 GHz. Pi estimates there are 250 gigahertz of spectrum available in these bands, and some of them are already licensed for broadband services. For example, the FCC has regulated spectrum in the LMDS band for fixed wireless broadband, but a change to allow mobile wireless broadband might be easy to implement.
Once the spectrum is in place, radios can follow. There have been plenty of advancements in radio technology in some of the millimeter wave bands, that means radios can be produced cheaply using conventional semiconductor manufacturing methods and materials. But there are engineering challenges associated with building a wireless network in the higher frequencies–problems posed by water, trees and oxygen.
Because of the peculiarities of physics and working at higher frequencies building a network using higher frequencies will require news ways of engineering networks. They may alos require greater power consumption, both on the device and at the base station. At higher frequencies the spectrum tends to falter when it hits water, sometimes oxygen molecules and trees, not to mention buildings and walls. Pi says Samsung is looking at using beam-forming to deliver bits over that spectrum, and large portions of his presentation dealt with how those might be built and arrayed. Here’s an earlier version of his presentation for the truly nerdy.
However, the rewards of overcoming these challenges in a cost effective way are apparent. As the chart above illustrates, the opportunity here is to deliver multiple gigabits per second on wireless networks (see chart). Mobile broadband demand won’t abate anytime soon, so figuring out ways to deliver faster speeds on relatively unoccupied spectrum is already an imperative for the industry. Pi mentioned the gap that carriers face when it comes to delivering data, and how a lack of profitability could threaten the industry.
Pi however, took a far more practical and innovation-friendly view on the looming revenue gap for carriers, saying, “Don’t expect you can make a thousand times more money just by carrying a thousand times more traffic.” Indeed, the cellular industry doesn’t follow the same cost curve that Moore’s Law has allowed for computing, but given user demand, it may have to get closer. Millimeter broadband may help.