PARTNER CONTENT: The past two years have brought great progress in the deployment of commercial 5G networks, but to-date most services have yet to make full use of the full potential of the technology.

This situation is beginning to change as operators increasingly upgrade to standalone (SA) 5G and adopt the use of millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum. In fact, mmWave frequencies in the 24GHz to 41GHz bands are well-suited to realize the vision for the latest generation mobile tech.

Following high-profile mmWave deployments by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon in the US, Japanese operators NTT Docomo, KDDI and Rakuten have also launched commercial networks, as well as SingTel in Singapore and FastWeb in Italy.

Indeed, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association counts more than 120 operators spanning over 40 countries and territories that had committed investments to 5G mmWave networks by mid-2020, a majority of which (~100) were already in possession of operating licences.

Whether at the planning, testing or commercial stage, operators are keen to cash in on a range of advantages mmWave holds over other 5G-suitable frequencies.

Revenue potential
The large bandwidth available in mmWave frequencies provides operators with a path to deliver Gigabit data rates and significantly enhance network capacity – all of which opens new business opportunities.

Overall, use cases for mmWave 5G can be divided into three main scenarios: hotspots in indoor and outdoor transport hubs, venues and dense urban areas; industrial and enterprise settings; and fixed wireless access (FWA) services spanning homes and commercial buildings. FWA offers a clear business case in boosting internet access in areas which are either hard to reach or uneconomical to cover with fibre networks.

For the Industrial internet alongside broader consumer uses, the ultra-low latency offered by mmWave is a clear benefit. The technology can deliver a minimum air-interface slot interval of 0.125 milliseconds, around a quarter of the range achievable in low- and medium-frequency 5G deployments.

This reduced mmWave latency benefits new operator offerings involving service level agreements: the slot interval will enable them to guarantee a sub-1 millisecond latency. This can support the ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC) required in industrial applications such as precision manufacturing, warehousing and logistics operations. In addition to industrial use cases, URLLC can be employed by operators in areas including AR and VR, cloud gaming, and cloud-assisted real-time computing.

It is likely deployments in hubs, venues and dense urban areas will grab the most headlines in mainstream press, though. The technology lends itself to enhancing experiences in sporting or cultural venues, for example by using AR to deliver virtual tours of museums or augmenting sporting events with additional statistics and other content. There are also solid business uses cases, with the potential to enhance teleconferences, something which may garner even more interest following Covid-19 (coronavirus) lockdowns.

In action
The 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing is set to be a forerunner in terms of providing an indication of the potential use cases for mmWave 5G. The organising committee of the event has already specified new technical requirements for communication and support services involving broad audience reach, the needs of broadcasters, and connecting both the organisers and participants in the games.

It will prove a thorough test of the technology’s capabilities, with complex and diverse scenarios including the need for a large amount of network capacity in indoor and outdoor locations.

The organising committee selected China Unicom as its telecoms service partner for the event, with the operator making mmWave a cornerstone of its communication plans and, in turn, delivering a key public demonstration of the technology’s capabilities, which is expected to pave the way for large-scale commercialisation along with stimulating the supply chain in China.

Ecosystem maturity
Such stimulus are essential in scaling adoption of mmWave 5G across people, businesses and industry organizations.

The market for network and end-customer mmWave 5G equipment, be this smartphones or industrial devices, is already reaching maturity, with major OEMs and infrastructure vendors already offering product solutions along broad operator support in terms of planned or actual commercial launches.

Moving forward, is now somewhat in the hands of governments and industry organizations to deliver policies which will further support 5G mmWave deployment, along with industrial strategies to ensure coordinated development.

More information is available in the GSMA report “mmWave 5G: Its crucial role in the 5G commercial journey”, available for download here.