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Mobilizing millimeter wave: A Q&A with Anokiwave

Power consumption key concern for millimeter wave

Going into 2019, there’s significant momentum around 5G at millimeter wave frequencies. In the U.S. Verizon and AT&T are launching initial 5G services using the high-band frequencies and regulators are set to auction of key spectrum licenses in millimeter wave frequencies beginning Nov. 14. And that’s just one of a numerous millimeter wave auctions planned in 2019.

Here we discuss the outlook for millimeter wave with Alastair Upton, senior vice president of business development for Anokiwave, a fabless semiconductor firm focused on silicon core IC and silicon front ends of millimeter wave products.

Q: Can you provide a snapshot of where we are today with millimeter wave?

A: “5G has arrived. I think that the proof point of that is Verizon has launched the fixed wireless access. AT&T is continuing to roll out in different cities. And T-Mobile is also working with several OEMs, suppliers and it’s really the U.S. that’s leading the charge on 5G. And in the U.S. the network operators predominantly use the high-band, which is the millimeter wave, for 5G. This obviously gives the widest bandwidth and will be used where the data speeds are needed the most. The FCC is leading the way in opening up new spectrum…which we believe will accelerate the adoption of millimeter wave. As a market leader in silicon ICs for millimeter wave 5G antennas, we continue to aggressively execute on the technology needed. From a top level, it’s exciting that we’ve started but this is a long journey and there are technical and economical challenges to be solved.”

Q: How would you compare the perception of millimeter wave as a mobility use case two or three years ago to the reality we’re seeing today?

A: “There’s been some recent reports and read outs in several forums about the results of the trials that were done. In general, people are thinking that millimeter wave is far superior than they first thought. There were some concerns with blockage issues…and it turns out it’s not as bad as people thought. Verizon is going to continue to push that fixed wireless access model in addition to the mobile, but it’s really the mobile people are getting excited about. The trials have gone well. Ericsson and Samsung and Nokia now have infrastructure equipment…and then Qualcomm is pushing quite hard on the handset/UE side. We all see handsets beginning next year and that’s just going to accelerate. Really for us, I think 2019 is going to be a big year.”

Q: Do you see any gaps in the larger ecosystem? Do you think the networks, devices and everything else will line up to make this a success in 2019 and beyond?

A: “I think everything is in place. Obviously the software side of things is a fairly complex environment and how the 5G New Radio works alongside the existing core network. That work has been ongoing for several years…from a hardware perspective, we know that the big guys, Qualcomm has announced publicly. That really is the weakest link right now in the whole network, the handset availability. Initially it’s going to be somewhat limiting in the range, the power levels coming out. We see a very clear path to keep improving the handset, the chips.”

Q: You mentioned technical and economic challenges; can you expound on that

A: “One of the top things everybody is focusing on is improving the transmit power efficiency. It really affects a lot of different things. It effects how big you make it, how much thermal management you have, it’s really a first order impact. We’re coming out with better and better efficiency.  It’s a bit of a challenge b/c these data rates push a higher order of modulation. But it’s not as conducive to linear efficiency. There’s a lot of work.”

Upton said Anokiwave recently modeled total power consumption for a typical 5G network and saw 2.65 Terrawatt hours of annual energy usage, which he said is 63% of the output of the Hoover Dam. “looking at the network operators operator expenses, we’ve spent a lot of time on dynamically adjusting power consumption at the antenna. The industry has to do something about this.”

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