The 5G cellular standard promises to deliver higher speeds, higher capacity, and lower latency than previous cellular standards—enabling innovative new applications, ranging from high-definition 3D/8K video streaming, to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), to autonomous vehicles. In fact, according to Qualcomm, by 2035, 5G could underpin up to USD 12.3 trillion worth of goods and services across a broad range of industries as diverse as agriculture, public safety, manufacturing, and more.
Exciting opportunities await for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) looking to take advantage of 5G. Before diving into this brave new world, however, OEM business decision makers—product managers, project managers, and other executives—need to understand three important things about 5G product planning as they devise strategies to use 5G for new products that will transform their businesses.
The first and most important thing these business decision makers need to know as they begin planning a 5G product is that 5G isn’t just “one thing.” It’s actually three different but related technologies: 5G LPWA, 5G NR Sub-6, and 5G NR mmWave. Let’s take a closer look at these three types of 5G, starting with 5G LPWA.
Primarily intended for sensor and low-bandwidth, low-power monitoring applications, 5G Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) is an extension and evolution of the LPWA technologies used in 4G, including LTE-M and NB-IoT. Key benefits of 5G LPWA include increased coverage for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, higher device density, and reduced power consumption, which translates into extended battery (and device) life. For companies who are already using LTE-M or NB-IoT, upgrading to 5G LPWA can be accomplished via a simple firmware upgrade – no new hardware is needed – which makes for a seamless transition to this new cellular standard.
The second flavor of 5G—5G NR Sub-6—uses New Radio (NR) technology standard and offers many performance improvements over 4G. For example, with the Qualcomm SDX55 chip set, 5G NR sub-6 devices can transfer data at rates close to 5 Gigabytes per second (Gbps) in real world conditions, a rate double that of 4G LTE devices that use the same chipset, whose data transfer rates top out at around 2.5 Gbps for 4G LTE under the same conditions.
5G NR Sub-6 may require some new, dedicated 5G NR hardware (although some newer 4G hardware can support both 4G and 5G NR Sub-6). However, the frequency range used by 5G NR Sub-6 and its antenna design largely overlap with 4G LTE. Given this, it will be fairly easy for companies to migrate from 4G LTE to 5G NR Sub-6 in deployments worldwide. The net result for those who are considering moving to 5G NR Sub-6 is that higher performance is delivered in a familiar format.
The third flavor of 5G is 5G NR mmWave, which—like 5G NR Sub-6—is also based on the New Radio technology standard. But that’s where the similarities end.
5G NR mmWave is a significant departure from previous generations of cellular and is where many of the most impressive performance increases associated with 5G will come from. 5G NR mmWave operates in the recently opened millimeter wave range (hence the name mmWave), between 24 GHz and 40 GHz. Operating in this new range dramatically reduces latency, increasing application responsiveness. At the same time, it delivers data transfer rates as high or higher than 200 Gbps—a rate that is more than twice as fast as 5G NR Sub-6’s highest theoretical data transfer rate of 70 Gbps. It also provides much higher capacity, so that more users (and devices) can connect and be online at once and still have a high-quality experience.
It is these capabilities that will enable truly transformative new IoT applications, such as immersive AR and VR experiences, connected smart city infrastructure, and maybe even autonomous vehicles eventually. However, while there is plenty of upside with this cellular standard, 5G NR mmWave adds a new set of design considerations that business decision makers and their design teams need to keep in mind, which we will look at in more detail in the next section.
This is the second important thing they need to know when planning a 5G product: 5G NR mmWave comes with a unique set of requirements that need to be addressed as compared to the other versions of 5G. So, they should not expect their teams to upgrade their products to 5G NR mmWave within a week—it is not that simple. In fact, they are likely to find moving from 4G to 5G mmWave significantly more complicated than it was to migrate from 3G to 4G.
For example, the high-speed performance that 5G NR mmWave offers generates significant heat, which means that careful attention needs to be paid to the thermal design of any device that utilizes this high-speed standard. Similarly, a different power configuration is likely needed to provide the amount of power necessary to operate at these high speeds.
Other considerations for 5G NR mmWave center around the antenna and the connection ports. The higher frequencies used by 5G NR mmWave antennas makes them more susceptible to noise generated by other electronics in the system, so there’s special calibration that needs to take place—during design and during manufacturing—to optimize antenna transmission.
Also, another factor OEM business decision makers need to keep an eye on is the interface they are using for 5G NR mmWave products. While USB3 is a common interface for many 4G LTE systems, the PCI Express (PCIe) interface is much better for mmWave, offering higher speeds, increased stability, and a more reliable signal. Using the wrong interface might limit the performance of products that use 5G NR mmWave.
The 5G NR mmWave certification process presents another challenge to OEM business decision makers. Because 5G NR mmWave is still evolving, specific certification requirements aren’t always easy to obtain—and may very well be different from carrier to carrier.
The bottom line is that companies upgrading to 5G NR mmWave from a different cellular standard will likely require a major product redesign in order to meet its unique requirements—and business decision makers should be sure to plan accordingly.
The third thing business decision makers need to know if they are thinking about 5G for their next product is that security cannot be an afterthought. If security is not already a central part of their 5G product planning process, it needs to be.
With 5G sending more and more data across the network—and bringing exponentially more devices online—the risk of sensitive data being stolen due to a data breach is greater than ever before, despite the security technologies built into cellular wireless technologies. This added risk makes it all the more important for business decision makers to work with trusted wireless technology providers who understand these new vulnerabilities and are prepared to help them develop a robust, ever evolving security plan to manage them. After all, in today’s world, data is one of a company’s most valuable assets—and it deserves to be protected accordingly.
Given all of the above, OEM business decision makers can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed about where to start with their 5G product planning or how best to proceed.
Fortunately, Sierra Wireless provides a way forward. As an IoT pioneer, Sierra Wireless has a 25-year history of empowering businesses and industries to transform and thrive in the connected economy. We work in close cooperation with standards bodies, network operators, silicon providers, and other parties at the heart of 5G to stay on top of the different versions of 5G and to make meeting the requirements of 5G NR mmWave more manageable. We do this in several ways, from providing detailed thermal models of all our 5G NR mmWave modules to help engineers save time and effort before they start working with actual hardware, to providing technical assistance with antenna calibration.
Likewise, we can help OEM business decision makers navigate 5G security concerns. We’ve updated every aspect of our solution—not just the hardware modules—to reflect the added capabilities and risks of operating in 5G, and we take a multi-pronged approach to defense, with multiple security layers. This means quick, secure development of 5G products—brought to market on time and on budget.
By selecting the right partner, OEM business decision makers can prepare themselves and their teams to address the various challenges of developing a 5G product, giving their companies a powerful head start in the race to win in the rapidly growing market for 5G solutions.
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