The News: In case you missed it, Qualcomm recently unveiled some pretty important research milestones and innovations for advancing 5G. These came in the form of new and updated R&D over-the-air (OTA) test networks, prototypes, and system simulations, which highlight 5G’s transformative impact on a breadth of industries. They will also help advance 5G research and product development in six critical areas: 5G mmWave, wide-area 5G, C-V2X sidelink, Industry 4.0, extended reality (XR), and green networks.
These breakthroughs are especially relevant against the backdrop of Qualcomm’s 2021 Investor Day event held in NYC earlier this week, during which the technology giant outlined its expansive technology roadmap.
Part One of this series will consist of an overview of these technological breakthroughs while parts Two and Three will dive deeper into the specifics of these test beds and prototypes and the use cases they enable.
Qualcomm’s R&D Test Beds Showcase Exciting New Breakthroughs on the Path to 5G Advanced and Beyond in 5G mmWave, XR, C-V2X, and More – Part One
Analyst Take: Qualcomm’s Technology Roadmap Is Driven by R&D and Engineering Breakthroughs Like These
Fall and early winter typically produce a string of exciting product and technology announcements across the mobile industry, and this year is no different. But Qualcomm’s Investor Day 2021 presentations specifically made us dig through our notes to try and gauge where the company whose aim is to create an intelligently connected world is in terms of large scale breakthroughs, especially with regard to 5G Advanced, mmWave, XR, and V2X. Let’s take a look at some of Qualcomm’s latest innovations before the rest of the industry tries to catch up, and specifically at six separate categories of test networks, prototypes, and system simulations that I believe will play a significant role on accelerating 5G adoption across a wide range of applications and market segments:
1. Expanding mobile 5G mmWave deployments and applications. Qualcomm’s outdoor OTA test network in San Diego now supports simple and smart mmWave repeater prototypes that can be used to test line-of-sight and non-line-of-sight coverage extension, enhanced system reliability, and multiplexing efficiency. It also leverages Machine-Learning-based Beam Prediction, which improves 5G mmWave robustness and efficiency, increases usable capacity, and improves device battery life.
Qualcomm also adds Network Topology Optimization to the mix to simplify network planning with an ML-based approach exploring performance and cost tradeoffs with different topology options such as IABs and repeaters with different backhaul options. I also spot a useful mmWave IoT expansion thanks to 5G NR-Light in Rel-17, which reduces device complexity and power consumption, demonstrating how NR-Light devices (like wide-area surveillance cameras) can make efficient use of 5G network resources. Qualcomm also has a smart factory demo set up to show how mmWave can address the mission-critical requirements of a broad range of devices and services in a connected manufacturing environment, from smartphones and laptops to XR HUDS, camera sensors, and industrial automation controls. Overall, these demos help showcase how 5G mmWave technologies are evolving to improve network performance, deployment efficiency, and expanded use.
2. Strengthening wide-area 5G system foundation. Qualcomm Technologies’ latest wide-area 5G OTA test networks, prototypes, and system simulations illustrate new capabilities and efficiencies of the 5G system. The latest demonstrations are focused across five key wide area 5G research topics including subband half-duplex, wide-area 5G positioning, cross-node machine learning, 5G NR-Light evolution with sidelink, and 5G device disaggregation.
Let’s break these down. First, Qualcomm’s wide-area 5G OTA test network can now support subband half-duplex, which enables dynamic TDD operation, and allows for more flexible service multiplexing, improved latency and better coverage. Second, Qualcomm’s single/multi-cell wide-area 5G positioning prototype in a joint OTA effort proves that it can meet 3GPP Rel-16 accuracy targets. As I already mentioned, parallel demonstrations using Qualcomm’s own test network also highlight the benefits of machine learning and sensor fusion for 5G positioning. Third, Qualcomm is enabling cross-node machine-learning-based channel state feedback for advanced massive MIMO operations, proving that this technique can be used to improve both user throughput and system capacity. This has the potential of transforming current wireless design approaches from being model-based to being data-driven, which has fascinating implications for network engineers. Fourth, end-to-end system simulations demonstrate how 5G NR-Light (aka RedCap) in Release 17 with sidelink (and potential evolutions in future releases) can expand 5G to new device tiers, and support both expanded coverage and more energy-efficient small data transfers. Lastly, through 5G device disaggregation, Qualcomm demonstrates how a 5G system’s device stack can be made to support new subscription models and richer user experiences for services hosted on tethered devices.
3. Achieving safer, smarter transportation with C-V2X sidelink. We already know that Qualcomm’s automotive vision for C-V2X (cellular vehicle-to-everything) is to radically improve road safety by connecting cars to other cars, vulnerable road users (VRUs) like cyclists, pedestrians, road infrastructure, and more. The new 5G Rel-16-aligned R&D prototype pushes the C-V2X sidelink evolution forward by delivering enhanced network capacity. This can be achieved, for example, by leveraging roadside units (RSUs) using C-V2X sidelink to offload high-bandwidth data (like local high-res 3D maps) from wide-area 5G networks. Sidelink can also rely on distributed time synchronization to bring more consistent communication even when satellite-based GNSS is temporarily unavailable.
4. Enabling new Industry 4.0 efficiencies. Qualcomm’s 5G OTA industrial test beds also demonstrate key features enabled by the bleeding edge of 5G that sets future benchmarks for what we still like to call Industry 4.0. To that end, Qualcomm’s OTA testbed now supports wireless Ethernet with time-sensitive networking (TSN) for microsecond-level synchronization, ultra-reliable communications (think 99.9999% reliable) with multiple transmission/reception points in both uplink and downlink (coordinated multi-point / CoMP), and smart cameras with onboard AI for low-latency visual sensing. Qualcomm’s OTA testbed also showcases a new design for a 5G indoor precision positioning system that can meet the most stringent centimeter-level accuracy requirements for the real-time tracking of AGVs and other industrial assets. Lastly, to further improve system performance, Qualcomm added 5G sidelink to its OTA testbed to enable devices to communicate directly with one another, and comprehensive simulations were also developed to demonstrate the benefits of this model in broader deployment scenarios.
5. Boundless XR over 5G mobile mmWave. Boundless XR promises more immersive mobile virtual and augmented reality experiences through 5G and distributed computing to help bring together physical, digital, and virtual worlds as seamlessly as possible. Boundless XR applications range from gaming, entertainment, and learning to workplace collaboration, navigation, and industrial applications. Qualcomm’s 5G mmWave OTA system, optimized end-to-end for low latency, provides simultaneous support for multiple virtual reality users across diverse applications and even in challenging wireless conditions.
6. Better system efficiencies for greener networks. With mobile networks growing to support wider bandwidths, denser deployments, and more users, it makes sense that Qualcomm’s researchers are working on developing greener networks, using new advanced techniques like higher-order modulation schemes and digital post distortion to reduce overall energy consumption across mobile networks without impacting performance. One way they are doing this is through 5G system power amplifier optimization, which includes a combination of end-to-end system techniques that together reduce overall energy usage. One of the most promising of these techniques is digital post distortion, which reduces base station power consumption by using processing on mobile devices to compensate for base station power amplifier nonlinearity. New higher-order modulation schemes also help, both in sub-6 GHz and mmWave bands, by pushing the boundaries of spectral efficiency even in real-world environments. The goal is to achieve 4K-QAM modulation in sub-6 GHz and 1K-QAM in mmWave using novel iterative impairment cancellation technology.
Why the Role of R&D and Engineering Breakthroughs in Qualcomm’s Technology Roadmap Are Significant
There’s a lot to unpack here, and we will dive deeper into some of these areas in Parts Two and Three, but the overall takeaway here is that these OTA test networks, prototypes, and system simulations, highlight the rapid progress of cutting edge 5G research and development, particularly as it pertains to cutting edge and highly scalable use cases for mobile networks, Industry 4.0, XR, the IOT and IIOT, and C-V2X applications.
5G innovation is far from static. It is a fast-moving target, with performance improvements and new solutions coming at industries fast. These test beds and demos provide industry leaders with a snapshot of the types of new and emerging capabilities and efficiencies (translation: value) that 5G technologies are bringing to most industries in 2022. It doesn’t much matter if you are in the automotive business, mobile networks, Cloud, infrastructure, manufacturing, logistics, or a device OEM: these test networks, prototypes, and system simulations represent the 5G innovation benchmarks you should be designing for right now. It is also important to note that every single one of the performance and capability improvements highlighted here will have direct design and performance implications for adjacent and related technology categories ranging from edge cloud processing and 5G mmWave deployments to 5G applications, including ML and AI. This includes 5G devices themselves, from XR headsets to smartphones.
In Parts Two and Three of this series, we’ll dive deeper into some of the more interesting implications of the innovations touched on here today, and how they fit into Qualcomm’s expansive technology roadmap.
Disclosure: Futurum Research is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.