Inventing 5G networks is hard work - but there's time for play, too

While regional standards bodies play meetings, Korean SK Telecom is opening a 'playground'

Researchers developing 5G mobile technologies now have a "playground" they can visit in South Korea -- if they're not too busy attending meetings.

Service provider SK Telecom opened its "5G Playground" on Thursday with partners including Ericsson, Nokia, Intel and Samsung Electronics. The same day, a group of regional standards bodies announced a series of events for "building global consensus" on 5G. They'll also "focus their efforts and leadership."

Yes, meetings. One every six months. Each will be in a different part of the world, though, so at least the conference rooms will have different wallpaper.

5G is serious business. Mobile operators and device makers are counting on it to deliver the performance needed for applications like high-definition video and the capacity for billions of connected things with tiny batteries. The standard is expected to be complete by 2020, so there's a lot of work to do.

SK makes a good argument for play, though: Along with Nokia, one of its playground partners, the carrier has demonstrated a possibly 5G-like network running at 19.1G bps (bits per second). SK plans to launch a 5G trial service in 2017.

Every part of the world wants its carriers, vendors and software developers to get a piece of the action in 5G, which will be where the money is made in mobile in the next decade.

With separate efforts taking place on several continents to come up with the components of 5G, the major players decided they should come together twice a year to coordinate their work. They include 4G Americas, Europe's 5G Infrastructure Association - Public-Private Partnership, the Fifth Generation Mobile Communications Promotion Forum in Japan, Korea's 5G Forum, and the IMT-2020 Promotion Group in China.

Their meetings will rotate among the regions represented, starting in Asia in the first half of next year and then Europe in the second half. Coffee will be served.

SK Telecom's playground, on the other hand, will have a "Virtual Experience Room" for the carrier to showcase its futuristic devices and services, including an augmented reality system for remote collaboration. Other recent demonstrations by the Korean mobile operator have included a "smart table" computer with drag-and-drop transfers to smartphones and a robot that reportedly can display human gestures in real time, a feature that might be useful in an especially long meeting.

The playground will also include a testbed that can accommodate several different technologies under development, plus an "open lab" for startups to get involved in the emerging 5G ecosystem.

SK Telecom is working with partners on some features widely expected to make it into the 5G standard in some form. With Nokia, it's developing a radio system that uses centimeter waves, which include frequencies far higher than anything being used for cellular now, and massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antennas.

With Ericsson, SK is working on network slicing, which divides a single physical network into several virtual ones, each tuned for a different kind of service. Samsung Electronics and SK Telecom have developed 3D beamforming for millimeter-wave frequencies, which are even higher and more focused than the centimeter-wave bands. Beamforming can target specific mobile devices near a small base station.

Intel and SK Telecom are working on systems that combine LTE with wireless LANs running on millimeter waves, and they're putting some elements of the radio network in the cloud to make cells smaller and cheaper.

Not bad for a playground

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Stephen Lawson

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