5G antenna systems and the IEEE 5G conference

Telecommunications companies use 5G antennas to handle the greater speed, capacity, and bandwidth of 5G networks. As these networks become more commonplace, new design challenges, capabilities, and opportunities will continue to emerge. The IEEE 5G World Forum serves as a platform for exciting conversations surrounding these new developments and the role they will play in the future of 5G.

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Overview of the 5G World Forum

The 5G World Forum is now in its third year. Since its inception, the conference has sought to be the primary meeting place for stakeholders in the field of wireless technology. Due to COVID-19 and the need to protect the health and safety of attendees, this year’s conference will be virtual. What will not change, however, is the event’s importance as a forum for the latest advances in 5G.

This year’s theme is “5G and Beyond: A Comprehensive Look at Future Networks.” As such, the conference will focus on how 5G innovations will change wireless technology—and our global society as a whole. More specifically, the event will cover the development of novel mobile network architecture. This architecture stands to improve the physical data rate of 5G networks and also create a new ecosystem for the deployment of novel services and applications.

The conference program features renowned keynote speakers and worldwide industry fora, as well as panel discussions, workshops, and other opportunities to learn and network. The program also features ten topical/vertical tracks that conference attendees can explore. These focus on aspects of 5G technology, such as security and privacy, 5G deployment, and artificial intelligence/machine learning. Beyond that, many tracks cover applications of 5G technology, including applications in everything from health care to smart cities. 

A focus on 5G antenna systems technology

5G antenna systems will be a key topic of discussion at the conference. In preparation for the event, IEEE put out a call for technical papers pertaining to 5G antenna technologies. Specifically, the call for papers for Track 6: 5G Hardware and Test/Measurements solicited papers related to 5G antennas. Subtopics for this track include but are not limited to the following:

  • Massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO), multiuser-MIMO (MU-MIMO), and multiple radio access technology (multi-RAT) system architectures
  • Reconfigurable and switching wireless network topologies
  • Radiofrequency (RF) beamforming, digital beamforming, and hybrid beamforming architectures
  • Beam steering and the phased antenna array

While the deadline for submitting a paper has passed, accepted papers will be accessible to conference attendees interested in learning more about these and other topics. 

A 5G antenna tutorial

Furthermore, individuals attending the conference will have opportunities to delve into the finer points of antenna systems through the 5G World Forum’s tutorials. One of the event’s 5G Core Tutorials, for example, is titled Beyond Massive MIMO: Promising Research Directions for Antenna Arrays.

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Why 5G antenna technologies are a big focus 

Multiple transmit antennas in base stations and devices are already key to 4G/LTE technology. But they will be even more important as 5G becomes standard. Why? Because 5G wireless access must provide much higher data rates and handle significantly higher traffic volumes while using less energy per bit. This calls for advanced antenna solutions. 

Simply put, 5G antenna design and performance need to keep improving to match the rate of 5G innovation. Various antenna designs may be more effective for different use cases—like city use or use in indoor areas. And today’s antenna designers, engineers, and other stakeholders in this arena have a lot to consider when it comes to the new and existing technologies that have evolved to support 5G. 

The latest 5G antenna innovations

Some key areas of research and innovation in 5G antenna systems technology are as follows:

  • Massive MIMO: Massive MIMO systems, also known as large-scale antenna systems, must have base stations with at least sixty-four antennas. Additionally, they must have a number of antennas that is at least an order of magnitude more than the number of mobile devices connected to the system. Basically, MIMO systems use a large number of antennas to focus energy into small areas of space. This improves throughput and reduces the energy required per transmitted bit. 
  • Holographic beamforming: Current cellular services often use antennas that form sixty- to ninety-degree sector beams to widely spread energy. In contrast, beamforming allows for a more targeted communication protocol between a base station and cellular customer. One specific type of beamforming, holographic beamforming, uses passive, electronically steered antennas to help focus power on recipients and thereby reduce the energy required to maintain signal strengths. Notably, holographic beamforming is more efficient than phased arrays and MIMO.
  • Small cell deployment: Small cells facilitate improvements in 4G LTE coverage in high usage areas like college campuses. But they also promise to play an even bigger role in the 5G revolution. That includes bringing network coverage to dense areas like cities. 
  • Indoor 5G antenna systems: To deliver 5G signals inside buildings, mobile operators need to deploy distributed antenna systems (DASs). However, to meet the needs of the 5G evolution, a DAS has to support service layers for multiple frequencies. Achieving this as efficiently as possible is a key area of focus for innovation. The goal is to support 5G without unnecessary costs or additional hardware.
  • Compact antenna test range (CATR) technology: Researchers have long used CATR technology to measure electrically large antennas. But recent innovations in this technology introduce new measurement capabilities and improve 5G millimeter-wave over-the-air (OTA) testing. 

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The 5G antenna market

According to telecommunications company Ericsson’s predictions, the market for service providers in the 5G arena will grow to around $700 billion by 2030. So it’s no surprise the telecommunications industry is eager to plan for a 5G-enabled future. Opportunities for revenue may reach far beyond mobile networks’ wireless communication services to include a cellular Internet of Things (IoT), private networks, and more. As new use cases arise, it’s clear that the market potential for 5G is huge. The exciting (and profitable) opportunities are practically limitless. 

A 5G revolution

Commercial, large-scale deployment of 5G is already happening at a rapid pace. As a 2019 Huawei white paper notes, thirty-five operators in twenty countries around the world have released this technology. And according to a 2019 HIS Markit study that Qualcomm commissioned, 5G predictions for the future include the following: 

  • Globally, the 5G value chain will have 22.3 million jobs in 2035. 
  • The global 5G value chain will invest an average of $235 billion in the 5G technology base every year. 
  • The United States and China will lead cellular research, development, and capital expenditures.
  • 5G-enabled business-to-business opportunities will grow service providers’ revenues by up to 35 percent by 2030.

Industry sectors that will make use of 5G technology include everything from energy, utilities, and transportation to health care and public safety. 5G will enable augmented reality and virtual reality for remote operations and hosting immersive virtual events. Its extremely low latency will make possible everything from better drone technology to enhanced cloud gaming. And the 5G network stands to serve as a better-performing replacement for home and business broadband with less need for costly infrastructure—that is, once the world is equipped to support 5G.

A growing market for 5G antenna systems

According to McKinsey & Company, mobile operators must make big investments in 5G infrastructure to meet growing needs. In most cases, 5G builds on 4G networks that already exist. This means mobile operators can upgrade their existing infrastructure without starting from scratch. For instance, they could evolve to massive MIMO or acquire more spectrum to meet the demands of 5G. 

That said, some new investments will be necessary. For instance, even with new spectrum additions, mobile operators will still need to improve radio interfaces and antennas to increase 5G efficiency. And at a certain point, growing traffic on 5G networks—especially in urban areas—will call for new infrastructure altogether. In fact, McKinsey predicts that one-third of network spend between 2020 and 2025 will go to emerging 5G domains. 

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Attending the 5G World Forum

The 5G World Forum offers an opportunity to further explore the 5G market as well as emerging technologies and use cases. As the article noted above, this conference brings together the field’s leading experts to address 5G challenges and opportunities. This includes challenges and opportunities related to antenna technology.


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