What 5G Will Be: Crazy-Fast Wireless Tested in New York City

Samsung’s technology for ultrafast data speeds currently requires a truckload of equipment.

The world’s biggest cell-phone maker, Samsung, caused a stir last week by announcing an ultrafast wireless technology that it unofficially dubbed “5G.” And the technology has, in fact, been tested on the streets of New York.

The system is impressive but is still in development—which is true of all the technologies that will underpin the next generation of wireless communications. When 5G does arrive, it will likely combine new wireless protocols with new network designs, spectrum-sharing schemes, and more small transmitters.

Samsung says its new transceiver can send and receive data at speeds of more than a gigabit per second over up to two kilometers—and it could deliver tens of gigabits per second at shorter distances. This compares to about 75 megabits per second for the latest standard, known as 4G LTE. The Samsung technology relies on 28-gigahertz frequencies, which can carry commensurately more data but can be blocked by buildings, people, foliage, and even rainfall.

Samsung says it has greatly mitigated these problems by sending data over any of 64 antennas, dynamically shaping how the signal is divided up, and even controlling the direction in which it is sent, making changes in tens of nanoseconds in response to changing conditions (among other features, it can catch stray reflections of signals that had bounced off an obstruction). The company did not grant an interview request, but the technology is described in this 2010 patent filing.

The work has also been tested in the real world. Last summer, an academic lab, NYU Wireless, part of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, did performance tests for Samsung in New York City and Austin, Texas, and found that the technology, which is also known as millimeter-wave cellular, could work well even 200 meters away from the transmitter, and even in a cluttered environment. “A lot of people have the same reaction: ‘How can it work?’ But we showed that it can be done,” says Theodore Rappaport, director of NYU Wireless. “Our measurements have helped give Samsung and the rest of the wireless industry confidence that (28-gigahertz) wireless is viable.”

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