While 5G began rolling out in key cities across the globe last year, it was still in its infancy in terms of deployment and adoption. But with numerous governments and telecommunications firms leading the way, it’s estimated to have a faster adoption curve than both 3G and 4G.
In our previous post on 5G APIs, we shared that 5G technology has the potential to revolutionize consumer electronics, industries, and services with its high speed and low latency capabilities. Now, imagine having that capability wherever you go. To this end, one of the most relevant use cases that must be developed to initiate widespread adoption is 5G roaming.
Last year, consumer and Internet of Things (IoT) devices generated around 737 Petabytes of data roaming traffic. A study estimated that it will reach up to 2,000 Petabytes and generate at least $21.7 billion in revenue from consumer and IoT devices by 2024.
As predicted by the ITU model of real deployments of 5G use cases, consumer demand for high speed downloads will drive adoption, and roaming capabilities presents greater opportunities. But with the current infrastructure and level of adoption, how do we get there?
5G Capable Devices
One key prerequisite to roaming capabilities are devices that are able to process data carried by 5G networks at compatible speeds. Yet, until the end of last year, only 1% of smartphones in use are 5G-capable. Fortunately, that’s changing soon.
Devices that are 5G-capable are not all the same, as different countries use varying parts of the radio wave spectrum, and their printed circuit boards (PCBs) need more antennas to accommodate these. The best PCB design software work with antennas to reduce their footprint and cost, while still maintaining performance — ranging from Bluetooth Low Energy systems to IoT applications. Current frequency bands within these devices range from the typical 2.4 GHz band to millimeter-wave frequencies above 6GHz, such as 28GHz, 30GHz, and 77GHz.
This poses a challenge as the new printed PCBs need to be managed and designed more efficiently for a more compact form factor. One solution is using high-frequency and high-speed multilayer PCBs to increase capacity as well as to reduce the possibility of electromagnetic interference. Together with the changes in chipsets, we’re now seeing the rise of “global 5G phones” capable of supporting all 5G bands used around the world.
Bridging 5G and 4G Networks
As roaming entails utilizing 5G capabilities abroad, some governments and private telecom companies are now entering strategic partnerships for 5G roaming.
• Switzerland’s Swisscom and South Korea’s SK Telecom have just recently announced such a partnership.
• The UK’s Vodafone also said it will launch roaming for its customers visiting Germany, Italy, and Spain. This is thanks to last year’s ITU Release 15, which covers standards for 5G NSA or enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC), and massive machine-type communications (mMTC).
• This year, the ITU is set to deploy Release 16, which covers standards for 5G SA catering to more industrial use cases of the network.
While telecom companies like South Korea’s KT mobile launched their own 5G roaming with other partners in Europe, it plans to utilize 4G networks to cover 5G roaming in other countries. By utilizing already existing 4G networks that run localized 5G services, users can enjoy the service without waiting for the rollout of the standalone networks. Singapore’s StarHub and U Mobile Malaysia have recently done experiments on service and standards to roll out 5G roaming in their respective 4G infrastructure.
As innovation in standards, partnerships, and electronics continue, the adoption of 5G roaming is expected to gain more ground in the next few years.
This article is written by Beatrice Jar.