What is a millimeter wave?

January 12, 2022

Technically speaking, millimeter wave spectrum ranges from 26 GHz to 300 GHz and has a length of 10 mm to 1 mm (the higher frequency the shorter wave), please note that this classification is not strict. They are also abbreviated as EHF ( in this context it is a spectrum of 30 GHz to 300GHz) - Extremely High Frequency and make 5G networks what they are. For 5G NR (New Radio) deployments, however, frequencies up to 52,6 GHz are used. In the past, communication using such frequencies was not common due to the lack of electronic components that would allow the construction of receiving and transmitting systems.


However, the situation is reshaping dynamically. The popularization of millimeter wave technology translates into many new hopes for implementing these waves in the context of super-fast wireless communication systems. It is also assumed that using the millimeter-wave band will broaden the range of possibilities of creating and using applications that were previously out of reach due to the insufficiency of the bandwidth and latency of existing connections. For example, it allows fixed wireless access, cellular vehicle-to-everything communication, and innovative industrial applications. 

 

There are many reasons for having hopes for millimeter waves. The range of their frequencies is extensive and the currently used frequency band is only a fraction of it. Since this band is not in use there is still a lot of bandwidth that is left, which allows increasing the throughput or data speed to a level unattainable for the lower heavily loaded bands.

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What are the differences between millimeter wave-based 5G NR technology and other standards?

 

The difference that will be most noticeable from the “average” (non-professional) user's point of view is “the speed of the Internet”. It is assumed that the 5G network using millimeter wave spectrum will be at the beginning about 10 times faster than wireless communication systems based on 4G LTE technology. That translates to throughput of 10 Gbit/s and even more in the future.


The 5G network based on millimeter wave technology operates in a higher frequency band from 24.25 GHz to even 52,6 GHz. By comparison, 4G works below 6 GHz at best. What is crucial is the fact that there is more channel width available in the higher bands. So that end-users gain access to more bandwidth while using higher frequencies.

 

Millimeter-wave wireless networks also require a different approach to the architecture of the communication infrastructure. Due to the much higher frequencies and thus much shorter signal range, networks based on millimeter wave spectrum are more prone to transmission environment aspects such as heavy rain or snow, vegetation, road traffic, and topography. What's more, large transmitters must be replaced by a decentralized network of much smaller antennas about the size of a pizza box. That comes with a completely different set of challenges when designing and building infrastructure.

 

What is the challenge of millimeter wave technology?

 

As mentioned above, despite their enormous potential, networks using mmWave frequencies force us to face problems that have not existed before or were negligible. The characteristics of millimeter waves used in 5G technologies require taking into account way more factors than previous generations of cellular networks. Due to the facts mentioned above, many solutions that have worked well for 4G/LTE networks are currently entirely unsuitable or completely inefficient for the next-generation wireless networks. In the case of millimeter waves, the surroundings are very important i.e. the location, configuration and shape of the buildings, the arrangement of machines in the factory, or visibility between the phone (or another device) and the base station.

 

The main issue is a much lower range of the 5G transmitters (cell size) and greater sensitivity to external factors, which makes planning cellular communication networks using mm-wave frequencies way more complicated. 

 

The smaller cell size translates into a growing number of transmitters in 5G networks, which is much higher than in the case of the 4G networks. For this reason, people responsible for planning the 5G networks must carefully analyze topographic data but also Digital Twin including such factors as seasonal cycles or anomalies, traffic peaks, public events, etc. In order to meet the requirements for speed and efficiency of the network and keep the costs of deployment under control, their main goal has to be to place as few transmitters as possible while maintaining the connection quality requirements.

 

A shorter range of transmitters and greater density of the 5G NR network will also significantly impact the strength of the EMF electromagnetic field. Base station radiation standards are precisely standardized by law. Such EMF standards are an important aspect of every professional network planning. Therefore, new wireless networks using millimeter-wave bands have to be designed according to them.

 

To put it straight - the existing methods and tools designed for planning the infrastructure of cellular networks may turn out to be insufficient.

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New challenges require new solutions

 

Our role begins precisely at the moment when the possibilities of traditional methods are depleted. 

 

As we have mentioned above, planning of radio or cellular communication networks requires the installation of transmitting and receiving devices at optimal points. The localization of such a point is determined according to many criteria, the list of which is getting longer depending on how sophisticated a particular technology is. As a result, millimeter-wave wireless networks are more demanding than ever before.

 

To create a  network using millimeter wave technology in a way that it can cope with the challenges described above, the planning phase needs to include recreating the entire area in 3D in the form of a Digital Twin.

 

It enables an exact digital representation of reality that is being updated in real-time. It may include various types of objects, buildings, topography, road infrastructure and also takes into account weather factors, traffic, energy usage, durability, and so on. In a mapped 3D environment, it is possible to perform simulations and tests in order to plan the cost-effective infrastructure that meets the speed and efficiency standards.

 

Using this technology makes planning optimal 5G NR networks a realistic task again. Therefore, if you intend to design a mobile communications network based on the mm-wave spectrum, don't hesitate to get in touch with us.

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