Instant HD movie downloads? Samsung claims 5G breakthrough

High-definition movies could potentially be downloaded in just seconds with a new 5G wireless technology announced by Samsung Electronics.

Questions, challenges remain, Canadian researcher says

Samsung says it plans to speed up its research and development on its next-generation wireless technologies and commercialize them by 2020. (Samsung Electronics)

High-definition movies could potentially be downloaded in just seconds with a new next-generation wireless technology announced by Samsung Electronics.

Samsung said on its official blog Monday that it has successfully developed a "core" technology for a 5G, or fifth-generation, mobile communications system that will provide data transmission "up to several hundred times faster than current 4G networks."

"Samsung’s new technology will allow users to transmit massive data files including high quality digital movies practically without limitation," the company added.

Samsung says it plans to speed up its research and development in this area, and commercialize the technologies by 2020.

The new core device developed by Samsung is a transceiver, which transmits and receives wireless signals. The device can transmit data at a speed of up to 1.056 gigabits (1081 megabits) per second to a distance of up to two kilometres, Samsung says. In comparison, Rogers says its LTE 4G network is capable of maximum speeds of up to 150 megabits per second with a typical speed ranging from 12 to 40 megabits per second.

Current LTE 4G networks have maximum speeds around 150 megabits per second with a typical speed ranging from 12 to 40 megabits per second. Samsung says its new technology can transmit data at 1081 megabits per second. (Lee Jae-won/Reuters)
Sofiène Affes, who holds a Canada Research Chair in high-speed wireless communications at the Centre for Energy, Materials and Telecommunications at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique in Montreal, says a major limitation to the development of 5G networks right now is the amount of spectrum available and the ability to use it efficiently so that signals don't interfere with one another. One possible solution is to use frequencies that are not currently in use by cellular networks.

 Samsung says its new device is the first adaptive array transceiver technology in the world that can operate in the Ka band (currently used in Canada for communications between the Earth and man-made satellites) for cellular communications.

 While LTE networks operate at a frequency of 1700 megahertz to 2600 megahertz, Samsung's transceiver works at 28 gigahertz.

High cost and complexity

Affes said one problem with such high frequencies is the signal tends to lose power very quickly with distance. Samsung has dealt with that problem by putting 64 antennas on its transceiver.

"That's a very, very large size array," said Affes, adding that a more typical number for a tranceiver is two to four.

As the number of antennas increases, the signal can be directed into a much narrower, more focused beam, helping it travel longer distances without losing as much power and reducing the potential for interference, Affes said. However, having so many antennas boosts the cost if the device and its complexity.

"It's like an orchestra. They have to play in a coherent way," Affes said. "You have to synchronize transmission between those 64 elements."

Affes also questions whether the technology requires a line of sight between transceivers — that is, will it still work if there are obstacles such as buildings in between? That's something that isn't an issue with communications between satellites and Earth, the current use of the Ka band.

Affes added that Samsung will need to also figure out how to design its network so it works in different settings, ranging from rural to urban.

Meanwhile, he said, many other companies and researchers around the world are developing other strategies and technologies that could also be used to deliver 5G speeds.

For example, instead of using big transceivers with lots of antennas, some researchers are looking into creating networks of small, very closely spaced transceivers, each with just one or two antennas. It may also be possible to create networks that employ a mix of the two strategies.