Much has been written about the impending global roll-out of 5G wireless infrastructure. This is expected to have a transformative impact on everything from mobile device connectivity and fixed-wireless services to transportation, industrial and entertainment applications and beyond. By combining data rates that could be ten to a hundred times faster than those of today with the capacity to handle untold data traffic volumes, the global 5G network is anticipated to provide connectivity that is almost instantaneous, alongside a seemingly limitless bandwidth elasticity that will encompass people, autonomous vehicles, IoT devices, industrial systems and civil infrastructure.
Before large scale deployment of 5G can begin, daunting technology and regulatory issues will have to be resolved. These challenges have an upside, however – they present a tremendous opportunity for operators to evolve network infrastructure in a sustainable manner that enables continuous improvements in bandwidth, power, management and cost efficiencies, amid an ever-intensifying data deluge. Consequently, the advent of 5G invites a fresh, top-to-bottom look at global communications infrastructure, from RF and optical chips to base station system architectures and network topologies.
It is certainly no coincidence that the efforts at developing 5G are paralleling an evolution in civil radar, which is used for air traffic control and weather surveillance. Efforts at streamlining and improving radar infrastructure are informing commercial 5G technology and deployment strategies. That’s not surprising, given that the end goals of these civil and commercial initiatives are similar: the creation of a scalable, cost-effective and highly integrated antenna technology that enables faster, more accurate and more sensitive transmit and receive capabilities. For civil radar, this ensures an expanded field of ‘view’ to aircraft and weather systems, while for 5G, it increases subscriber coverage.
In the US, both efforts are supported by government sponsored, cross-agency planning and coordination.
The aim is to consolidate national radar infrastructure into a single multifunction platform, while freeing up valuable radio spectrum for reallocation to commercial 5G wireless services. This programme, known as Spectrum Efficient National Surveillance Radar (SENSR), brings together the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
MACOM Scalable Planar Array (SPAR) Tiles
Drawing on civil radar
One of the recent developments in radar antenna has been the introduction of tile-based, planar phased-array radar for air traffic control and weather tracking applications. This breakthrough provides a compelling template for the architecture and assembly of massive MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) 5G systems. Drawing on the highly-integrated antenna sub-systems, and volume-scale commercial packaging and manufacturing techniques, will allow those associated with the roll-out of 5G to take little time in building planar arrays that can be flexibly tailored and scaled for deployment across a wide range of environments. And this will be at one-fifth of the cost of that for conventional array architectures, as demonstrated by the first-generation of Scalable Planar Array (SPAR) Tiles targeted for civil applications.