Samsung Electronics has been in the telecommunications business for decades; 2017 marks the company’s 40th year in the industry. Samsung has been involved in the development and adoption of virtually every cellular technology from GSM and CDMA to WiMax and LTE. It comes as no surprise that Samsung is also heavily invested and engaged in 5G efforts. Samsung says it has been working on 5G since 2012 when it began its first mmWave research and development. This brings us to where Samsung is today with 5G, most of which was announced during Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017 in Barcelona a couple months ago. Given our coverage of Qualcomm and Intel’s efforts in the space, it’s important we talk about what Samsung has achieved.
(Image credit: Samsung Electronics)
What sets Samsung apart from others in the industry is that it is an experienced player across many industries including wireless infrastructure, chip manufacturing, semiconductor fabrication and user devices. Samsung can effectively make almost everything in a 5G connection from one end to the other, and it has experience in virtually every segment of 5G. Many companies involved in 5G are either relative newcomers to one aspect of the business or simply have no interest in making consumer electronics. Samsung does it all and has a track record of doing so that goes back many years.
At MWC 2017, the company quietly announced a new 5G RFIC (Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit) and 5G ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) modem chipsets that allow for the actual 5G communications to occur. Additionally, Samsung announced a 5G home router uses these chips and will be part of Samsung’s first 5G deployments. To transmit the 5G signal, Samsung also introduced its own 5G radio base station to broadcast the 5G signal to the home routers and enable gigabit connectivity. Finally, Samsung unveiled its ‘next generation’ core network, a completely new and high-performance backend that allows for all the 5G network functions to happen as quickly as they need to. These four components will be crucial to deploy Samsung’s first 5G commercial networks due in 2018.
Samsung’s current 5G technology is designed to meet the current pre-5G standards in Korea and the US set by Korea Telecom and Verizon. These standards are not considered part of the 5G NR (5G New Radio) standard, which the broad industry accepts as the 5G standard across the world. However, Samsung has said that it has worked with its partners to make its pre-5G technologies upgradable to 5G NR. While it didn’t offer any timelines for those upgrades, it would make sense that deploying a 5G network without upgradability to 5G NR wouldn’t be a very cost-effective solution long term. Even so, looking at Samsung’s infrastructure support, you can tell it is already preparing for 5G NR.
Samsung’s initial commercial solution is designed to operate only in the 28 GHz frequency band, but additional mmWave bands like 39GHz and sub-6GHz bands like 3.5GHz are on the company’s roadmap. Frequency bands like Sub-6 GHz are important, because they offer improved coverage for 5G where mmWave frequencies, like 28 GHz and 39 GHz, cannot reach. Samsung says it is engineering a 5G-ready card to migrate their LTE platform to 5G as well. While Samsung’s current technology only supports the 5GTF and KT-SIG 5G standards, which are considered pre-5G by the industry, the company’s efforts illustrate that it is ahead of the curve with 5G and are working closely with some of the biggest carriers across the world. It is already conducting 5G trials with leading carriers in the US, Korea, Japan and China including T-Mobile , China Mobile , SK Telecom , NTT DoCoMo, KT, KDDI , LG U+, AT&T and Deutsche Telekom .
Samsung isn’t just working on deploying fixed 5G networks with partners like Verizon, it is also partnering with carriers like Germany’s Deutsche Telekom to test 5G’s guaranteed latency and network slicing to test robotics control over 5G. Samsung is also working on testing 5G multi-cell mobile handover with KDDI. Being able to test handover between cells is extremely important because to be mobile you have to be handed over from one cell to another without losing connection. Samsung and KDDI successfully tested two different handover scenarios in Tokyo, which included a vehicle going 60 km/h as well as a line of sight and non-line of slight scenario where the vehicle was moving through the city between 5G cells. In addition to testing with carriers, Samsung is also developing new tools to help model and test upcoming 5G networks to plan for them appropriately.
Samsung’s commitment to 5G and its unique end-to-end approach is starting to pay dividends for the company. It will be among one of the first to launch a 5G network and the only supplier of nearly every part of the 5G network in 5 of those 11 Verizon trial cities. Samsung doesn’t get enough credit for its 5G efforts, and while it may not be 5G NR yet, the company claims that its equipment is designed to be upgradable to support 3GPP standards for both the New Radio and Next-Generation Core once available. Samsung is a huge player in the 5G space, and it will be fascinating to see what products will be announced down the road once 5G NR networks start to roll out and mobile devices become a reality.