5G Explained: Beamforming & DSS (in Plain English)

Spread the love
5G explained 02

We know explanations of 5G can get pretty technical. But because this new cellular technology will affect all our lives in such a monumental way, it’s important that we clarify its concepts as best we can. This article (and other recent posts) breaks down some of 5G’s technical specifications into more easily consumed explanations. 5G explained – but simplified.

Here, we answer these two questions:

  1. What is Beamforming?
  2. What is Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) technology?

If you know these terms and their meaning, you’re the minority. Even many tech-savvy folks aren’t familiar with them. You’ll soon be in-the-know after reading this article. 5G is a key player in what our connected lives will look like in the near future. Understanding how 5G will influence our experiences as end users should get us all excited for what’s soon to come.

For reference, here are links to other 5G-related articles on SureCall.com released earlier this year:

Comparing 5G Speeds To 4G Speeds: How Fast Is It, Really?
How 5G Will Affect the Way We Use Our Devices?
5G FAQs (3 Common Questions Answered)
First 5G Cell Phone Signal Booster Available from SureCall
7 Reasons Why You Should Be Excited About 5G Cell Tower Networks

5G Explained: What is Beamforming?

In the world of 5G, this is the act of focusing a wireless signal in a specific direction. Compared to simply sending a signal across a wide area, beamforming requires more sophisticated antenna technology.

What Does This Mean In Context?

As advanced as cellular technology has become, you and I both know that when you walk into a concrete building or an elevator, your reception will likely plummet or drop completely. Beamforming is designed to fix this issue and provide you with a seamless, uninterrupted cell signal no matter what. Regardless of external conditions (topographical, architectural, geographical, etc.), beamforming aims to eliminate the everyday challenges of service interference.

5G explained 03

3G and 4G LTE signals originate from local cell towers which spread the signal over a wide range. Though we all benefit from this technology on a daily basis, the way these towers disseminate signals makes it hard for them to stay consistent. Beamforming technology, on the other hand, sends a precise and concentrated signal right to your smartphone. It is more deliberate and intentional with its delivery method.

Think of the difference between a floodlight (4G LTE cell towers) and a laser beam (beamforming). That’s a visual image that perfectly describes how it’s different.

This aspect of 5G means faster and more reliable connectivity (especially when the user is in motion) and better overall signal quality. It means almost no interference from other users as well as no wasted signals.

Some Technical Details

Signals can be sent to mobile users via vertical AND horizontal angles because of beamforming tech. This is the main reason why it’s such an integral component of massive MIMO systems (learn more about massive MIMO here).

Now, beamforming is not a brand new technology. In fact, semblances of its modern version have been around since the 1940s. During WWI, some of these techniques were originally rolled out to boost sonar capabilities. But now, this unique tech is integral to the implementation of 5G in large part because of its influence on something called mmWave (millimeter wave spectrum signals). mmWave signals are what primarily make up the cell frequencies we use today. And as you know, they don’t travel through solid objects very well. Even your hand in the right position while holding your phone can obstruct them.

5G explained 04

Beamforming makes mmWave signals less vulnerable and more reliable, allowing users to maintain their reception in situations where they’d normally lose it.

Even Though It’s An Incredible Technology, There’s Still Work To Be Done

The implementation of beamforming on a large scale is complicated. It is not without obstacles and challenges. For one, it’s expensive. All the software and hardware necessary for its antenna system is not cheap. It’s also not completely impervious to things like humidity and temperature. Also, signals can be interrupted by physical objects directly surrounding the antenna arrays. All these things are being dealt with in anticipation of a worldwide 5G rollout.

On-going investment in 5G by network operators has lead to an ever-improving 5G infrastructure. The intention is that beamforming will be a universal technology; something that benefits us all “in the background” every day.

5G Explained: What is Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) Technology?

DSS is a breakthrough technology that allows 4G LTE and 5G services to operate on the same spectrum as well as allocate the amount of spectrum in a given area depending on the number of users.

What Does This Mean In Context?

5G explained 05

Right now, your smartphone almost certainly operates on a 4G LTE network, as do 99% of mobile phones today. 5G, which is much faster and more reliable, is a different network altogether. But 4G and 5G both function via radio waves. DSS technology utilizes this fact and makes it possible for all users on a 4G LTE network to automatically convert to a 5G network when in an area where a 5G signal is available. Then, when they exit said area, their phone reverts back to 4G. In other words, 4G and 5G users can share the same channel simultaneously.

DSS also provides an enormous benefit to the people around the globe who are working hard to create a worldwide 5G infrastructure. The benefit is that there is now no need to create a brand new 5G infrastructure from scratch (which would be impossibly expensive). DSS allows operators to simply piggyback on the existing 4G spectrum to expand the 5G network. This makes the monumental transition from 4G LTE to 5G seamless for users and virtually guarantees that the undertaking will end in success.

Some Technical Details

It’s important to understand that DSS doesn’t create new spectrums, nor does it boost existing ones. What it does is allow for much more efficient use of existing spectrums. Current 4G LTE technology, though wonderful in its own right, isn’t able to utilize every available spectrum. The result is a degree of wasted potential. DSS is not only able to acquire and utilize all available spectrums, maximizing output, but it presents a cost-effective means of doing all of this. Not to mention it increases 5G availability all the while.

5G explained 06

As you can see, DSS will benefit operators directly. End users will certainly see benefits, but they’ll be more indirect. What we mean is that in addition to broadening and strengthening 5G coverage, the mere existence of DSS technology will also make 4G LTE performance stronger. This means that you and I and everyone else who is (for now) still using 4G LTE networks will experience lower latency and faster speeds, even though we’re not yet on a 5G network. DSS allows 4G LTE networks to utilize the additional spectrum acquired and reserved for 5G.

Some More Technical Details: Understanding 5G Spectrum

Considering our explanations of beamforming and DSS technology, it’s appropriate to include some information about 5G spectrums themselves.

A few paragraphs above, we said that “DSS is…able to acquire and utilize all available spectrums.” There are, in fact, different spectrum types that exist. And U.S. networks don’t all use the same ones, even concerning 5G. There are mmWave, mid-band, and low-band spectrums (mid-band being the best). And the end user’s 5G experience is directly linked to the spectrum type being used by a given network. FYI: the only U.S. network using all three is T-Mobile. That’s why you’ve seen all the 5G ads from T-Mobile lately. They’re ahead of the pack on this front, as of now, in large part due to their merging with Sprint.

All four major U.K. carriers (Vodafone, Three, 02, EE) are primarily using the mid-band spectrum for their 5G deployment. Mid-band spectrum isn’t widely used in the United States, whereas in the U.K., it’s predominantly used. This is because the U.S. government – particularly federal emergency services and the military – have in large part reserved this spectrum. But once Dec 2020 comes around, other American networks (AT&T & Verizon, in particular) will be able to participate in a mid-band spectrum auction allowing them to more assuredly enter the 5G playing field.

5G explained 07

Spectrums Explained

Mid-band spectrums bring broader coverage and faster speeds compared to mmWave and low-band. Here’s some information on the capabilities of each one:

  • mmWave is short for millimeter wave. This spectrum is capable of facilitating much faster speeds than mid or low-band, although they can’t travel as far. As of this writing, the only major U.S. carrier that uses mmWave exclusively for their 5G is Verizon. T-Mobile and AT&T use it in combination with mid and low-band spectrums.
  • Mid-band is the best spectrum of the three. It penetrates buildings better than low-band and mmWave, covers more ground geographically, and offers faster speeds. Every major carrier in the U.K. uses it. In the U.S., T-Mobile uses it and the other major carriers are sure to follow suit very soon.
  • Low-band spectrum is about as fast as 4G LTE, which makes it inferior to mid-band and mmWave in that way. But it does a good job of penetrating structures and covering large distances.

A Bit Of DSS History & What The Future Will Bring

The very first network to use DSS was AT&T. In this early stage, it only enabled 5G on a limited number of devices (the Samsung Note 10+, LG V60, and Samsung Galaxy S20 5G). Not only that, but it was only available in certain areas of Northern Texas. It’s more expansive than that now, but that’s where it started.

T-Mobile has officially begun their 5G rollout already this year. Verizon plans to do so by the end of 2020. Because Verizon is using mmWave, their footprint won’t initially be as big as T-Mobile’s. But because of DSS technology, they will inevitably be able to update their cell tower software and expand their 5G service.

5G explained 08

The U.K, as of now, is a bit behind the U.S. in 5G implementation. But DSS is gaining traction there. One major U.K. provider, Vodafone, is currently using Germany as their DSS testing location. But as we’ve already said, it’s inevitable that 5G will be available everywhere cell towers are capable of reaching. And DSS makes all of this possible.

5G Explained: Beamforming & DSS (in Plain English) – Conclusion

5G will represent a watershed moment not just in the cellular technology industry but in the history of the world. Our connected lives will become even more incredible than they already are. The internet of things, as we call it, will receive such a significant enhancement from 5G that it will be hard to remember life before it. Experts predict that we’re still some years out from things like remote surgery and driverless cars. But technological advances like beamforming and dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) are well on their way to helping 5G become part of our everyday lives, affecting what’s possible in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Carl Nardell says:

    Plural of spectrum is spectra, not spectrums

    1. Jon Bacon says:

      You bring up an interesting point. We’ve debated on that and a few other terms. Here’s what we found online: https://grammarist.com/usage/spectra-spectrums/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.