Saturday, December 2, 2017

NTT DoCoMo will lead in 5G

by James E. Carroll

From our 20-year archive of telecom news, we know that NTT DoCoMo announced the first 4G mobile network trial in 2003 at its R&D facilities in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.  Seven years later, full-scale LTE trials were underway across the Tokyo metropolitan region.  On December 24, 2010, NTT DOCOMO officially launched its "Xi" LTE service across Japan, delivering peak theoretical speeds of 75 Mbps from some buildings and 37 Mbps peak speeds across much of its national network. In the first 18 months after the service launch, DOCOMO already had 5 million subscribers (Aug 2012). The service has been a clear customer favourite since then. The carrier likewise was among the earliest mobile operators to introduce flat-rate data plans, to introduce VoLTE service, and to adopt LTE-Advanced technologies.

Given Japan’s early-adopter status for technological innovations in general, and DOCOMO’s deep R&D programmes, the 5G wave quite likely will begin here.  DOCOMO has previously stated its intention to roll out commercial 5G services across Japan ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. This is likely to mean a nationwide rollout of 5G, or at least major metropolitan areas across Honshu, and not just a small collection of 5G base stations in a single neighbourhood, as some other carriers will be tempted to do just to claim to be “first” in rolling out the next generation technology.
DOCOMO press machine is already ramping up with 5G announcements every month.


8K Video over 5G

Earlier in November, DOCOMO and Sharp demonstrated a 12-channel MMT (MPEG Media Transport) transmission of 8K video over 5G. The trial, which was conducted on November 1 at its DOCOMO’s Yokosuka R&D, was supported by the Japan Broadcasters Association, a big backer of 8K video encoding and MMT encoding. Each of the 12 channels required 80 Mbps. The companies reported the successful transmission of stable multi-channel 8K video with a high bit rate to multiple devices with the use of error detection and correction technology. Japan is likely to be an early adopter of 8K consumer video screens. DOCOMO’s 5G network may be a viable platform for this application.



5G for Vehicular Communications
DOCOMO is working with Toyota, Ericsson, and Intel to test 5G to vehicles in motion. Testing earlier this month at Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) in Tokyo demonstrated data speeds of up to 1 Gbps for 4K-resolution video communications with a vehicle travelling at 30 km/h. 

For this set-up, the moving vehicle was equipped with an Intel GOT 5G Automotive Platform terminal and a compact on-board antenna head designed for connected car trials. DOCOMO’s 5G trial environment provided coverage over the nearby Odaiba area using three Ericsson base stations and Cloud-RAN. The vehicle successfully streamed live 4K video at data speeds of up to 1 Gbps downlink/600 Mbps uplink with low latency.

The NTT Group and Toyota continue to collaborate on 5G-connected cars. We will have to see how the technology performs at higher vehicular speeds and how the network performs when thousands of connected cars in the same area try to use the network simultaneously.



5G to Connected Vehicles with Digital Signage

A further refinement of 5G-to-the-vehicle is a project underway between DOCOMO and Sony. This concept involves a 4K digital signage system fitted to the outside of the New Concept Cart developed by Sony. The idea is for the vehicle to display a concept stream of advertising as it cruises down the street.

Presumably, the content would include live streaming, otherwise, local storage could ensure high-quality video replay without requiring a 5G network. However, we can see that DOCOMO is experimenting with new concepts to leverage 5G.



Testing MediaTek’s 5G Silicon

While we await a final 5G specification, some silicon vendors are rushing pre-commercial chipsets to market. DOCOMO is working with MediaTek on one such implementation.

MediaTek’s 5G chipset claims to increase the spectral efficiency of mobile devices by up to 2.3 times compared to existing LTE technology. The device integrates DOCOMO's non-orthogonal multiple access (NOMA) radio access technology with MediaTek's multi-user interference cancellation (MUIC) technology, which is required to achieve NOMA.


The idea with NOMA is to multiplex signals at a base-station transmitter to leverage the increased signal processing capacity of user devices and cancel interference among multiplexed user signals. MediaTek says its MUIC technology removes interference from other users when a base station transmits a signal to a number of users simultaneously. The silicon apparently is being developed for smartphones or other portable devices as an alternative to Qualcomm or Intel 5G modems.

In covering NTT DOCOMO’s race to 5G it is important to note that collaboration with other industry players is the name of the game.  As part of a mid-to-long-term strategy outlined in May, DOCOMO, which currently serves more than 70 million mobile customers in Japan, plans to launch “exciting and unexpected services” under a company-wide project called "empower+d challenge" (empowered challenge), which will “enable customers to realize their aspirations and achieve greater affluence.”

Through the creative application of virtual reality, artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT technologies, DOCOMO envisions that 5G will lead to new customer experiences, lifestyles and work styles.



Since early last year, DOCOMO has been an active member of the 5G Open Trial Specification Alliance, which has pushed for early 5G trial specifications across multiple spectrum bands, including bands above and below 6 GHz. Other founders of this group include KT, SK Telecom and Verizon. This work led to the inclusion of the first 3GPP 5G NR specification to be included in the upcoming Release 15 - the global 5G standard that will make use of both sub-6 GHz and mmWave spectrum bands.

Vendor collaboration with DOCOMO

Earlier this year, DOCOMO announced plans to conduct interoperability testing and over-the-air field trials in Japan based on the 5G New Radio (NR) specifications under development by 3GPP, specifically involving mid-band spectrum at 4.5 GHz and millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum at 28 GHz. The trials were to be based on device prototype and base station solutions from Qualcomm Technologies and Ericsson, respectively.

Working with Huawei, DOCOMO recently conducted an outdoor 5G trial for ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) using a 4.5 GHz system. The trial featured a stationary mobile terminal that received signals at distances of 0.8 to 1 km from the base station. During the trial, DOCOMO achieved an over-the-air latency of less than one millisecond together with a packet transmission success rate of more than 99.999%.  Impressive performance results!

In June, DOCOMO confirmed the addition of Nokia to it 5G ecosystem. Nokia participated in a demonstration of low-latency 4K video streaming during a 5G Tokyo Bay Summit 2017 earlier in May. More broadly, the collaboration is also known to include the Intel 5G Mobile Trial Platform, will commence with the key interoperability testing of multi-vendor technology using the 4.5 GHz frequency band. 

Ongoing tests of the Nokia 5G FIRST solution include the Nokia AirScale base station transmitting over a 5G radio interface to the Intel 5G Mobile Trial Platform. The companies plan to test end-to-end applications over the air between the base station and the device on the 4.5 GHz frequency band, which is a candidate band for 5G services in Japan. The collaboration with NTT DOCOMO will specifically involve Nokia's AirScale Active Antenna equipped with massive MIMO technology and digital beamforming, designed to provide enhanced cell range, maximised performance at the cell edge and increased spectral efficiency. The 5G FIRST platform, designed to support multi-vendor end user devices for 5G, incorporates the Nokia AirScale base station and AirFrame data centre technology.

With Samsung Electronics Co., DOCOMO has demonstrated a 5G data speed of more than 2.5Gbps with a mobile device that was in a vehicle travelling 150km/h, sufficiently fast for connectivity onboard most trains. This trial took place in November 2016 at the Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Transmissions were conducted using the 28GHz high-frequency band. The development work also featured massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technologies that incorporate beamforming.

Cisco is supplying its Network Services Orchestrator to help DOCOMO carry out network device provisioning and transform its service lifecycle. DOCOMO first deployed Cisco’s network functions virtualization (NFV) system in 2016.

Another one of DOCOMO’s 5G partners is Sumitomo Electric. Together, the companies are looking to 5G to power the real-time collection and delivery of traffic information using high-definition sensors. There are currently tests underway at an outdoor course within the Yokohama Works of Sumitomo Electric. Sensors are installed along the course and in vehicles. The vehicles are equipped with DOCOMO 5G terminals that communicate with DOCOMO 5G base stations throughout the facility. Traffic information is analyzed in real time and then fed back to drivers and pedestrians. Clearly, the aim is the smart city, where data from the public roadways can be analyzed and shared in near real-time. For a mobile operator such as DOCOMO, a successful business case and trial would mean millions of 5G endpoints with the municipal, provincial and perhaps national governments as potential long-term clients of the network – a fantastic underwriting opportunity for the new infrastructure if such a deal could be struck,

From the municipal 5G business case to the personal       

A few months back, NTT DOCOMO Ventures announced an equity investment in Petametrics, a San Francisco start-up that provides “LiftIgniter”, a personalization API to deliver a wholly unique experience to every individual user impression.

LiftIgniter was founded by Indraneel Mukherjee, a former Google researcher, and a team of machine learning and math PhDs., The personalization engine is powering various NTT DOCOMO e-commerce services. The idea here is to capture data points from consumers and then perform deep analysis to uncover macro trends. With LiftIgniter, the machine learning-based personalization algorithms run 24/7, learning and reacting to each impression in real-time to predict and serve up tailored content for every user touchpoint. The company says its platform is agnostic across all content, languages and devices. While not necessarily specific to 5G, the number of endpoints envisioned by these developers appears to be of high magnitude, meaning that is could be a very potent use case for 5G-enabled IoT.




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