Governments and the telecommunications industry are investing billions into a dramatic upgrade to mobile connectivity: the new generation of cellular technology known as 5G. The technology’s ability to support great numbers of connected devices with faster response times has created a world of possibilities for new mobile applications, from more sophisticated digital factory capabilities to remote surgeries in real time.
“At 10 milliseconds latency, 5G is 10 times faster than its predecessor at the upper end of home Wi-Fi networks, and on par with most wired connections,” said Ajay Chavali, managing director at Accenture Strategy & Consulting. “With the ability to support 1 million devices in a square kilometer, and with speeds up to 20 gigabytes per second, 5G offers the first viable alternative to wired connections, with the ease of use and deployment of a wireless network. These capabilities will transform manufacturing, transportation, logistics and warehousing, healthcare, and public services with new products and services leading to several trillion dollars of economic gain in coming years.”
But designing those applications requires developers to simultaneously manage a massively complex set of requirements. The chances of getting everything right on the first try and beating their competitors to market are very low – unless developers have the ability to simulate the performance of their offerings before they build them. The answer? Digital 3D simulation technology, which enables developers to test, troubleshoot and redesign the products in record times, without the high cost and long lead times required for physical prototypes.
“Multiple layers of the technology stack have to come together to commercialize internet of things driven by 5G,” said Chavali's colleague at Accenture, senior manager Sanjay Keswani. “These include sensors and electronic components, wireless devices and network equipment, network and connectivity providers, IoT cloud and heterogeneous network integrators, software platform players, and end-user application providers. Integration of these layers will be challenging and expensive. High levels of investments will be needed from various players in the value chain, and aligning value propositions to investments will prove to be complex.”
That complexity, Keswani said, significantly increase the risk of design errors, especially when factoring in the challenging environments in which 5G will operate. Original equipment manufacturers and suppliers will need to create designs that can withstand all of the outside influences that could affect and disrupt a signal, and they will have to meet strict – and highly different – regulatory standards in every country in which they operate.
Furthermore, they will have to do so at an acceptable cost. In a recent survey by Infosys of industry leaders who might be likely buyers of 5G applications, 60% said that cost and effectiveness were the primary criteria for their adoption of 5G for a particular use case.
At 10 milliseconds latency, 5G is 10 times faster than its predecessor at the upper end of home Wi-Fi networks, and on par with most wired connections
To meet these challenges, developers need to deliver optimized, high-performance designs at attractive cost-value ratios. For Jay Gillette, senior RF and antenna engineer for wireless module and antenna manufacturer Laird Connectivity, effective simulation tools are an integral part of achieving this balance.
“Today’s 5G antennas just require simulation,” he said. “Manual optimization might be fine for really simplistic antenna types, but I don’t think that’s feasible for the pattern and bandwidth requirements of modern antennas. You may find a solution in the lab, but it could be sub-optimal, and it’s difficult to predict its functionality with the limited data set you can produce in the lab.”
Working in the virtual world allows engineers to identify the many factors that can interfere with the strength and reliability of a 5G signal, helping them to optimize the design for these variables. Due to some of the delicate use cases under consideration – remote surgery, for example – 5G networks will need to deliver constant up-time and reliability in all weather conditions in complex environments ranging from city streets to factory floors. Achieving these goals with a huge number of small antennas that relay signals back and forth will be significantly more complicated than today’s relatively small network of looming cellular towers.
“If we’re working to develop a 5G antenna for an OEM, then we’re trying to make sure whether or not our design will conform to their requirements,” Gillette said. “You don’t want to move ahead with designing a full prototype, given the time frame and expense involved, with the risk of having that product not conform to the customer’s requirements.
Sophisticated digital simulation capabilities, however, allow engineers to virtually test their designs in virtual models of the actual conditions where a 5G network will be deployed – and it allows them to do so early, before detailed design work begins.
“Simulation software gives a very accurate estimate of realized performance, enabling you to know where you are in terms of compliance. Time is money, so being able to solve these simulations quickly and avoiding multiple iterations is huge. Everybody’s found that to be truly competitive in the market, you need to move to simulation.”
Solving these challenges will be more than worthwhile, given the new capabilities 5G will deliver. Consumers will be enabled with reliable streaming of 4K video and better network coverage for smartphones, but they will also feel the benefits as entirely new products and services such as telemedicine and autonomous vehicles enter the market. For businesses, these advantages can be leveraged across different industries to deliver huge improvements in efficiency and output, and to unlock previously inaccessible forms of innovation.
“With its low latency and reliability, 5G has shown clear benefits in many areas,” said Fawad Noory, associate engagement manager at digital services and consulting company Infosys. “Examples include the reimagining of large agile workflows in manufacturing to enable the new digital factory. Use of automated guided vehicles is rising, and with 5G they can perform services such as on-demand technician requests for inventory or the movement of heavy equipment. Meanwhile, in utility there has been the rise of smart grid and distributed energy resources such as solar-generation or wind power fields, where 5G can be used in order to provide control, support operations and enhanced reliability in real time.”
And when these wonders become available, consumers will be able to thank sophisticated computer simulations for making it possible. Companies that master these technologies and deliver fast, successful 5G implementation will gain a crucial competitive advantage, setting them up as market leaders for the years and decades to come.