Vodafone, Huawei make 5G call, test IP microwave as backhaul option

vodafone huawei 5G call
Image credit: Huawei

Vodafone and Huawei have made a phone call over 5G equipment and conducted a lab test indicating that traditional IP microwave links could be a viable technology for 5G backhaul.

The 5G call was made over a test network in Spain using Non-standalone (NSA) 5G (NR) on the 3.7-GHz band. In the test, a dual connectivity 4G to 5G live data call was completed using a test device. Huawei RAN and core network equipment was deployed to support the test with micro-service centric architecture, control plane/user plane separation, unified access and network slicing technology.

The connection started on 4G and then established the data connection on 5G. The engineers also successfully tested a live HD video call using the same route.

Huawei is billing it as the world’s first such 5G call – or at least the world’s first 5G call using 3GPP-standardized 5G NSA gear in a test network comprising all end-to-end elements of a 5G call (i.e. not just data over a 5G connection, but also all the control information required to set up the call and route it between 4G and 5G networks).

Earlier this month, KT, Verizon and Samsung staged a demonstration of 5G solutions that included a live 5G video call between Minneapolis and Seoul.

In any case, Dr. Peter Meissner, CEO and Member of the Board at the NGMN Alliance, said in a statement the real point is that the call was achieved just two months after 3GPP completed the Non-standalone NR standard, which is “much sooner than most in the industry were expecting it to happen. This sends out the very promising signal to the world that the industry is ready to introduce 5G services for customers in due course.”

Meanwhile, Vodafone and Huawei also said they have completed lab tests which indicate that traditional IP microwave links could serve as backhaul links for 5G base stations.

The 5G backhaul question is crucial because as more devices are connected and consume (and generate) more data, that will put pressure on backhaul links to keep up with demand and support 5G’s ultrafast data speeds and low latency requirements.

The trial tested both the capacity and latency that could be achieved using a traditional IP microwave link. Result: they found it’s possible to deliver up to 2.7 Gbps capacity from a single IP microwave link by aggregating two 112-MHz channels in a single polarization (either vertical or horizontal). Huawei claims that’s another first – enabling a single RF outdoor unit to top 2 Gbps in a single polarization.

In terms of latency, Huawei says its engineers made enhancements to the modem and RF unit to bring latency down to as low as 50 microseconds – which is good for microwave, though it’s nowhere close to the 1-millisecond latency that 5G NR is expected to support.

Even so, Huawei said the adjustments should enable traditional microwave to support high capacity microwave links already commercially deployed – such as E-band and Multi-Band – in providing 5G backhaul.

Vodafone and Huawei’s next move is to test whether it’s possible to achieve 4 Gbps total capacity in one RF outdoor unit with dual polarization, which can respond to both horizontal and vertical radio waves at the same time, thus increasing traffic handling capacity, reducing power consumption and halving the amount of space needed to house units.

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