How InterDigital’s Smart Beam Technology Laid a Foundation for 5G
At InterDigital, we take pride in our heritage of demonstrating working systems years ahead of market rollout by showcasing our suite of patented system architecture and connectivity solutions that unlock and enable future generations of wireless.
While enterprises and consumers tangibly experience the benefits of technological evolutions through faster speeds and other new capabilities, InterDigital’s most transformational innovations are those we can’t see because they take place at the most foundational levels.
At InterDigital, we are systems engineers and solutions developers. We invent the building blocks that shape technology evolution.
InterDigital has been instrumental in the development of multiple generations of wireless technologies, from 2G to 3G, 4G and now 5G and beyond through standards contributions and leadership in wireless global research. We have been demonstrating working 5G platforms and prototype systems since 2013 and have been integral participants in global 5G projects including Horizon 2020 and the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Platform for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR).
While contributing to standards and exploring new wireless network architectures and solutions, InterDigital also led research examining and optimizing beam-based architectures with solutions that eventually laid a functional foundation for 5G.
Beamforming can be used to concentrate energy in specific directions and, as a result, improve the quality of signals (like cell phone signals) transmitted or received.
The beams that are formed have a main direction and can cover a wide or narrow area. The direction and coverage or “shape” of each beam can be created by adjusting the amplitude and phase of signals from the different antennas of an antenna array to create a combined signal (beam) having specific properties including direction, shape, and energy. Narrower beams have more concentrated energy in the main direction to tap into higher-frequency spectrum.
For 5G and beyond, which expand wireless communication into higher frequencies, beam-based operation is an integral design component that enables operators to achieve higher data rates and reliable user connections as well as for enhancing spectrum efficiency and boosting network capacity and coverage. More and narrower beams are needed as the frequencies increase.
In wireless network evolution from 4G to 5G, the transition from transparent beamforming, used by the network without mobile device knowledge, to a fully beam-based architecture with mobile device involvement, required a review and potential overhaul of many functions of the 4G system to enable this new capability. In anticipation of this transition, InterDigital committed our research expertise to determining what needed to be fixed, adapted, or adjusted to support this beam-based ecosystem.
Beam-based solutions became a primary focus of InterDigital’s research, and our Lab priorities and research collaborations reflected the critical importance of these solutions to support the eventual foundation for 5G.
Early on, while pioneering technologies for 3D and elevation beamforming, InterDigital developed a critical solution which became a cornerstone to enabling key functions of 5G, including the ability of a mobile device to connect and gain access, to the network.
UNDERSTANDING INTERDIGITAL’S SMART BEAM TECHNOLOGY
InterDigital’s patented smart beam technology enables the mobile device (UE) and the network to converge on preferred transmit and receive beams very quickly. Our solution became a cornerstone for enabling key functions of 5G, including the ability for a mobile device to quickly gain access to a 5G network via the use of directional beams, which supports mobility and connection recovery.
One application of this technology in 5G is for beam alignment for initial access. The UE measures beam-based signals it receives from the network in the downlink (network to UE), selects one (e.g., the strongest one) and uses a “linked” resource or signal to transmit in the uplink (UE to network). For the transmission, the UE points its transmit beam in the opposite direction from the direction it used to receive the selected signal. Using the same linkage, the network knows the beam to use to receive the uplink transmission and knows the downlink beam selected by the UE. Both UE and network can proceed to communicate using these beams.
Beam alignment is essential for maximizing performance and achieving the full potential of 5G. This solution significantly reduces the time, overhead (signaling), and battery power needed to achieve that alignment.
While InterDigital developed this solution before higher frequencies were being discussed for 5G, it was anticipated that it would become increasingly important as wireless communication expanded to higher frequencies and transparent beamforming would no longer be sufficient.
Today, this critical solution for linking downlink and uplink beams for initial access, as well as other key functions, is foundational to 5G.