Enhanced Mobile Broadband: The Continuing Evolution of LTE
The innovations 5G will bring to wireless technology have been defined in three broad categories under 3GPP’s SMARTER (Study on New Services and Markets Technology Enablers) project. One of these, enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), represents a continuing evolution from LTE, which can already provide mobile broadband speeds in the gigabits in limited markets. Still, the need for higher bandwidth, greater connectivity and lower latency in critical applications has already outstripped LTE’s capacity as more and more devices connect to networks around the world.
5G’s use of higher spectrum waves (mmWaves) will enable higher capacity in densely populated areas, greater scalability, higher user mobility for services in moving vehicles and enhanced connectivity everywhere. 5G eMBB is seen as the first of the three broad categories to bring the benefits of 5G to the wider public, as it can deliver high quality of service (QoS) internet access in previously challenging or prohibitive conditions.
eMBB and Other Major 5G Innovations
3GPP’s other major use cases for 5G — ultrareliable low-latency communications (URLLC) and massive machine-type communications (mMTC) — work together with eMBB to satisfy the requirements of new wireless networks. With these facilities in place, networks can support massive IoT and mission-critical applications in manufacturing, military deployments, healthcare and emergency response.
These three capabilities solve issues with bandwidth, latency and density that have limited LTE’s capabilities in, for example, autonomous vehicles, automated manufacturing, smart city infrastructure, streaming 4K video and augmented reality. Ultimately, the goals set for 5G point toward seamless coverage with a connection density of up to one million connections per square kilometer, peak data transfer rates in the tens of gigabits per second and latency of 1 millisecond.
eMBB-Specific Use Cases
One of the significant ways 5G will deploy across large areas is through fixed wireless access (FWA), which will leverage 5G technologies like beamforming and higher-spectrum bands to deliver wireless broadband to previously unreached coverage areas. In 2019, FWA was part of an initial 5G launch in more than 30 networks and is now gaining ground in Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. Globally, the FWA market is expected to grow exponentially from 2018–2025 at a CAGR of 99.5 percent.
FWA will make a significant impact on global markets, both developing and developed, such as in the U.S., where sparsely populated, rural areas currently lag far behind cities in broadband access. FWA can deliver speeds comparable to or exceeding those of current fiber-based networks, thus creating a platform for eMBB over vast coverage areas using spectrum bands unavailable to 4G. As 5G eMBB becomes widely available, it can deliver several sub-use cases, such as:
- Hot spots: eMBB can enhance broadband access in densely populated areas, boosting indoor and outdoor coverage in high-rise buildings and crowded city centers.
- Broadband everywhere: Technologies like FWA can offer consistent coverage around the world with minimum speeds of 50 Mbps.
- Public transportation: Broadband access on high-speed trains and other modes of public transport are examples.
- Smart offices: eMBB can deliver high-bandwidth connections to hundreds of users in environments with heavy data traffic.
- Large-scale events: Concerts and sporting events may be served by eMBB, enabling high data rates where tens or hundreds of thousands of people are gathered.
- Enhanced multimedia: eMBB can provide seamless, high-definition video streaming, mobile TV and real-time content over broad coverage areas.
While many use cases for eMBB apply to healthcare in the COVID-19 era and manufacturing services, its early stages “center on the consumer market,” notes research analyst Sacha Kavanagh. 5G eMBB will be driven by “the growth in user-generated content and our expectations of being able to stream what we want, where we want and when we want without needing to log onto a Wi-Fi network.” Multimedia streaming and entertainment, however, constitute only some of the needs eMBB could meet. Important business use cases include mobile cloud computing and connected remote smart offices.
The technical requirements for such enhanced broadband capacity and access are high, and it may be several years before the development of mobile technology and cellular infrastructure can bridge the gap. Still, with 5G networks debuting in cities around the world and public and privately funded FWA initiatives expanding coverage to underserved regions, it seems that the age of seamless 5G eMBB is rapidly approaching. According to a recent report, the number of eMBB-enabled devices will increase from 15 million in 2019 to 1 billion in 2024.