The work on 60 GHz backhaul is seen as a precursor to developing 60 GHz access technologies for carriers as an upgrade for today's WiFi offload. Castor said one study concluded 60 GHz nets could deliver 70 Gbits/second per square kilometer, a hundred times more capacity than today's 3G and 4G links.
The downside is high capacity 60 GHz links have significantly less range. That means engineers will have to upgrade WiFi handoff techniques to serve mobile users.
Longer term, the ITU standards group has commissioned a study of the feasibility of using different millimeter-wave bands for cellular access. Samsung already is studying use of the 28 GHz band and Nokia Solutions and Networks is researching 70 GHz bands.
The efforts are part of a broad set of next-generation wireless research efforts around the world at a time when 5G is still in an early definition stage. Indeed, the 60 GHz effort is part of a set of 5G wireless networking projects for InterDigital, a wireless research and licensing company.
"When it comes to 5G we really are at the consensus-building stage, there are proposals but this is not in the standards realm yet," said Castor. "2013 marked the start of 5G discussions, 2014 will see more of that but standards probably will not come until 2018 to 2020," he said.
For its part, InterDigital's London office is taking the lead in 5G research along with academic partnerships it has struck with the University of Surrey and New York University.
One of the more interesting projects is exploring new ways of shaping waveforms to lower interference using today's OFDM modulation techniques. One startup recently announced it has an alternative technology addressing the issues with OFDM.
Separately, InterDigital is developing dynamic spectrum management techniques across traditional cellular bands, TV white spaces and anticipated 5G bands.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times