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5G over low frequency spectrum seems to be a waste of time

T-Mobile was able to claim the first US 5G network thanks to its 600 MHz spectrum, but it immediately started managing-down expectations, so what was the point?

Multiple reports are claiming TMUS has been telling its excited punters that the speed increase with 5G will be, on average, around 20%. That’s a pretty major anti-climax after all the hype suggesting 5G would be ten times faster and all that. As ever with the tendency of US operator marketing departments to massively over-promise, they have to confront the facts on the ground sooner or later.

Having said all that it’s important to stress that early tests of the TMUS 5G network have, at times, yielded speed increases far greater than that average (which also implies there are other times there will be no increase at all, or even a decrease). PC Mag has done a good job of initial testing and found results vary according to the expected factors such as distance from the cell and time of day.

PC Mag concludes that, while TMUS’s 5G does represent an upgrade over its 4G service, the improvement is neither so great nor consistent enough to get too excited about. Elsewhere VentureBeat, Cnet, and Slashgear offer similarly nuanced reports that all agree there’s a limited amount to get excited about at this stage.

Meanwhile the Houston Chronicle was so underwhelmed it had a bit of a moan to TMUS and got the following statement in response. “In some places, 600 MHz 5G will be a lot faster than LTE. In others, customers won’t see as much difference. On average, customers with a 600 MHz 5G phone should see a 20 percent download speed boost on top of what T-Mobile’s LTE network delivers, and with the New T-Mobile they can expect that to get exponentially faster over time, just like we saw when 4G was first introduced.”

That’s all fair enough but it still feels like a pretty major climb-down from all the utopian noise we’ve been getting the US about 5G. TMUS even had the nerve to attack its competitors for over-hyping 5G earlier this week, only to then release the above statement. While there is some special sauce in 5G NR, the main bandwidth improvements are derived from simply using the fatter pipes available at higher frequencies.

The reason there’s all this spectrum available at higher bands is that it’s pretty rubbish for telecommunications. It has short range and poor propagation characteristics. So while the use of 600 MHz technically enables nationwide 5G, the kind of 5G that has been promised will only arrive once operators have added a zillion small cells to transmit higher frequencies and that won’t happen for a while.

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19 comments

  1. Avatar Bryan Wills 06/12/2019 @ 6:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing – and delighted by your writing, as always!
    I tend to disagree about the “waste of time” title, though. 20% is an increase that does impact customer experience. Plus it should lead to a better experience when travelling from areas with higher 5G speeds (higher frequencies) into those with lower 5G speeds.

  2. Avatar Aaron Gooch 07/12/2019 @ 4:27 am

    I been saying this 5ge clone is nothing more than 4g lte with massive mimo. But people disagree thank you for actually posting facts of lower spectrum speeds. TMobile is the only ones falsely advised 4g as 5g

    • Avatar changer 09/12/2019 @ 4:24 am

      Technically I totally dislike the concept that standard set claim to be 5G, because it is nothing new, just a bigger 4G. or to he honest, this is a bigger but not smarter.
      What standard claim to be 5G is just mostly focus on radio access layer, but still much more concern on fronthaul, backhaul, transport, aggregation, core blablabla needed to be built, deployed …

      For me, I think we need new network model using natural common layer as a carrier than add more smart coding to send more context over those common carriers.

  3. Avatar K Hoffman 07/12/2019 @ 6:00 am

    This reminds me of the Megapixle race in photography. Marketing people all trained the average media and consumer to look at only Mega Pixles. While ignoring Dynamic range and other factors.
    INFORMED users know that 5G is about more than the ability to download a library of videos while crossing the street.
    5G is about more. The key feature will be latency that will allow more real time AI assisted solutions to work better. Interactive games too.
    As to what’s the point? The best 5G is the 5G you can use. After over 16 years on Verizon in the Seattle area we changed to T-mobile. Main reason coverage. Verizon coverage is fine in a car on a freeway but get a mile off the freeway or in a building and its nada even a half mile from a tower.
    Now I can reach my daughter in her school. Get Internet at PTA meetings and make calls from my desk at work.
    The fastest service standing next to the tower is not the fastest where I need my phone to work.

  4. Avatar Sebastian Pineda 07/12/2019 @ 10:12 am

    Let’s see when the 5G core is ready to offer the rest of the 5G benefits. With TMUS coverage on the 600MHz that will be a game changer. So I wouldn’t say a waste of time. Rather I would say good planning for what is coming next.

  5. Avatar Brian Keith Eaver 07/12/2019 @ 11:14 am

    You know this is beginning stages right? Low band spectrum step 1, then build it out from there. At least the TMO customers won’t have to be standing next to a tower to receive a signal unlike the other 2 carriers that couldn’t even get their signal to spread out across a stadium.

    I’m pretty underwhelmed with this article..

  6. Avatar Vasileios Stoidis 07/12/2019 @ 5:35 pm

    I totally disagree, since utilizing 600 MHz spectrum for 5G will also allow to reduce the congestion in 4G. 4G is not slow because of the technology (which can easily deliver 200Mbps or more), but because of congestion in crowded areas.

    The more the spectrum that’s available (and 5G increases the spectrum by a lot), the less congestion the users experience and thus, the higher the speeds and the quality of the service.

    So even if 5G behaves similarly with 4G at 600 MHz, this will help the overall available capacity and will increase the speeds for all.

    • Avatar Daring 53 04/02/2020 @ 3:10 pm

      I agree. Farther signal propagation, penetration – to me means broader coverage, larger radii per vertical asset site. In theory, less costly to cover more low user-density areas like national forests, and low population yet frequently traveled areas.
      So even if the added capacity and coverage is as “slow” as 4g, the real world increase in user experience is improved. Simply due to added capacity. And expanded improved range, is the difference between making a deal or not, to many. Expanded 4g level reliable coverage, in locations where coverage was intermittent, non existent, or 3g and slower, is a big deal.
      Meanwhile, given the conventional rollout of microwave spectrum 5G as planned on a humanly realistic schedule, the overall effect could actually be that customers notice improved connectivity, sooner.
      I think diversified multiband coverage is always a good thing. If a 600 Mhz zone overlaps multiple microwave band coverage zones, in some quadrants, while also providing coverage where before there was not, that’s the best.
      Redundant overflow capacity plus expanded coverage makes sense.

      4-G speed is a trillion times better than,
      No-G at any speed.

  7. Avatar Cary Becker 08/12/2019 @ 2:21 am

    It will be a very long time before blowing your info in every direction hoping for a reciever can beat a clean glass and light connection. Wireless is subject to terrestrial interference, and nothing will change that.

  8. Avatar Reasonable Tech Guy 08/12/2019 @ 3:24 am

    While it’s ok to be let down by the actual results, it’s extremely short sighted to completely dismiss low band 5G as a hoax or a marketing ploy. 5G in itself is more of a theoretical standard than a concrete one. The initial connection at the hub is indeed in line with the 5G standard but none of that matters until it meets the people. mmWave is more of a marketing ploy because although it is very fast, it covers an area of a city block with pure line of sight. Anything including wind can affect your signal. It can not even penetrate glass in it’s current state so it’s not a viable solution for Nationwide deployment. The goal in the new standard is reach as many people while providing an upgrade in quality of connection. In my opinion, this small upgrade brings a stronger and faster connection to more people and leaves the door open to introduce midband 5G and get closer to the visions of connectivity that are being advertised. It’s not about defending brands or tearing down other companies. It’s about honoring the true goal of technological advancement which is improving the lives of the masses.

  9. Avatar Shan Liu 08/12/2019 @ 5:48 am

    If it’s only a 20% increase then upgrading to a 5G ready phone is surly a waste of money at this time. I did see many speed tests of over 1000mb transfer speed both in Taiwan and China on youtube, surly that is more than 20% increase.

  10. Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 09/12/2019 @ 8:57 am

    Thank you all for your excellent comments. I have no doubt 5G will improve but the fact remains that the reality is falling far short of the hype right now.

  11. Avatar Professor Peter Curwen 11/12/2019 @ 5:10 pm

    What I think a number of people are saying is (1) sheer speed is only one element of the consumer experience but there is also the issue of coverage and, less importantly, latency (2) neither the 600 MHz not mmWave bands are much use if treated in isolation. Roughly speaking, technology is moving in a 10 year cycle (e.g. 3G from 2000 to 2010, LTE from 2010 to 2020) so 5G needs to be left to develop for a few years before it can be properly assessed. LTE needed carrier aggregation before it provided real progress and, equally, 5G needs a combination of low, mid-range and high bands to realise its potential. Whether operators outside the USA will ever make any money from it is another question.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 11/12/2019 @ 5:13 pm

      Agreed. We’ll be sure to write a follow-up in a few years.

  12. Avatar XDA-Developer 10/04/2020 @ 5:15 pm

    Now that T-Mobile’s low-band (600MHz) 5G network is the first and only nationwide deployment of 5G, it seems that T-Mobile wasn’t hyping or lying after all. For those calling it “4G” or “fake 5G,” you should really take the time to do some basic research before embarrassing yourself. The distinction is clearly defined by the 3GPP and the International Communication Union. While the 600MHz low-band spectrum of 5G is slower than mid-band (Sub-6GHz) and high-band (mmWave), the coverage footprint is, by far, the best of the three standards. This is why T-Mobile has been successful in their nationwide deployment of 5G. With carrier aggregation, many low-band 5G subscribers are seeing download speeds over 50% faster than LTE Advanced (LTE-A).

  13. Avatar Matt. 14/04/2020 @ 11:27 pm

    I dont think its a waste of time. Band 71 and band 12 LTE are slow. Band 71NR 600mhz is as fast as high band LTE 1800mhz. With the current acquisition of Sprint tmobile now has a low band for rural communities and has mid and high band for city’s and Suburbs. I live in a rural area band 12 only gives me about 3 down and 3 upload when tmobile turned on the 5G tower near me I’m now seeing about 50 download and 30 upload. That is a huge upgrade for me. When I’m in the city for work on 5G I get about 150 down load and 80 upload. Thats not Gigabit speed like what you’re getting on high band with Verizon but nobody’s getting gigabit speed in Hartford not yet at least.

  14. Avatar Robert J. Landman 25/06/2020 @ 8:45 pm

    Lets first understand what it is claimed to be then you determine if it’s worth it for your needs. The cellular carriers are doing intense marketing telling you it’s designed to achieve up to five Gbps in downlink peak data rate. The vision of 5G is predominantly about speeds that are 10X – 100X faster than 4G and capacity levels that are 1,000X greater.

    It will need to co-exist with previous generations just as 4G LTE networks support 3G devices and (if you still have one, 2G cellphones).
    It is a capital improvement project the size of the entire planet, it’s also a huge gamble on the future of transmission technology, doubling down on consumers’ willingness to upgrade.

    5G is an effort to create a sustainable industry around the wireless consumption of data for all the world’s telcos. A claimed key goal of 5G is to dramatically improve quality of service, and extend that quality over a broader geographic area, in order for the wireless industry to remain competitive against the onset of gigabit fiber service coupled with Wi-Fi.

    There is a general industry consensus that traffic volumes will be multiplied 1,000 times, 100 times more devices will require connectivity; some applications will demand data rates 100 times the speeds the average networks can currently deliver, that some will require near-zero latency and the industry will work to enable battery lives up to ten years.

    And they have a bridge to sell you.
    Demand for higher speeds is unlikely to continue to grow. Technological improvement will no longer be able to deliver much increased capacity without huge increases in cost. Users are unwilling to pay more for their mobile communications which will limit the appetite of mobile networks to invest.

    As a user, I’m sure you want a future that’s more appealing than speed improvements. Consistent connectivity would be nice and more likely to improve productivity than 5G.

    3G has not completely satisfied user performance demands. While the data rate from 2G had improved, the latency (the delay until information requested arrived) was still too long.as it utilized a mixture of circuit and packet switching. 4G removed circuit switching and wider frequency channels reduced the latency.

    What speed is needed? Demand for higher speeds has been driven by video consumption. A person can only watch one video at a time. 4K video requires around 20 Mbits/s. Most mobile screens are far too small to make watching 4K practical. Carriers have found throttling video to 1MBps/s or less has no noticeable effect on the users.
    Is there a need for speed for instantaneous web browsing? It’s more a question of latency for a new page to be sent. There’s a maximum turn-around time a the web server and there are delays inherent in the TCP/IP Internet protocol. This data rate limit is currently around 8 Mbps/s so uses will hardlhy notice a significantly improved browsing experience. Something has to occur on an international basis within Internet standards bodies and key industrial players.

    A recent study proved that telcos have overrated speed in customer satisfaction. Latency is a significant factor and cellular carriers should intensify their efforts to reduce network congestion. The study nlted that current 4G networks deliver speeds well in excess of 10 MBps/s when not congested. Some carriers market 4G speeds over 1 GBps/s when aggregating multiple 4G carriers. It is therefore very hard to understand why speeds faster than 4G can deliver might be needed.
    The same restrictions apply to the fixed broadband world. The highest home rate is likely to be streaming a 4K video around 20 MBps/s. With multiple occupants in the home, perhaps 80MBps/s will be sufficient? This is well within the capabilities of fiber to the cabinet (FTTC) on the pole or padmount. It may not be so necessary to push for fiber-to-the-home (FTTH). Few subscribers opto for the higher data rates.
    Latency is an issue. 4G has a theoretical latency of 10 ms. Additional delays occure in the core networks of the cell carriers. A message from East to West coast is around 30 ms.= and from Europe to the US around 600-100ms. Work is underay to reduce the theoretical latency to 5ms. Within the 5G community, the orginal 1ms latency target is impractically difficult and has been modified to 8ms. Perhaps these numbers will improve?

    Data rate by the industry is claimed to have to keep improving, that there will be a 50% growth per year is highly optimistic. So why do 5G advocates call for a growth data capacity of 100X or even 1000X? Regulators have struggled to find more radio spectrum. The actual data useage has fallen off somewhat, that a plateau in usage will occur and has already been reached by the heaviest users. There can be additional spectrum re-allocated from 2G and 3G to 4G and that can provide 2X-3X improvement in capacity.

    The Internet of Things (IOT). A world of connected machines. Your refrigerator will converse with your coffee pot? Just kidding. A huge potential but it depends on the quality of connectivity. You know that presently coverage is not continuous except along highways (in heavenly trafficked areas). Within the home and business there’s WiFi, Bluetooth and Zigbee. A wide area system might send meter readings to an electricity, water or natural gas supplier. There are technologies already doing this in many areas but in private networks, not via cellular carriers.

    A retired tech from a utility tells a common reality, that there are times when the local telco was the only way a utility could reliably and economically reach all sites, especially in the rural areas. What the utility didn’t like was not having any control over that part of their network. They had agreements with the telcos to provide 24-hour restoral service on their leased 4-wire circuits. Over the years that has changed dramatically. Now, the minimum lease is a T1 (and they are trying to get out of those), so when you lose a circuit you lose up to 24 channels, not one. Worse yet, they only take trouble calls Mon-Friss during office hours. If you have a failure outside of those hours, you wait till the next business day. With the utility’s in house techs they can have boots on the ground Christmas morning while the kids are opening their presents. So, when economically feasible they would always run their own communications equipment.

    5G doesn’t offer power utilities any more capabilities than the current 4G system. Sure, it offers much higher speeds, but they don’t need GB speeds. In one of the companies I know that the majority of their SCADA RTUs are still running on Bell 202 1200 baud modems. They deployed wireless for mundane tasks such as reading remote meters but rarely for SCADA. If they did use it for SCADA it was temporary while they built permanent facilities.

    Are “5G Evolution” and other intermediate steps necessary for 5G? The true purpose of 5G Wireless, as you’ll see momentarily, is to produce a global business model where expenses are lower and revenue from services is higher, on account of the presence of more and greater services than 4G could provision for. So there is a valid argument, from a marketing standpoint, in favor of a gradual deconstruction of 4G branding. As consumers hear more and more about the onset of 5G, enumeration leaves them feeling more and more like their 4G equipment is old and obsolete.

    With so many technologies under the 5G umbrella — home broadband, office broadband, home television, Internet of Things, in-vehicle communication, as well as mobile phone — there’s no guarantee that, when it comes time, any consumer will choose the same provider for each one unless that consumer is willing to sign a contract beforehand. That’s why telcos are stepping up their 5G branding efforts now, including rolling out preliminary 4G upgrades with 5G monikers, and re-introducing the whole idea of 5G to consumers as a fuzzy, cloudy, nebulous entity that encapsulates a sci-fi-like ideal of the future.
    “The general purpose technology for the Fourth Industrial Revolution is actually the ambiguous sort of connectivity that 5G can bring,” admitted Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, in no less conspicuous an arena than the keynote address of CES 2019.

    I remember in the 80’s and 90’s most PC products were released as vaporware first. Sometimes they would actually be produced and shipped, but many times not. Technical colleagues I know see 5G as vaporware. The hype is testing the waters to provide the cell companies with market input. We all know it will take many years to arrive. When it finally does, we may actually need the speeds it promises. But the connectivity will not be better, it will be worse as the much higher frequencies (up to 24GHz cannot penetrate wlls, heavy rain.

    Last September, consumers began to see the first service bundles offered by telecommunications companies in their area, marketed with some form of the term “5G.” “5G is here,” declared Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, specifically for cities such as Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis where rival AT&T had already been drumming up excitement around its 5G trials.

    It was a bit like SpaceX’s 2016 announcement, its 2017 announcement, and its 2018 announcement that the race to Mars had begun. Don’t buy a ticket yet.

    Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) aims to service more densely populated metropolitan centers with downlink speeds approaching 1 Gbps indoors, and 300 Mbps (megabits-per-second) outdoors. It would accomplish this, picture this if you will, through the installation of extremely high-frequency millimeter-wave (mmWave) antennas throughout the landscape — on lampposts, the sides of buildings, the branches of trees, existing electrical towers, and in one novel use case proposed by AT&T, the tops of city busses.

    Since each of these antennas, in the metro use case, would cover an area probably no larger than a baseball diamond, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them would be needed to thoroughly service any densely populated downtown area. And since most would not be omnidirectional — their maximum beam width would only be about 4 degrees — mmWave antennas would bounce signals off of each other’s mirrors, until they eventually reached their intended customer locations. For more suburban and rural areas, eMBB would seek to replace 4G’s current LTE system, with a new network of lower-power omnidirectional antennas providing 50 Mbps downlink service.

    With all of the talk about the coming 5G technology revolution I thought it might be worth taking a little time to talk about what a 5G network means for the aesthetics of neighborhoods. Just what might a street getting 5G see in new construction that is not there today?
    What about towns that are hilly and has a lot of trees. Trees are a major fixture in lots of towns in America, and people plant shade trees along streets and in yards even in states where there are not many trees outside of towns.

    5G is being touted as a fiber replacement, capable of delivering speeds up to a gigabit to homes and businesses. This kind of 5G (which is different than 5G cellular) is going to use the millimeter wave spectrum bands. There are a few characteristics of that spectrum that defines how a 5G network must be deployed. This spectrum has extremely short wavelengths, and that means two things.

    First, the signal isn’t going to travel very far before the signal dissipates and grows too weak to deliver fast data (typically about 1500 ft at 24GHz). Second, these short wavelengths don’t penetrate anything. They won’t go through leaves, walls, or even through a person walking past the transmitter – so these frequencies require a true unimpeded line-of-sight connection.

    These requirements are going to be problematic on the typical residential street. Go outside your own house and see if there is a perfect line-of-sight from any one pole to your home as well as to three or four of your neighbors. The required unimpeded path means there can be no tree, shrub or other impediment between the transmitter on a pole and each home getting this service.

    This may not be an issue in places with few trees like Phoenix, but it sure doesn’t look very feasible on my street in North Hampton, New Hampshire. On my street the only way to make this work would be by imposing a severe tree trimming regime – something that I know most people in my town would resist. I would never buy this service if it meant butchering my 100 year old maple trees (what’s left of them, that is) as the power line’s on my side of the street. And tree trimming must then be maintained into the future to keep new growth from blocking signal paths.

    Even where this can work, this is going to mean putting up some kind of small dish on each customer location in a place that has line-of-sight to the pole transmitter. This dish can’t go just anywhere on a house in the way that satellite TV dishes can often be put in places that aren’t very noticeable. While these dishes will be small, they must go where the transmitter can always see them. That’s going to create all sorts of problems if this is not the place in the home where the existing wiring comes into the home. If the wiring comes into the basement in the back of the house while the best line-of-sight options are in the front – and that is going to mean some costly new wiring by an ISP, which might negate the cost advantage of the 5G.

    Dish Network and other microwave frequency satellite TV providers is 7.050 to 7.075 GHz and it can exhibit fading in heavy snow fall. Of course if the dish gets snow on it, no signal. I don’t know what the 5G 24 GHz cell site antennas look like. will be interesting to see what they look like because there will need to be A LOT OF THEM!

    The next consideration is back-haul – how to get the broadband signals into and out of the neighborhood. Ideally this would be done with fiber. But I can’t see somebody spending the money to string fiber in a small town like North Hampton, or in most residential neighborhoods just to support wireless. Comcast is my Internet carrier and they certainly won’t support wireless competitors. The high cost of stringing fiber is the primary impediment today for getting a newer network into cities.

    One of the primary alternatives to stringing fiber is to feed neighborhood 5G nodes with point-to-point microwave radio shots. In a neighborhood like mine these won’t be any more practical that the 5G signal paths. The solution I see being used for this kind of back-haul is to erect tall poles of 100’ to 120’ to provide a signal path over the tops of trees. I don’t think many neighborhoods are going to want to see a network of tall poles built around them. And tall poles still suffer the same line-of-sight issues. They still have to somehow beam the signal down to the 5G transmitters – and that means a lot more tree trimming. Or we could have a lot more fake trees (like we do now, that look like toilet brushes).

    All of this sounds dreadful enough, but to top it off the network I’ve described would be needed for a single wireless provider. If more than one company wants to provide wireless broadband then the number of devices multiply accordingly. The whole promise of 5G is that it will allow for multiple new competitors, and that implies a town filled with multiple wireless devices on poles.

    3G and 4G had to put up with siting restrictions by local planning boards (I used to be on one and wrote the cell tower ordinance which required cell towers to be on town owned land so it least our property taxes were a bit subsidized by the leases and it shared the ugliness.

    And with all of these physical deployment issues there is still the cost issue. I haven’t seen any numbers for the cost of the needed neighborhood transmitters that makes a compelling business case for 5G.

    Where the technology sits today this technology is not going to work on the typical residential street that is full of shade trees and relatively short poles. And that means that much of the talk about gigabit 5G is hype – nobody is going to be building a 5G network in my neighborhood or yours, for the same sorts of reasons they aren’t building fiber here.

    5G is an effort to create a sustainable industry around the wireless consumption of data for all the world’s telcos. One key goal of 5G is to dramatically improve quality of service, and extend that quality over a broader geographic area, in order for the wireless industry to remain competitive against the onset of gigabit fiber service coupled with Wi-Fi.
    The 5G transition plan, once complete, would constitute an overhaul of communications infrastructure unlike any other in history. Imagine if, at the close of the 19th century, the telegraph industry had come together in a joint decision to implement a staged transition to fax. That’s essentially the scale of the shift from 4G to 5G. The real reason for this shift is not so much to get faster as to make the wireless industry sustainable over the long term, as the 4G transmission scheme is claimed to be approaching unsustainability faster than the industry experts predicted.
    So what is 5G? 5G is a promise,” Vestberg continued, “of so much more than we’ve ever seen in any wireless technology. From the beginning, we had the 1G, the 2G, the 3G, and the 4G. They were sort of leaps of differences, when it comes to speed and throughput. When we think about 5G, we think about 10 gigabits per second throughput, we talk about 10x battery life, we think about 1000 times more data volumes in the networks. It’s just radically different. I would say it’s a quantum leap compared to 4G.”

    The first wave of 5G-branded services are effectively 4G, or 4G extensions, that place consumers on the right track for future 5G upgrades, thus guaranteeing the revenue sources that 5G will require to be successful, or if only to just break even.

    Verizon’s “First on 5G” began with the October 2018 rollout of what’s being called 5G Home — a broadband Wi-Fi service that bundles wireless phone with no-longer-cable TV service, for a price that, after short-term discounts, could rise to as much as $120/month. In the test cities where it was first deployed, 5G Home may utilize wireless spectrum that is indeed being earmarked for 5G. Yet it involved a grade of equipment only capable of 300 megabits-per-second (Mbps) throughput, that would eventually need to be upgraded to 1 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) for it to qualify as 5G technology.

    In January 2019, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg indicated to financial analysts that 5G Home rollout may remain limited to the initial test area for some time to come, as the company awaits new standards for customer premise (CP) equipment. This after it seemed clear to observers that Verizon was willing to continue rolling out intermediate equipment with a “5G” brand until that time.

    AT&T’s “5G Evolution” began in December 2018 with the sudden, unanticipated appearance of a “5G E” icon in the notifications area of 4G customers’ phones. The icon appears if the phone is presently being serviced by a 4G LTE transmitter capable of being upgraded to 5G specifications. Those transmitters may have begun using frequencies over and above those originally reserved for 4G LTE, in addition to those already being used, for greater multiplexing and presumably greater bandwidth, although phones may not necessarily be equipped to receive these extra frequencies, even if they show the “5G E” icon.

    AT&T’s “5G+” also began in December 2018, and refers to a mobile hotspot service that uses an early version (some would say “prototype”) of the very-high-speed mmWave technology that is being earmarked for 5G, in addition to existing 4G LTE. The hotspot device itself (Netgear’s Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot) will be sold separately by AT&T for $499, while it offers the service for $70 per month for the first 15 GB. With a theoretical peak throughput of 300 Mbps, it’s conceivable that this device’s initial bandwidth allocation could be completely burned through in less than seven minutes’ time.

    T-Mobile has said it plans to launch what it characterizes as “true 5G service” to select cities, very soon after the finalization of its merger agreement with Sprint. In a statement, the company says it will need access to the mid-range of 5G spectrum currently delegated for Sprint, in addition to the low- and high-range spectrum T-Mobile currently holds, to deliver the first wave of its services. At the time of this writing, the ongoing federal government shutdown appears to have interfered with these plans.
    But consumers aren’t the only parties facing down the need to climb onto a new track. Telcos have their own service providers — for example, Nokia, which has absorbed the assets of the former Alcatel-Lucent, and is now the holder of the massive Bell Laboratories intellectual property portfolio. These providers also need their customers to get with the program. In a January 22 blog post, Nokia’s marketing strategist Clare McCarthy stated that communications service providers (CSPs) can start small if they want, but to become fully 5G compliant, they’ll eventually have to overhaul their communications infrastructure completely. McCarthy wrote:
    CSPs can start small by upgrading their radio access software and and maintaining the connection to an existing LTE core network if increased capacity is all they need, but capacity is not all CSPs need. They see their role as central to a flourishing digital economy. They need to offer new digital services and support new operating and business models across industry verticals — and this requires more than a radio-only upgrade. Delivering a new kind of business requires a network capable of higher speeds, greater spectral efficiency, a cloud native core and a coherent, end-to-end framework. CSPs need to deploy a fundamentally different infrastructure to meet the needs for greater capacity, latency and extreme reliability.

    While the attenuation argument appears to be largely over, millimeter wave’s place in the upcoming 5G standard is far from certain.
    Because of its relative novelty in mobile, a whole bunch of research is going on into the basics of using millimeter wave, including the channel model, its propagation, what millimeter wave antennas might look like, what impact they might have on handset design, and even what effect they might have on the human body. And, as with any new technology, there’s an ecosystem that need to build up around it, too. Someone needs to start manufacturing all the network kit, and handsets to cope with it.

    Several big tech names have dipped a toe in the water of millimeter wave, including Samsung, which has produced what it claims is the first millimeter wave hardware: a 64-element adaptive array transceiver. Operating in the 28GHz band, the transceiver can handle over 1Gbps over 2km, according to Samsung, which is hoping to take the technology commercial before the all-important 2020 timeframe.

    Initial Google experiments in several millimeter wave bands surfaced in an FCC filing recently, after the search giant acquired millimeter wave research company Alpental Technologies earlier this year. There were suggestions at the time that Google’s interest in millimeter wave stems from a view that it could be used as an eventual replacement for fibre broadband. While that might be something of a stretch in the short term, there are those who think that millimeter wave bands could lend themselves to backhaul for small cells.

    There are traditionally three ways the mobile industry can add more capacity to its network: by adding more spectrum, by improving spectrum efficiency, or by rolling out more infrastructure. As we’ve seen, no one’s quite sure how the spectrum arm-wrestling will play out. As for improving spectrum efficiency, according to Volker Ziegler, technology and innovation chief architect at Nokia’s Networking arm, every generation of mobile tech brings a threefold improvement in efficiency — that is, you can get three times as many bits through on the same bit of spectrum. Perhaps, he said, we could get that to five, 10 or 20 times, it still wouldn’t be enough to hit the multi-gigabit future that 5G foresees.

    That leaves installing more infrastructure. But, the idea of more base stations going up in high-footfall areas is unlikely to be a popular prospect in most towns and cities. Small cells — shrunk-down base stations — offer a more palatable alternatives for both operators and town planners.

    Small cells help fill in gaps in coverage left by the full-fat base stations that underpin a mobile macrocell. Up until now, small cells have chiefly been installed in business premises and homes to bolster dodgy in-building mobile coverage; with 5G, the idea is to throw up loads of small cells in densely populated, high-data-demand urban areas.
    Unlike full-fat base stations, small cells are, as their name suggests, far more petite — even down to smaller than your home router — and don’t need to be installed as high up as normal mobile masts. That means that far from grumbling about towers being blights on the landscape, small cells can be made almost unnoticeable, strapped to lamp posts, or even in future built into bricks in buildings. They’re also cheaper than the macro alternative, can help lower latency, and improve coverage at the cell edge. What’s not to love?

    Of course, because of their reduced size, small cells have a much reduced range compared to their bigger siblings, at around 1500 ft. That means there’s a potential challenge with handover: if you’re in a car speeding through town you could be passing through several small cells, and with each handover you risk packet loss or distortion — a royal pain in the ass if you’re in the middle of a call. There are already suggested ways around the problem though: using small cells for data only, and identifying those subscribers moving between many cells and putting them back onto the macrocell.

    The idea of ultra dense networks also brings with it issues of energy consumption, 5G’s other cause célèbre. Sure, small cells are far lower powered than macrocells, but a network with huge numbers of them dotted around will still need more energy to run than one without. So how can you minimize power consumption and still roll out small cells?
    One suggestion is a fundamental change to mobile architecture, with a greater separation between the network’s control plane (which plans how data will move through a network) and its data plane (which actually does the data moving).

    “Once you separate the control and data plane, you can do all kinds of things, like energy efficiency. You can turn the small cells on and off, but keep the anchor on, so you don’t miss calls. Today, you have to shut the base station down, but that has its own problems. With this, you can still keep the anchor on, or you can have the pilot from the devices do it, but you can turn particular coverage areas in the data plane on and off,” Intel’s Keddy said.

    The idea, sometimes referred to as ultra-lean design, is a major change from our current, non-ultra-dense networks. Today, cellular systems transmit data all the time. As the number of transmitters in the network grows, that’s going to lead to more and more interference. In 5G, while the anchor stays on, small cells can be shut down or awakened for the tiniest slices of time.

    “Cutting always-on transmissions to a bare minimum, so that communication only occurs when there is user data to deliver, allows the transmitter to dynamically – on a millisecond basis – switch off and be silent,” Ericsson says. That means less energy used, and less interference.

    5G makes all sorts of technologies possible – but also raises the stakes. If your car is being operated via a cloud-based autonomous driving system over 5G, you don’t want to lose the signal right at the precise moment it’s about to tell your vehicle to slam on the brakes. Operators and technology companies know that (and are perhaps considering the insurance implications). So they are aiming to cut network latency to make sure such an event doesn’t happen.

    The world’s telcos need a different, far less constrained, business model than what 4G has left them with. The only way they can accomplish this is with an infrastructure that generates radically lower costs than the current scenario, particularly for maintaining, and
    5G is a collective bargain between the telecommunications industry and society. To allow for anything close to evenly distributed coverage over a metropolitan area, the base stations containing the transmitters and receivers (the “cells”) must be smaller, much lower in power, and much greater in number than they are today. Essentially, the new cell towers must co-exist with the environment. An outdoor photograph taken in any direction will be just as likely to include a 5G tower as not. (The example above, provided by AT&T, includes three.)

    Isn’t this going backwards in history? The 5G industry argues it would not be unprecedented in history. We’ve borne telephone and electric poles through our neighborhoods and, not all that long ago, willingly installed TV aerials the size of kites on our chimneys. Some of us still use their old mounting posts for our satellite dishes. In exchange for the hopefully minor blemish on our landscapes that 5G may bring, many would wave a cheerful good-bye to dead spots. I’d like to see a raise of hands.

    All these things must happen, and in relatively quick succession, in order for telcos to afford the infrastructural overhaul they now have no choice but to make.

    I think you (and Doug) are quite right. Were their poor service otherwise, there would not be anywhere near the uptake that has occurred among electric coops to start building out and providing broadband service for their members. (Of course, it also helps to have it for their own internal ops (e.g., SCADA), but often that wouldn’t pencil out alone.)

    You can see this trend/dynamic coming through strongly in the willingness of the RUS to fund low-interest loads to build broadband (~$600 million in 2018-2019, I believe, and more in the just-passed Farm Bill).

    I know it’s been on NRECA’s priority list for 2-3 years now. Searching “NRECA” and “Broadband” is apt to be productive in your quest!

    Happy New Year, Bob!
    -Ken

    In a finding that I find disturbing, 65% of respondents think 5G will have a positive impact on rural America. Even the biggest 5G proponents admit that 5G is going to be hard to justify in low-density areas. It’s not hard to understand this belief because I’ve seen numerous articles that make this claim. 79% think 5G will have a positive impact in cities.
    When asked which companies would be leaders in 5G, the unsurprising responses include Verizon (43%), AT&T (36%), Apple (43%), Samsung (35%) and T-Mobile (20%). However, there were surprises on this list including Amazon (24%), Comcast (12%), Google (36%), Facebook (12%), Microsoft (34%) and Dish Networks (5%).
    The public believes that 5G is going to bring price increases. 84% said they thought that 5G would result in higher cellular service prices. 77% said they thought 5G would lead to higher cable TV prices (this has me scratching my head). 81% said they thought 5G would lead to higher process for home broadband – but wouldn’t increased competition for home broadband bring lower prices? 86% expect the prices for smart phones to be higher.
    Overall, the survey shows an unrealistic public perception about when we’ll see the benefits of 5G. It’s not hard to understand this misperception since there are untold articles making it sound like we’re on the verge of a 5G revolution. I’m guessing this might have been one of the motivations for T-Mobile to sponsor this survey since they are one of the most realistic voices in the industry talking about the 5G time line. It will be interesting to see what the public thinks in a few years after very little 5G has actually been implemented. But perhaps I’m just being overly skeptical since the big carriers like AT&T are now extolling their 4G LTE product as 5G – maybe the public will but it.

    The research firm RVA, LLC conducted a study for the Fiber Broadband Association looking at the number of homes and businesses that are now passed and/or served with fiber. The numbers show that smaller fiber providers are collectively having a big impact on the industry.
    RVA found that as of September 2018 there were 18.4 million homes with fiber, up from 15 million a year earlier. To put that into perspective, at the end of 2017 there was just over 126 million US households, meaning that fiber has now made it into over 14% of US homes. What’s most impressive, though, about that finding is that 2.7% of homes got fiber in that one-year period. The number of fiber households has been creeping up slowly over the decade, but the speed of deployment is accelerating.
    RVA also looked at passings and says that 39.2 million or 31% of homes are now passed with fiber. Comparing the 18.4 million fiber customers to the 39.2 million passings shows a fiber penetration rate of 47%. RVA also says that there are 1.6 million homes that are passed by two fiber providers – no doubt in the markets like Kansas City, Austin and the Research Triangle in North Carolina where Google and the incumbents both built fiber. RVA shows that when accounting for homes that have no broadband that fiber networks are achieving a 60% penetration rate.
    Small fiber providers are collectively having a big impact on the industry. RVA says there are over 1,000 smaller fiber providers in the country. They quantify the overall market share of these providers as follows: smaller telcos (10.3%), fiber overbuilders (6.4%), cable companies (5.5%), municipalities (3.7%), real estate development integrators (1.1%) and electric cooperatives (0.5%).
    In 2018 the small providers built to 29% of the new homes passed with the rest built by four Tier one providers. RVA didn’t identify these big providers, but clearly the biggest fiber builder right now is AT&T. The company has built fiber to over 10 million passings in the past four years and says they will reach about 14 million passings by mid-2019. A lot of the AT&T fiber passings come from an aggressive plan to build to MDUs (apartments and condominium complexes). However, the company is also making fiber available to homes within close range of its numerous existing neighborhood fiber POPs that are near to existing larger AT&T fiber customers.
    The other biggest fiber builder right now is Altice. They announced a little over a year ago that they are planning to build fiber across their footprints from the Cable Vision and Suddenlink acquisitions – nearly 8 million passings. The company seems to be fulfilling that promise with a flurry of press releases in 2018 talking about active fiber deployments. Altice is currently trying to sell off some of its European fiber networks to lighten debt load and assumedly raise the cash needed to complete the US fiber build.
    Most other large providers have more modest fiber plans. We know that the CenturyLink fiber expansion that was hot news just two years ago is likely now dead. Verizon is now putting its effort into fixed 5G wireless. The big cable companies all build fiber in new subdivisions but have all committed to DOCSIS 3.1 on their existing cable networks.
    Looking forward a few years and most of the new fiber is likely to come from smaller providers. AT&T hasn’t announced any plans past the 2019 schedule and by then will have effectively passed all of the low-hanging fruit within range of its existing fiber network. Altice says it will take until at least 2022 to finish its fiber construction. There are no other big companies with announced plans to build fiber.
    All of this is good news for the US households lucky enough to get fiber. It’s always been industry wisdom that the industry wouldn’t develop gigabit applications until there are enough fiber households to make it economically viable. While most customers on fiber probably are subscribing to speeds less than a gigabit, there ought to finally be enough gigabit fiber customers nationwide to create a gigabit market.

    In my previous life, we shut down our 23 GHz point-to-point MW paths because they weren’t stable. Even in semi-arid Salt Lake City, we had rain fades we couldn’t tolorate. I’ve never hear about wind fading, unless the wind picks up dust (which happens here).

    I agree that for 5G to work, they would have to install a lot more cell sites. Maybe they’re looking at micro sites that wouldn’t require dedicated sites or high towers. Think Wifi that lets you roam. Imagine if everyone had a 5G site connected to their Internet connection, and got reimbursed from the carriers for handling cell traffic.

    Found this https://tinyurl.com/y75ytlxs (5 minute video) note near the end of the video how signals are shown to propagate. Note also the speaker says the battery life on your 5G cell phone with the present technology will be much shorter. Don’t try to watch a 4K video on it!

    And this https://www.zdnet.com/article/wiring-for-wireless-5g-and-the-tower-in-your-backyard/

    The major difference between 4G LTE and 5G is that, with 5G, cell towers won’t be required. Instead, says one article I read, there will be many thousands of small antennas will be appropriately placed, instead of relying on just one tower. No longer will homes require a Wi-Fi network because 5G will provide exceptional coverage with much faster speeds.

    Bob Landman

  15. Avatar Aaron Braun 09/07/2020 @ 7:11 am

    Boost Mobile pre paid phone service and the stylo 6 android. 5g roll out is a Nightmare on elm street!!

    5g not being ready for roll out, so so so why put us consumers through this sh$%€×T.

    Bad times ahead with no consumer respect.

  16. Avatar James Bowery 03/09/2020 @ 8:00 pm

    I’m rural and was dependent on $75/mo WISP until I got a 600MHz 5G phone (cell tower miles away) through which my desktop computer hotspots. When I leave the house my desktop disconnects of course, but my internet connection speed has gone from 3Mbps to 30Mbps. As far as I’m concerned, 600MHz is fantastic.

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