Verizon has today announced that in April 2017 they will become one of the first Mobile operators in the world to launch a real-world trial of future 5G technology. Initially this aims to deliver multi-Gigabit speeds via a fixed wireless broadband network to select customers in 11 markets across the USA.
The 5G trial, which will make use of technology from partners at Cisco, Ericsson, Intel, LG, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung, should involve several hundred cell sites and cover several thousand customer locations. However it’s not quite compact enough yet for Mobile usage, hence the initial focus on a fixed wireless setup that is likely to put receiving antennas on top of nearby homes.
We suspect that the trial will be similar to last year’s prototype (here), which ran at both 73GHz and 28GHz in order to provide a “fixed wireless broadband” service that could achieve “speeds of multiple Gbps … with a spectral bandwidth of 1GHz and [around 1 millisecond] one-way air interface latency.” We note that the operator’s hardware has also been tuned to harness the 39GHz band.
The 11 Metropolitan Trial Areas
* Ann Arbor
* Bernardsville (NJ)
* Brockton (MA)
* Washington, D.C
As usual the caveat in all this is that a firm 5G standard isn’t expected to be established until early 2018 and most countries in Europe won’t have released the necessary radio spectrum until 2020, which means that a commercial roll-out is still a few years away. On top of that the actual roll-out may require a couple of years before it reaches a strong level of coverage.
However that’s all fine with us because the hardware markers will need time to develop and improve their kit, not least so that it’s small enough to fit inside a modern Smartphone. Early kit is also likely to be a huge drain on battery life.
Adam Koeppe, VP of Network Planning at Verizon, said:
“5G technology innovation is rapidly evolving. Network density is increasing to meet the demands of customers, and following the FCC’s aggressive action on 5G spectrum, the time is right to deliver the next generation of broadband services with 5G.”
Jaime Fink, Co-Founder & CPO of Mimosa, said:
“Whereas 4G was a pure mobile play, it is now evident that 5G will initially be deployed purely for fixed wireless applications. Verizon’s 5G fixed customer trials will deliver connectivity in the 28GHz, mmWave frequency bands, however, the viability of these bands should be scrutinised for both mobile and fixed applications.
Delivering mmWave broadband connectivity in non-line-of-sight (NLOS) environments, such as suburban and urban areas, is extremely problematic over the last quarter mile. This is because signals can be affected by environmental factors such as foliage and solid constructions, typical in suburban areas, where almost 80% of the US citizens reside.
Rather than using the challenging, unproven mmWave channels for 5G, the industry should use the sub-6GHz spectrum bands, which have incredible propagation characteristics through foliage and construction materials. New spectrum reuse technologies are emerging which can coordinate transmissions across various unlicensed and licensed spectrum bands, while reducing interference. This new 5G fixed wireless technology is poised for widespread use in high density neighbourhoods.”
We’d disagree with Mimosa about 4G being “pure mobile play” because this overlooks the many fixed wireless LTE networks that have been launched using the technology, such as UK Broadband Ltd’s service in London (Relish Wireless). However anybody with a basic knowledge of physics will probably agree with Jaime’s comment about the problems of using high frequency spectrum (i.e. it doesn’t travel very far and is very easily disrupted), which is also likely to require a much more dense and complicated network (i.e. expensive).
Clearly there are a lot of hurdles for 5G to overcome and we strongly suspect that a lot of the eventual Mobile deployments will actually make use of much lower frequency spectrum (i.e. lower in comparison to 20-100GHZ that is so often touted), particularly those deployments that take place outside of big cities and towns. As a result some of the claimed speeds may also, at least initially, turn out to be somewhat less impressive. Indeed a lot of the headline figures also reflect capacity that must be shared between many users.
Not that any of these issues have stopped the 5G hype train from running a very predictable course and none of this will matter a jot if Mobile operators continue to impose restrictive data caps on their tariffs. Mind you this may be less of an issue for the early fixed wireless trials, which should be able to deliver a home broadband style of connectivity.