Countries around the world have focused on harmonizing the 3.5GHz spectrum for 5G use on an international basis, but outdated regulations on that spectrum could impede the use of it in the U.S.
The current regulations were created under the assumption that the 3.5GHz spectrum would be used like Wi-Fi, with businesses or manufacturers and utilities installing antennas to facilitate private wireless networks, so licenses for 3.5GHz use are assigned using Census Tracks – which only cover a small area. The FCC and the mobile industry agree that assigning licenses based on Census Tracks would be entirely unfeasible for 5G deployments, and regulations will have to be changed to make 3.5GHz a realistic part of the path to 5G.
There’s no question that 5G will provide enormous advantages over older networks when it comes to speed and bandwidth capacity, but 5G does have a glaring limitation that will make it difficult to replace older networks for some time: signal penetration. The higher frequencies that will be utilized by 5G networks are less able to penetrate walls and other obstructions than lower spectrum, meaning DAS or small cells may be needed in office buildings and other indoor venues – but there may be limitations in utilizing those types of systems, currently used for 3G and 4G in signal-challenged spaces, with 5G.
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AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson discussed today how the updates being made to their towers to support the first responder network FirstNet will also help with the transition to 5G.
“To build out this FirstNet capability, this first responder network, we have to go climb every cell tower. Literally, we have to go touch every cell tower over the next couple of years,” explained Stephenson. “As we’re touching those cell towers, every single one of them, we have a lot of spectrum in inventory. We will be lighting that spectrum up as we touch each cell tower.”
Once the physical upgrades to the towers are complete, all that will be necessary to “light up” 5G when the time comes is a simple software update. While the timeline for the actual widespread launch of their 5G network is likely a long one, Stephenson said that they expect the fiber build-out for the FirstNet and 5G networks to be complete in 14 million locations within the next 12 months.
Telecom equipment make Ericsson is predicting that the number of smart devices in use will quintuple over the next 5 years, thanks to the availability of 5G networks that will be able to handle the demands of so many devices. There are currently 700 million IoT devices in use, and Ericsson’s 2018 mobility report released today predicts 3.5 billion units by 2023, with 1 billion of those being operated over a 5G connection. The report also estimates that by that time, 20% of all mobile data traffic worldwide will be handled by 5G networks.
With the first city-wide 5G launches due this year, a dash to launch 5G-capable devices is sure to follow. Ericsson’s 5 year estimate may seem extreme, but their prediction of an explosion of smart devices is almost sure to come true!
Intel first discussed their plans to have 5G-capable modems ready for laptops in 2019 earlier this year, and they confirmed this week that they are still confident in those plans. At the Computex show in Taipei, Taiwan, Intel said that they expect their 5G “Goldridge” modem to be shipping in commercial devices including laptops from Acer, AsusTek, Dell, and HP by mid-2019, and Sprint is prepared to sell the 5G-capable gear. Like Intel, Sprint has made their commitment to being a big 5G player from the start clear, and selling Intel’s laptops will keep them at the forefront.
5G promises to bring ulta-fast speed and ultra-low latency to the wireless world, and the possibilities for how 5G can benefit users are endless. As Forbes broke down in their “Killer User Case” article this week, it’s the efficiency of 5G that makes the investment worthwhile for the networks, at least in the early days.
As Forbes explains, 5G is more efficient and cheaper to provide than previous technologies, meaning “operators will be able to offer users unlimited data plans at a much more cost-effective rate without breaking the bank”. Since 5G will be utilized first as a fixed option until widespread enough coverage is available for mobile 5G, the fact that operators will be able to keep up with the high-usage demands of fixed home/office users and compete with traditional fixed broadband providers on price is critical.
Governor’s Island, a 172 acre former military base in New York Harbor that is now primarily a recreational destination for New York City residents and tourists, is primed for 5G. Michael Samuelian, president and CEO of Governor’s Island, talked with TechRepublic about how 5G will be deployed throughout the island and the lessons they’ve learned from the deployment thus far, including the importance of line of sight to the antennas. Since the Governor’s Island trust owns the land, building, and infrastructure on the island, developers have the unique advantage of being able to deploy 5G radios virtually anywhere to achieve the widespread coverage they desired – making the project and excellent “from the ground up” testing project that will surely impact future deployments in NYC.
XDA-Developers has obtained specs and photos of the upcoming Motorola Moto Z3 Play, the latest of which showcase a very interesting “Moto Mod” add-on that would make the Z3 Play one of the first 5G-capable phones on the market. The photos show an attachment that connects to the back of the phone, complete with an antenna “lip” along the top for 5G connectivity. While it would obviously add bulk to the phone, it’s a very unique idea that has the potential to allow Z3 Play users to add 5G capabilities as needed and streamline when it’s not needed.
At a IEE conference this week, Sprint CTO John Saw discussed the technology behind the carrier’s 5G network, how Sprint’s deployment differs from other carriers, and their in-progress rollouts. Saw explained that Sprint’s large holding of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band gives them the unique ability to simultaneously enable LTE and 5G in the same footprint, something other carriers will have a much harder time doing on the lower frequencies. “With 5G, for the first time, we’re pretty much going to use up every megahertz we have in the 2.5 band,” he said. “We’re going to simultaneously enable LTE and 5G on the 2.5 band. What that means is we’re able to have the same footprint, in terms of coverage, within 5G and 4G. It’s not easy to do if you are building a 5G network on millimeter wave and your LTE network is running on cellular channels.”
Massive MIMO is the technology behind the strategy, and Sprint is currently upgrading thousands of cell sites with Massive MIMO to support LTE and 5G at the same time. Sprint is in the process of launching 5G to 9 initial markets and has promoted the fact that their test markets will receive wide coverage, not just small test zones of 5G.
Usable, accessible 5G service is still a far-off hypothetical for most people – Verizon and AT&T are implementing test networks in a few markets in 2018, but it is generally accepted that it will be many years before 5G is really a viable alternative to other networks. In Houston, however, experts and residents alike are optimistic that 5G will be fully deployed and available by 2020.
Jay Brown, chief executive of Crown Castle, a Houston-based cellular tower company, said his company is in the process of prepping for 5G service in Houston and around the country. “In the early days, there were five to eight cell towers in the whole city,” Brown said. “Now there are 2,000 towers in Houston, and 5,000 to 6,000 in the entire area.” Brown also noted that Houston is one of the easier cities to get right-of-way access for cables and antennas, making the path towards 5G smoother than it will be elsewhere.