Tag Archives: 5G

Don’t expect fiber or 5G in rural communities, FCC commissioners say

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

John deere booth ces 7jan2020

Fiber and mobile 5G are fine for cities and suburbs, but rural communities can look forward to satellites and fixed wireless broadband service, according to the Federal Communication Commission’s republican majority. Speaking at CES in Las Vegas this week, FCC chair Ajit Pai, republican commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, and their democratic colleague Geoffrey Starks were upbeat about 5G, fiber and, as Carr put it, the “new wave of innovation and services”.

But that wave will only break on urban and suburban beaches, at least via conventional broadband service.

“To say we’re going to have fiber throughout the United States is both not realistic – it’s not technically doable”, said O’Rielly. “There are communities where satellite service is the exact answer”.

Pai said 5G infrastructure that connects a smartphone to fast broadband access – the standard 5G use case – will be built in cities and suburbs. Rural 5G deployments will support other services – fixed wireless broadband, for example – that might or might not be offered by mobile carriers on mobile spectrum. His rural broadband advisor, Preston Wise, who spoke on a rural 5G panel, said the rebooted version of the FCC’s primary broadband subsidy program – now called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – will be used “to deploy fixed broadband in parts of rural America”, although he held out the possibility that some of the money would go toward fiber to the premise (FTTP) projects.

Rural FTTP doesn’t fit very well into the business plans of incumbent monopoly model telecoms companies. Rural electric cooperatives, on the other hand, are deploying fiber. Pai hopes to encourage rural utility co-ops to apply for FCC subsidies – he said he doesn’t care which broadband carriers get the money.

I hope that’s true. Although electric co-ops and wireless operators figured prominently in the last round of FCC broadband subsidy auctions, they were only allowed to bid on communities that AT&T, Frontier Communications and other legacy telcos didn’t want to serve.

Legacy telcos were given a right of first refusal and they exercised it. Satellite and fixed wireless fit their rural business plans perfectly. Letting them dictate rural broadband technology choices, as O’Rielly seems happy to do, will lock in a deep divide between rural and urban communities for many decades to come.

WiFi and 5G win spectrum that the satellite and car industries lose

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Pai shapiro 1 ces 7jan2020

Despite his enthusiasm for federalising any policy that touches on telecoms, big footing state and local governments isn’t at the top of Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai’s 5G wish list. Pai and three of his fellow commissioners spoke at CES in Las Vegas earlier this week. When asked about the main barriers to widespread deployment of 5G broadband service, Pai listed cost, spectrum and the availability of trained construction crews.

Although there’s not a lot that a telecoms regulator can do about workforce training or construction costs, spectrum availability is the FCC’s core responsibility.

Pai promised to “push” more frequencies, licensed and unlicensed, into the broadband market. But opening up new spectrum for broadband means taking it away from or sharing it with other users, which quickly devolves into a zero sum game in Washington, D.C.

The satellite industry stands to lose 280 MHz of spectrum in the 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz ranges – AKA the “C” band. The FCC plans to auction off those frequencies to mobile carriers for exclusive, licensed use, presumably later this year.

The FCC has a plan to repurpose 45 MHz in the 5.9 GHz range, transferring it from the automotive industry and opening it up for WiFi and similar unlicensed uses. Carmakers “had not lived up to the promise” of their 75 MHz of dedicated short range communications (DSRC) spectrum, said Geoffrey Starks, the lone democratic commissioner to speak at CES. The FCC’s plan would assign 20 MHz of the balance to cellular-type vehicular communications – C-V2X in the jargon – and maybe leave 10 MHz for whatever uses the automotive industry eventually develops for DSRC. Or maybe not – WiFi has a huge fan base.

Sharing is contentious in D.C. because it’s often federal agencies that are being asked to give up exclusive use of frequencies they’ve had to themselves for decades. “I’ve learned in Washington there are three things you don’t discuss three things in polite society, religion, politics and sharing of spectrum”, Pai said.

5G adoption begins a slow ramp up in the U.S. in 2020

by Steve Blum • , ,

Cta 5g projections 5jan2020

Source: CTA

Mobile 5G broadband service adoption starts to grow in the U.S. in 2020, but it won’t be a breakout year. A couple of near term 5G market predictions were offered at CES in Las Vegas over the past couple of days, by the show’s organiser, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and by Qualcomm, which is the mobile industry’s primary chipmaker. Taken together (and at face value), the picture that emerges is of a global 5G market that 1. will launch for real over the next 12 months and 2. won’t be U.S.-centric.

Qualcomm predicts that 200 million 5G smartphones will be produced worldwide in 2020, growing to 750 million units shipped in 2022. CTA’s projections of annual smartphone shipments pegs the U.S. 5G handset total for 2019 at 1.6 million units and predicts 20.2 million 5G smartphones shipped in 2020.

Those are estimates of the pipeline, not the installed user base. Yet.

Although historical seasonal consumer electronics sales patterns have weakened, particularly for telecoms-related products, manufacturing ramp up rates still operate on a upward curve. The biggest chunk of the annual output for a new product will come in the last three or four months of the year, and it takes time for products to move from the factory loading dock to a consumer’s hands. So CTA’s shipment projections for 2019 are an indication of what the U.S. 5G user base will be by, say, mid–2020.

In very round numbers, that means less than 1% of U.S. mobile broadband subscribers will have 5G-capable smartphones in their hands by mid–2020, and less than 10% by mid–2021. For the next three years, CTA predicts that smartphone makers will be pumping out more 4G smartphones in the U.S. than 5G ones. It won’t be until 2022 that 5G overtakes 4G unit shipments, so 5G consumer smartphone upgrades won’t outstrip 4G handset upgrades until 2023.

CTA’s timeline for 5G smartphone production tracks with U.S. mobile carriers’ likely 5G deployment rate. Although carriers continue to hype their 5G build outs – and those build outs will accelerate in 2020 – widespread availability in the U.S. is still three to five years away.

It’s a different story in Asia. Qualcomm talked a lot about Chinese manufacturers at its CES press conference. Asian carriers, particularly in South Korea, are aggressively deploying 5G infrastructure. That would seem to be where the bulk of next year’s 200 million 5G smartphone shipments will go.

We’ll know in 2020 what kind of service and customer enthusiasm lies beneath U.S. 5G hype

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Small cell lacc 22oct2019

5G service will begin to enter the mainstream consumer market in the United States next year. Senior technology officers from all four major U.S. mobile carriers talked about their plans for moving beyond test markets and technology demonstrations last week at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Los Angeles. With consumer devices – smartphones, particularly – on the market and cell site construction and upgrades picking up pace, success will finally be judged on subscriber uptake and revenue, rather than on whose marketing pitch is the cleverest.

Verizon’s 5G rollout will lean heavily, if not exclusively, on high band millimeter wave frequencies, according to Nicki Palmer, a senior vice president with the company. Those bands are in the 20 GHz and up range, and can carry a lot of data – “massive bandwidth” that’s ideal for in-home service, Palmer said.

She also provided some insight into Verizon’s 5G in home service trials, the first of which was rolled out in Sacramento last year. Palmer claimed that Verizon can deliver between 300 Mbps and 1 gigabit download speeds to home users, some of whom are connecting up to 35 different devices to the network at once. That’s not so surprising, though – technophile adopters of any type of advanced service tend to be heavy users.

T-Mobile intends to offer 5G service on low, high and mid-band spectrum, according to chief technology officer Neville Ray. Getting access to Sprint’s midband frequencies is central to that plan, though, and that merger has not been approved yet.

Merger or not, Sprint is moving ahead with mid-band 5G service, according to chief technology officer John Saw. Sprint’s service on 2.5 GHz frequencies is the only mid-band 5G offering in the U.S., he claimed. He didn’t say how many customers are using the service, but the ones that are use three to five times more bandwidth than the typical 4G subscriber. That’s typical of technophiles and early adopters – the digital equivalent of four pack a day smokers.

AT&T’s 5G rollout strategy is aimed at businesses users more than consumers, according to chief technology officer Andre Fuetsch, who said enterprise applications will be “the sweet spot” for 5G. Even so, AT&T plans to light up 5G service nationwide on low band frequencies. What really got Fuetsch going, though, was the ability of 5G technology to serve many more devices at once. He said that where a 4G network can support thousands of devices, a 5G network will be able to serve millions in the same area.

Even so, 2020 will not see explosive growth in 5G subscriber numbers. Deployments will be meaningful, but it will be many years before any will be considered complete, and full availability in rural communities and less affluent suburbs might never come. Handset costs will also remain high, while technological challenges, such as battery life, are ironed out.

Mobile video viewing outruns desktops, is network capacity the next casualty?

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Brightcove 2q2019 global video index

Demand for mobile bandwidth continues to boom, as mobile devices overtake desktop computers as the streaming video device of choice for the first time, according to a study by Brightcove, a maker of online video tools and platform services which also makes a habit of tracking such things.

Their Global Video Index for the second quarter of 2019 shows that more than half of global video viewing they can monitor is done on a smartphone (mostly) or tablet (not so much). A year ago, that honor belonged to desktops. Brightcove doesn’t specifically place laptop computers in either category, but since they are specific about what they consider to be mobile – tablets and phones – a fair assumption is that they belong to the desktop universe.

Mobile networks are carrying a growing slice of an ever bigger pie, according to the report…

Worldwide mobile traffic nearly doubled during 2018, and mobile video traffic is forecast to increase at a [compound annual growth rate] of 34% through 2024. That’s really not too surprising, as mobile video has been a significant driver of the video ecosystem since the iPad debuted in 2010…

Over the past 12 months, video views on phones and tablets have overtaken desktop views among Brightcove’s media customers globally, making up 53% of all video views compared to 47% for desktop computers.

Mobile phone share increased to 45.4% from 38.5% a year ago, an increase of 18% Y/Y. Tablet share was, essentially, flat at 7.5% from 7.9% a year ago. Overall video views for tablets and phones were up nearly 62% for the 12-month period.

The company is counting on new 5G services to carry this increasing load. It’s not a revelation – that’s the reason that mobile carriers are pushing policy makers – federal, state and local – to clear the road for their planned deployments. It’s also a reminder that 5G is first and foremost about keeping pace with the growth in mobile traffic of all kinds, and particularly video. Carriers have to run as hard and fast as they can just to keep up with demand from the customers and applications they support now. Innovations such as self driving cars and the Internet of things can follow, but only after they take care of their core business.

5G phone prices start high while 5G availability is low

by Steve Blum • , , ,

5g mwca 12sep2018

The first 5G capable smart phones are beginning the hit the market, and already there’s wailing about sticker shock – a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G will cost $1,300 and only be available through Verizon, at least for the next few months. That’s a lot of money for an Android phone (although not exactly nosebleed territory for iOS fans). But it doesn’t say much about what it’s going to cost the average consumer to upgrade to 5G, by the time the average consumer can find 5G service.

The initial price of 5G phones isn’t indicative of anything except manufacturers starting at the top of the marginal price curve and getting ready for a quick downhill run. As manufacturing ramps up, and product bugs are squashed, the price will come down.

The first target market is technophiles – people who will buy it because it’s new tech. That’s probably a six-figure market in the U.S. They’ll pay the most. Second target market is early adopters – people who perceive a significant benefit from the increased performance 5G phones presumably will offer. That market is probably in the seven figure range. By the time 5G phones break out into the general market – eight and nine figures – price points will be in familiar, 4G territory.

Hardware and service adoption will follow service availability, and that will be the limiting factor for 5G uptake over the next two to three years. There’s very little 5G service available right now, and commercial-scale deployments won’t begin until next year. What we’re seeing from carriers now are pilot projects aimed at preparing for the buildout that’ll begin in 2020 and continue for the next five to ten years.

There’s no need for manufacturers to rush into 5G production or push down phone prices in the coming year. They’re wisely positioning themselves for the long haul.

5G phones must clear economic, technical hurdles before breaking into the mass market

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The market for new smartphones is slowing. The global market is approaching saturation, where everyone who might use one has one, and annual sales are dropping. The pace of improvements is slowing, too. The marginal attraction of new apps and more powerful and faster hardware is diminishing.

According to a story in Digital Trends by Andy Boxall, the tide turned last year…

In 2018, smartphone sales numbers stopped growing, according to two data analysis companies, Strategy Analytics and Counterpoint Research. Strategy Analytics executive director Neil Mawston wrote in his guide to the latest figures that it’s the “first time ever in history the global smartphone market has declined on a full year basis. It is a landmark event”…

This was a five-percent drop over the 1.51 billion sold in 2017, and when you’re talking about billions of phones, a five-percent drop is relatively substantial.

That’s a problem for smartphone manufacturers, but hope is on the horizon. 5G networks need 5G-capable smartphones, and over the next five years that will be the primary driver of upgrades and new phone sales.

I don’t expect to see anything significant in 2019, and only the bleeding edge, technophile segment will be significant in 2020. What happens after that depends on how mobile carriers address two problems, one economic and one technical.

A mass market stampede toward 5G phones won’t happen until mass market 5G service is available. That build out will happen slower than mobile carriers have led city councils and county boards of supervisors to believe. And it will be far from comprehensive – the true benefits that will justify a kilobuck smartphone purchase will only be available in urban areas with high revenue potential for carriers.

The big technical question that hasn’t been answered is battery life. 5G service requires more intensive processing, which burns up energy, as do faster bit rates generally. The first units on the market won’t be optimised – can’t be until real consumers start using and abusing them in the wild – so it will be at least another year – 2021 – before manufacturers and carriers really understand power budgets. But 5G smartphones will burn through battery life faster than 4G phones, and that’s a problem yet to be solved.

Top mobile execs let air out of the 5G balloon, which will “never reach rural America”

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Deflating balloon

It’s one thing to promise the moon to customers and city councils, but quite another to mislead Wall Street. Creating outrageous expectations there can land you in jail. Which, presumably, is why two top executives from Verizon and T-Mobile are walking back expectations of a universal 5G wonderland.

According to a story by Sean Hollister in The Verge, it’s about the new frequency bands that mobile companies plan to use for high speed, low latency 5G service. Those bands are way up the spectrum chart, in the millimeter wave range, where data capacity is high but range and penetrating power is low. So to make it work, mobile carriers need to build a lot of small cell sites. Which is expensive and only pencils out where revenue potential is equally high…

“We all need to remind ourselves this is not a coverage spectrum,” Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg told analysts on the company’s Q1 2019 earnings call on Tuesday — just one day after T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray decried Verizon’s 5G rollout as one that would “never reach rural America.”

“Millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum has great potential in terms of speed and capacity, but it doesn’t travel far from the cell site and doesn’t penetrate materials at all. It will never materially scale beyond small pockets of 5G hotspots in dense urban environments,” Ray wrote.

5G technology can be used on any frequency band, and over time – decades, likely – it’ll replace 4G and older equipment. And there are plans to use it on a few lower frequencies with less data capacity and greater reach in the near term. But without network densification – lots of short range small cell sites – 5G will just be a tech upgrade, and not a quantum leap into a hyper connected world.

It’s a tech upgrade that will bring significant benefits, as did upgrades from 2G to 3G, and 3G to 4G, but it will take a long time for rural and suburban California to notice the difference.

5G hype gets a reality check in 2020

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

It looks like 2020 will be the year that genuine 5G smartphones will finally be in the hands of consumers. Two developments this week cleared away significant uncertainty about who will be offering 5G phones, when it will happen and whose technology they’ll use.

The two companies settled a long running legal dispute over intellectual property rights to core 5G technology, including a deal for Apple to buy modem chips, which do the heavy processing work of wrangling radio waves into data streams at one end and reading them at the other.

The second announcement came shortly afterwards. Intel said it’s giving up its quest to build competing modem chips and leaving that market segment to Qualcomm. Not the entire market, though. There are a lot more kinds of chips that go into smartphones, 5G and otherwise, and Intel still plans to make them.

One of the benefits, if you want to call it that, of a monopoly is faster standardisation. Which reduces supply chain uncertainty for manufacturers and simplifies technical challenges for carriers, increasing the odds that predictions of mass market 5G product and service availability by the end of 2019 will come true.

Those early handsets won’t be made by Apple. Major Android phone makers are pushing to have 5G products in the market for this year’s Christmas selling season, but Apple didn’t make the same promise. Now, it can’t. Apple won’t be able to design and tool up to make Qualcomm-based iPhones until 2020, perhaps not until the second half of the year.

But there’s finally a clear roadmap for all major smartphone makers to make the jump soon enough to begin building a meaningful 5G user base in 2020. Mobile carriers will be judged on the basis of how well they deliver on the hype and the deceptions they’ve relied on so far. We’ll finally know what 5G really means.

AT&T hides 4G digital divide behind 5GE facade

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Opensignal att 5ge 22mar2019

AT&T’s 5GE scam is unravelling. Measurements taken by an independent testing company, OpenSignal, show that slapping a phony 5G label on upgraded 4G LTE service does not make the user experience any faster.

According to OpenSignal’s blog post

Some AT&T users in the U.S. have recently seen “5G E” appear on the status bar of their existing smartphones, replacing 4G. This move has sparked controversy because AT&T is using updated 4G network technologies to connect these smartphone users, not the new 5G standard…

Analyzing Opensignal’s data shows that AT&T users with 5G E-capable smartphones receive a better experience than AT&T users with less capable smartphone models…But AT&T users with a 5G E-capable smartphone receive similar speeds to users on other carriers with the same smartphone models that AT&T calls 5G E. The 5G E speeds which AT&T users experience are very much typical 4G speeds and not the step-change improvement which 5G promises.

If anything, AT&T’s attempt to jump the 5G gun seems about to backfire. The tests show that real 4G improvements have been made by AT&T, as well as Verizon and T-Mobile. Combining upgraded LTE infrastructure with current generation smartphones produces significantly faster download speeds. But instead of trying to capitalise on 4G success, AT&T is positioning itself as an evolved 5G failure.

To a large extent, AT&T’s future is built on expanding its portfolio of 4G systems. It’s using federal subsidies to build a 4G-based national public safety network and to deploy its 4G-based wireless local loop technology to replace rural copper networks. It will be building true 5G systems over the next five to ten years in urban markets where money and customers are thicker on the ground, but not in rural communities where 5G equipment will be relegated to an “infill” role, if it’s deployed at all.

Slapping a 5G label, with or without the microscopic E, on everything is an attempt – doomed, hopefully – by AT&T to disguise the growing divide between digital haves and have nots.