Tag Archives: 5G

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.

Is AT&T too big and scattered to succeed?

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Att vans

With the acquisition of Time Warner’s movie and TV production companies, AT&T theoretically has the assets to become a vertically integrated content creation, packaging and delivery behemoth. But not all of its assets – including its management team – are necessarily well suited to the task.

AT&T’s challenge is to avoid outrunning its ability to manage three very different types of businesses: entertainment production, subscription-based linear video distribution and a huge heterogeneous telecoms network. Two of those businesses – subscription video and telecoms – are changing rapidly, and AT&T needs both vision and capital to stay in the game.

So far, it appears to be short on both. There’s a limit to what you can do with a satellite video network. DirecTv will never be interactive, so it can’t leverage its distribution investment to create on demand services that mimic over the top (OTT) providers in the same way cable companies can.

AT&T’s telecom business is also showing the strain. It’s holding back on 5G and fiber upgrades, and increasingly relying on its existing 4G infrastructure and technology. AT&T is replacing copper networks in rural and other less lucrative communities with 4G-based fixed wireless service , in part by relying on federal public safety and universal service fund subsidies. It’s also investing in marginal 4G upgrades and labelling it 5G. Well, 5Ge. But, as AT&T intends, it’s easy to miss the little e.

Outside of the limited areas where it’s investing in fiber upgrades, AT&T’s networks are taking a back seat to more specialised players in its footprint. Cable companies can deliver faster broadband service more widely and have a plausible chance of creating OTT-like video services that are only available inside a provider’s own network, via fast lanes that are isolated from the public Internet. OTT companies are sucking up consumer viewing hours and pure play, or near pure play, mobile companies could move more quickly towards true 5G service (although Verizon has put its early and much hyped pre–5G deployments on hold).

It will take an exceptionally talented and diverse executive team to pull these ill-fitting assets together into a unified programming and telecoms juggernaut. AT&T’s “fix” for HBO, for example – simply telling everyone to start producing more great stuff – and its disingenuous, if not downright deceitful, mislabelling of 4G service indicates that it doesn’t yet have the management and vision it needs to prevail over the long run.

For AT&T, success might end up defined as simple survival.

Pai talks up rural 5G, but puts his money on 4G subsidies

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Salinas windmill cell site

5G technology has a role to fill in rural broadband service, but it won’t be the kind of 5G that mobile carriers are hyping. That’s according to Federal Communications Commission chair (and Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award winner) Ajit Pai. He was speaking at rural broadband trade show in New Orleans last week.

There’s no makable business case on the horizon for densified 5G mobile networks in rural communities. AT&T dismisses rural 5G as an “infill” technology, and it and other carriers are not leaning on rural cities and counties for pole access, as they are in richer and more populated parts of California. Pai acknowledges that, but points to fixed 5G service to homes and businesses as a substitute for fiber to the premise systems…

“Contrary to what some people have suggested, I actually think 5G has a very promising future in rural America and part of the reason is, in terms of the possibilities of fixed wireless, given the fiber penetration that some of your members have,” he said. “I think the ability of rural telecom carriers to think broadly about the future of these networks and how to extend this great fiber penetration you’ve got, there’s a huge amount of promise there.”

Pai’s FCC has a mixed record on 5G fixed wireless. On the one hand, the FCC is working on opening up tremendous swaths of spectrum – in the 3.5 GHz, 4 GHz and 6 GHz bands, particularly – to support broadband service. On the other hand, the FCC and other federal agencies are spending billions of dollars to lock rural communities into fixed 4G service for generations to come.

The FCC’s Connect America Fund program is paying for AT&T’s program to replace rural copper networks with limited capacity 4G service, and supporting similar efforts by Frontier Communications. AT&T also won the contest for a national public safety network – FirstNet – that will likewise be 4G based. Pai is not putting his money where his mouth is: the 4G-based systems that the Trump administration is subsidising do not have the potential capacity of the copper networks they’re replacing, let alone substitute for fiber.

Eight essential characteristics of 5G networks defined by Verizon CEO

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Vestberg keynote ces 8jan2019

Hans Vestberg, Verizon’s CEO, did a rockstar, black t-shirt keynote at CES in Las Vegas yesterday. Vestberg took over the top spot at Verizon last year. As he often did in his former job as head of Ericsson, Vestberg offered a clear and credible explanation of what 5G networks and technology – particularly, Verizon’s – will deliver.

According to Vestberg, the eight “currencies”, or defining characteristics, of 5G are…

  • Peak data rate of 10 gigabits per second. This is what the technology can deliver, the question will be whether the infrastructure and resources are deployed to support it in any given location.
  • Mobile “data volume”, aka network capacity, of 10 terabits per second per square kilometer. Again, depends on whether a given network is fully built out and provisioned.
  • Mobility. Users can connect while travelling at 500 kilometers per hour. That’s roughly 300 miles per hour and good enough for high speed trains. Not quite airliner speeds, though.
  • One million connected devices per square kilometer. That’s versus a similarly theoretical maximum of 100,000 connected devices per square kilometer for 4G networks.
  • End to end latency of 5 milliseconds. That’s at least ten times faster than what 4G networks deliver. The plain meaning of the words implies a roundtrip (end to end to end) latency of 10 milliseconds, which was also a spec Vestberg mentioned on stage.
  • Reliability of 99.999%. It’s the traditional and often attained “five nines” goal of copper phone networks.
  • Service deployment of 90 minutes. To logically configure a bespoke network, that is. One of the touted benefits of 5G technology is “network slicing”, the ability to easily create subnetworks for specialised uses such as, say, for first responders or internal organisational networks.
  • Energy efficiency of 10% of current consumption. It’s not clear if Vestberg means that individual 5G small sites will use 10% of the energy that a 4G macro site uses, which is credible, or if he’s talking about the entire network, which would be difficult to take on faith.

Verizon will only be able to hit these benchmarks, assuming it can, where 5G infrastructure is fully deployed. That means deploying a lot of small cell sites and stringing a lot of fiber to connect them.

5G is about video and gaming, says Qualcomm exec at LG press event

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Lg rollable tv 7jan2019

The big benefits of 5G technology and networks will be old benefits, just more of them. 5G will be sold to consumers as a way to watch high bandwidth video and play fast twitch games. Judging from LG’s opening press conference at CES in Las Vegas this morning, 5G service is all about 8K video streaming, instant 4K video downloads and low latency multiplayer gaming.

This limited focus might be industry-wide. The 5G announcements were made by a Qualcomm executive, Jim Tran, vice president of product management. Qualcomm makes core processor chips that power smartphones, 5G and otherwise. LG executives had little to say about mobile products or technology. No handsets were on display (but they did have pretty pictures) and there was no one around who could answer questions after the press event.

But whatever they eventually do, Qualcomm, and presumably LG, want to get 5G-capable products into the market quickly. “If you’re going to bring a device in 2020, you’re definitely going to be late for 5G”, Tran said. That’s a dig at Apple, which makes its own chips and plans to sit out the 2019 5G scrum.

Tran spoke the traditional words about 5G – it’ll boost cars, health care, manufacturing and smart cities to a new level – but offered no details about what those wonders will be. Qualcomm and LG are chasing 5G buzz, but doing it in a very traditional and conservative way: don’t try to sell consumers something new; sell them something they’re already using, just more of it with better quality.

The takeaway is that for the immediate future, the 5G experience will be pretty much like the 4G experience, with a bit more zip. AT&T must be hoping so – it’s slapping a 5G label on 4G service and hoping no one will notice.

Mobile non-announcements aside, the star of the show was a rollable flat screen television. The screen rises vertically out of a rectangular base, kind of like kleenex popping out of a box. It’s very cool technology – they’ve finally found a purpose for flexible video screens.

LG showcased its artificial intelligence technology again. AI is embedded in a wide range of LG products, including TVs, refrigerators and washing machines. No doubt thinking about last year’s CLOi fiasco, they kept the live demos to a minimum, though – the presentation was mostly video based, and what wasn’t appeared to be faked.

AT&T’s theory of Evolution assumes its customers aren’t highly Evolved

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Att customer evolution

AT&T subscribers will get 5G on their smartphones soon. No, not 5G service. Just a “5” and a “G” and a little bitty “E” at the top of their screens, where it now says “4G”. It’s a branding move, and not a particularly honest one. About a year ago, AT&T announced it was relabelling its 4G upgrades as 5G Evolution (that’s what the little E stands for).

According to a story in Fierce Wireless by Mike Dano…

AT&T…introduced the “5G Evolution” marketing label to cover markets where it offers advanced LTE network technologies…AT&T has argued that such technologies pave the way for eventual 5G services, though critics have argued that AT&T’s “5G Evolution” marketing moves only serve to sow confusion among consumers.

AT&T’s decision to change its “LTE” indicator to “5G E” has precedence. Sprint branded its WiMAX network as a 4G offering, while T-Mobile (and then later AT&T) both branded HSPA+ as 4G before the arrival of LTE. Those moves were notable considering the wireless industry widely regards LTE as the official 4G technology.

For the record, Sprint had a legitimate reason for characterising its WiMAX service as 4G. At the time, the WiMAX and LTE standards were fighting it out to be the industry’s 4G choice. LTE won by a knockout, but WiMAX was a legitimate contender for the title. The 3G upgrade hyped by T-Mobile was not.

This new tech does mean better 4G service, although AT&T’s carefully worded and highly conditional press release makes it seem more than it is. The 4G upgrade “enables a peak theoretical wireless speed of 400Mbps for capable devices”, according to the company, with an average 40 Mbps “based on real world experiences”.

I presume the real world they’re referring to is Earth, but they didn’t actually say that. Read it as you will.