Tag Archives: 5G

FCC hands high tech a victory over low transportation bureaucracy

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Uber hyundai copter ces 8jan2020

On Wednesday, the lame duck Federal Communications Commission reassigned 45 MHz of automotive spectrum in the crowded 5.8/5.9 GHz band for WiFi and other unlicensed uses, including transportation applications. It’s a long overdue decision – I’ve been following the debate since the Obama administration – and a welcome one for two reasons: unlicensed spectrum is the lifeblood of consumer connectivity, and it marks a victory for 21st century technology over 19th century bureaucracy and 20th century political payoffs.

As usual, the federal transportation department is howling over losing a turf battlepeople will die if we’re not in charge – but the reassignment received support from both democrat and republican commissioners and was approved unanimously.

Twenty years ago, automotive industry lobbyists and transportation bureaucrats, with some help from congress, convinced the FCC to set aside 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.8/5.9 MHz band for a particular “vehicle-to-wayside wireless standard” in preparation for the coming digital age. That technology – Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) – met corporate and bureaucratic needs but, as is always the case with technological fiats, didn’t do squat for consumers or technologists.

While the DSRC band remained silent, the variety and utility of ubiquitous mobile services and products, including transportation applications, exploded. Likewise, the bandwidth demands of automotive technology – autonomous vehicles, assisted driving applications, electric cars and the list goes on – grew into the gigabit range and beyond.

Under the FCC’s plan, the auto industry gets to keep 30 MHz, but the rest will transition to public use. Indoor applications will be allowed immediately, outdoor uses will phase in over time. The automotive industry will still have its sandbox – 30 MHz is a lot of spectrum by current standards, and can support far more services and applications than 75 MHz could 20 years ago.

If those services and applications are the product of market tested high tech genius, and not the decree of low tech lobbyists and federal bureaucrats.

Tired of 5G hype? Refresh yourself with 6G speculation

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Samsung 6g

While AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile squabble over each other’s claims of 5G dominance and their theories of 5G Evolution, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on how nothing changes in the mobile business. They had the same fights over 4G and they will do it all over again when 6G arrives.

Yes, 6G.

Expect to hear more about it in the not too distant future. 6G is undefined now, but there’s an assumption that it will be developed over the next 10 years, and that it will be something like total immersion in a sea of data.

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel talked about 6G at the Mobile World Congress show in Los Angeles a couple of years ago – the first time I heard someone try to define it. She described it as continual network densification. Samsung calls it “hyper-connectivity involving humans and everything”.

5G technology is all about network densification at the city block and factory floor level. 6G will be about densifying networks at a personal level.

6G development is likely to take the diverse development path that 4G took, rather than the internationally coordinated standards setting process that led to 5G. It’ll be developed by bits and pieces over the next ten years, and then eventually bundled into a package with a 6G label on it. As with other technologies, initial attempts might be for military applications. Technology that allows troops, equipment and weapons to be continually and comprehensively linked to AI-class analysis, command and control would be a game changer.

It’s not simple connectivity, of any generation, that’ll make the difference. Superiority – military or economic – will be gained or lost on the basis of the applications, data and devices that use it. 5G’s potential has barely been tapped and there’s a lot of work that has to be done before it runs out of steam.

But, ya know, 5G is so 2020.

Mobile carriers use arbitration board to debunk each other’s ads

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The three major U.S. mobile carriers are fighting each other’s advertising claims via an arbitration process run by the Better Business Bureau. First, it was T-Mobile who successfully challenged AT&T’s 5GEvolution scam. The BBB’s National Advertising Division (NAD) said that putting a 5G label on 4G service was misleading, and the appeals board run by BBB agreed.

Verizon objected to T-Mobile’s wide-ranging claims of wide ranging 5G coverage and NAD agreed, albeit while blessing verbiage about the superior building penetration ability of the low band spectrum it’s using.

To round out the set, earlier this month the appeals board upheld an earlier NAD ruling – the result of a complaint by AT&T – that Verizon shouldn’t be calling its service “the most powerful 5G experience”…

The evidence in the record does not clearly demonstrate what consumers understand “powerful” to mean in “the most powerful 5G experience” in the contexts shown. The panel found that the claim “most powerful” conveys a broad superiority message and that the advertiser would need to demonstrate consumer understanding of the term “powerful” in order to make the claim.

The panel therefore concluded that absent this evidence of consumer understanding of the term “powerful,” Verizon did not have proper support for the claim “Verizon is building the most powerful 5G experience for America” and recommended that it be discontinued. The panel did note, however, that the claim would have been supported had it been non-comparative because the evidence in the record demonstrated that Verizon’s future 5G network when generally available will provide the essential network metrics, whether one accepts NAD’s interpretation or Verizon’s interpretation of “powerful.”

There’s no enforcement mechanism attached to any of these opinions. Verizon said it will pull the offending adds, and T-Mobile is taking its case to the appeals board. AT&T effectively ignored that board’s decision, and continues to identify its 4G service using a 5GE icon.

The best way for cities to prepare for 5G is to get 4G right

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Burlingame poles

There are differences between 4G and 5G facilities, but not necessarily meaningful ones from a policy perspective. For most people, the two will look the same, except the 5G facility might be smaller and is likelier to look more integrated, without so many obvious components and visible wires, although there will be no shortage of exceptions. Mostly it’s because 5G technology is newer and they’ve had more time to work on it. In theory (there aren’t a lot of actual small 5G installations to go by yet) 5G facilities should be smaller than 4G, and easier to integrate into a street light or utility pole. But that might not be obvious. As a general rule, a 5G facility should fit within whatever specs a city has set for 4G facilities.

One difference that might matter is cities will start seeing permit applications for locations where 4G wouldn’t have been installed. That’s because 5G facilities are designed to be deployed more densely, and in many cases physically closer to customers.

Another difference is that cities will get a lot more permit requests for 5G installations, once work actually begins, also because they’re installing more per square mile. There have already been cases where a carrier submitted dozens of applications at once. That’s something that planning and/or public works staff have to think about – there are shot clocks with deemed approved teeth established by the California legislature – 90 days for new equipment on existing sites and 150 days for new sites.

So far, the mobile companies, carriers and infrastructure companies, haven’t gone to war over that, but it’s only a matter of time before they do.

A third issue will be fiber. For the most part, 5G cell sites need to be connected directly to fiber cables, and that means trenching and adding wires to utility poles, which also means more permit applications. It’s not a question of something particularly new, it’s going to be a problem of sheer numbers.

That’s assuming that carriers want to build out to a community at all. The relationship between low community income levels and lack of telecommunications service and infrastructure is well established. A 5G permit onslaught might be a problem, but it’s a bigger problem for a community if it doesn’t come at all.

Ad watchdog says some T-Mobile 5G claims are bogus, some aren’t

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile billboard 2 las vegas 6jan2020

T-Mobile’s ads about the wonderfulness of its 5G network and the limitations of Verizon’s went too far, according to an independent watchdog. The national advertising division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau, which has been acting as a mobile broadband advertising referee lately, said that T-Mobile supported its claim that its 5G service is faster than its competitors and covers more ground, but was misleading about metrics and its ability to project 5G service into places where even 4g is troublesome…

NAD noted that the challenged claims also convey a message about metrics other than speed. There was no evidence comparing 5G to 4G on metrics like reliability and metrics that “will change our lives in really big ways,” therefore NAD recommended that T-Mobile modify its claims to more clearly state the metrics like speed for which 5G is superior to 4G.

Further, NAD determined that the challenged advertising reasonably conveys the message that T-Mobile’s 5G typically delivers service in the physical locations shown in the advertising, such as basements and elevators, where cellular customers are accustomed to potentially experiencing a coverage gap. While it was undisputed that T-Mobile’s low band signal can penetrate walls, there was no evidence of the extent to which it does so, or whether it delivers coverage in locations that have traditionally challenged cellular service.

T-Mobile is putting 5G service on its low band 600 MHz spectrum, which has more range than the mid-band frequencies typically used for 4G service, and far greater range than the millimeter wave bands that are the focus of Verizon’s 5G deployments. The trade off is capacity. Mid-band frequencies deliver more digital bandwidth and millimeter wave bands far more.

Although NAD doesn’t have any enforcement power, it has a history of turning over disputes to regulatory agencies that do if a company doesn’t cooperate. So far, mobile carriers have sorta done so, albeit after taking advantage of the opportunity to appeal adverse findings. Which T-Mobile says it will do.

AT&T continues 5GEvolution scam despite advertising industry’s slapdown

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Att customer evolution

A self-regulating body set up by the advertising industry slapped down AT&T’s strategy of conning mobile subscribers into thinking that they’re getting 5G service when they’re really connected to a 4G network. The National Advertising Review Board (NARB), which is run by the Better Business Bureau, concluded that AT&T’s decision to slap a “5G Evolution” label or, more confusingly, a 5GE icon, on its LTE service is misleading and that “consumers may well interpret “Evolution” in the challenged claims as signifying that AT&T’s technology has already evolved into 5G”. Which it hasn’t yet, and won’t for many years to come.

Not fully.

NARB recommended that AT&T pull the offending ads. AT&T isn’t obligated to follow the recommendation, and it didn’t.

Not fully.

A Lightreading.com article by Mike Dano reports that AT&T will drop the offending ads, but will still display the deceptive 5GE icon on phones that are connected to its 4G LTE network…

“AT&T respectfully disagrees with the reasoning and result reached by the panel majority,” the operator said in a statement to Light Reading. “AT&T’s customers nationwide continue to benefit from dramatically superior speeds and performance that its current network provides. As a supporter of the self-regulatory process, however, AT&T will comply with the NARB’s decision.”

But AT&T said the NARB’s recommendation only applies to its advertising and therefore will not affect the one element that really matters: Its service icon.

AT&T’s justification for the 5GE branding is that its 4G network is so wicked fast that it might as well be 5G. That’s not true, as independent testing has shown. But that’s not something that weighs heavily on the minds of AT&T’s corporate brand managers, or that will be obvious to the vast majority of its customers.

It should be noted that AT&T is not the only mobile carriers making dubious advertising claims. A quick look at recent NARB decisions shows that T-Mobile (which filed the original complaint against AT&T) and Verizon have likewise attracted its disapproval.

Early 5G adopters will pay a high price for phones

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei 5g ces 9jan2020

5G phones won’t come cheap in 2020. Although the Consumer Technology Association expects manufacturers to ship 20 million 5G-enabled smartphones to U.S. carriers and retailers this year, that’s not enough volume to drive prices down into the typical Android phone range (although iPhone users might not feel as much sticker shock).

The first 5G smartphone to hit the U.S. market last year was priced around $1,300 – that’s what high tech toys cost when they’re really just toys. The 2020 price point will drop by more than half to the $600 range by next Fall, according to a story on C|net by Roger Cheng and Eli Blumenthal. That’s iPhone territory.

As they typically do, most manufacturers kept their cards face down on the table at CES in Las Vegas in January. Samsung and LG had 5G smartphones on display, but deferred questions about price points to mobile carriers – that’s their distribution channel for now.

Huawei, on the other hand, was upfront about pricing. Its flagship Mate 30 pro 5G smartphone can be bought right now for $1,200 on the web. When a company is on the U.S. enemies list, distribution options are fewer and direct sales to consumers starts looking pretty good.

2021 will be different. CTA projects 61 million 5G smartphones will be pushed out into U.S. retail channels, which is about a third of total volume (the rest are 4G units). Add in previous year’s total and that represents a 20% to 25% market share, which goes beyond the technophile and early adopter segments, and reaches into the price sensitive general consumer population.

China is a wild card in this game. Like the two big South Korean manufacturers, Chinese smartphone makers have the advantage of a better developed home market for 5G products, and it’s a bigger market and, ultimately, a bigger advantage – Qualcomm expects 200 million 5G smartphones to be shipped worldwide in 2020, which, if taken at face value with the CTA numbers, means 90% will be going somewhere other than the U.S. If the likes of Huawei and ZTE can overcome U.S. government opposition and break into mainstream U.S. distribution channels, prices will come down faster.

Don’t expect to be able to buy a cheap – say, sub-$200 – 5G smartphone this year. Unless the doors to Chinese manufacturers open up, you probably won’t see that in 2021 either.

Fixed, mobile North American broadband speeds will more than double by 2023, Cisco study says

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cisco forecast 2018 2023

More and more people around the world will have access to faster and faster broadband connections, with speeds for fixed and mobile service doubling and tripling by 2023, due in large part to increased global deployment of fiber to the premise and 5G technology, according to a white paper recently published by Cisco. Although North America will continue to beat world broadband speed averages, the U.S. will not be among the leaders in advanced infrastructure deployment.

Cisco’s research indicates that the average North American mobile broadband connection in 2018 ran at 22 Mbps, and that will nearly triple to 58 Mbps by 2023. 5G networks will own a large share of that increase, but the U.S. won’t earn a podium spot…

The top three 5G countries in terms of percent of devices and connections share on 5G will be China (20.7%), Japan (20.6%), and United Kingdom (19.5%), by 2023.

Globally, fixed broadband speeds will also jump, particularly in countries that, unlike the U.S., are focused on making fiber infrastructure ubiquitous…

The global average broadband speed continues to grow and will more than double from 2018 to 2023, from 45.9 Mbps to 110.4 Mbps…Several factors influence the fixed broadband-speed forecast, including the deployment and adoption of Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH), high-speed DSL, and cable broadband adoption, as well as overall broadband penetration. Among the countries covered by this study, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden lead in terms of broadband speed largely because of their wide deployment of FTTH.

North America’s average fixed broadband download speed will be comfortably above the global average at 142 Mbps by 2023, according to the white paper. That only earns us second place on the world league table, though. Asia will still be tops at 157 Mbps, and higher growth rates – 30% annually or better – in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa mean that the gap between U.S. broadband speeds and those in the developing world will continue to close.

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.