Tag Archives: 5G

Race to 5G is ready to go, but don’t be distracted by false starts

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

The easiest way to win the race to 5G is to simply declare victory. It’s what mobile carriers did a decade ago with 4G, and what they’re doing now. That’s causing confusion, as an editorial by FierceWireless’ Monica Alleven describes…

One of the problems with defining 5G is, practically speaking, there’s no single judge currently determining what is or isn’t 5G. Is it ITU’s job, or 3GPP’s? Mostly, it’s the individual marketing departments at carriers and vendors, or “all of the above"…

Verizon is probably the most justified to date to actually call its 5G Home service a 5G service. It’s not using equipment built on 3GPP’s 5G standard, it’s using the Verizon Technical Forum specification for 5G. But it’s close enough to pass the test for most in-the-know analysts, and we’re told it’s a relatively easy upgrade to the real deal when that’s ready. (That’s not to say that I think Verizon’s fixed wireless access version of 5G is really all that mind-blowing. It’s not. But that’s a different discussion.)

Verizon’s proto–5G fixed wireless service is still just a test bed. The technology is intended as an upgrade to mobile networks, even though it can serve as a platform for fixed wireless too. But it’s nearly there and, as Alleven points out, Verizon should get credit for it.

Other carriers are jumping in as well, with marketing claims that are running ahead of the state of the art. AT&T laid down a notorious smokescreen last year, when it pasted its “5G Evolution” branding on its 4G network.

T-Mobile has hung back a bit so far, but keep an eye on them: it’ll be easy for them to dust off their 4G playbook and run the same deception again. Back when all they had was a 3G network, the marketing department decided it was so excellent that it should be called 4G too.

T-Mobile’s 3G service was good then. So is AT&T’s 4G network now. But that doesn’t justify a phoney promotion to the next generation of technology. Policy makers – at the federal, state and local level – have a lot of work ahead of them, to prepare for the day that true 5G mobile networks are deployed, 5G phones are on the market and customers – of all kinds – get the full benefit of the technology.

It’s urgent work, but not the crisis that mobile companies often make it out to be.

Small WISPs handed a tougher business case by FCC spectrum decision

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

The Federal Communications Commission sided with big, national mobile carriers over small, local wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) yesterday. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on where you think the market for wireless broadband service is heading.

The issue was use of the 3.5 GHz band (3550 MHz to 3700 MHz), which is frequently used for wireless broadband service – fixed and mobile – internationally, and is particularly sought after for 5G deployments.

In the U.S., it was allocated to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in 2015. A complicated frequency sharing process was adopted, with existing users protected, and new users divided into “priority access license” and “general authorised access” categories. Existing users (there aren’t many) are protected from new ones; priority license holders take precedence over general access users, who don’t need to apply for a license but do have to coordinate their operations with everyone else.

Yesterday’s decision changed the way priority access licenses are assigned. The 2015 decision said that the licenses would be auctioned off census tract by census tract. The new rules say that assignments will be sold county by county instead.

That makes a big difference in California, where counties tend to be very large. If a local WISP wants a license, it’ll have to pay for county-wide coverage, even if only serves a limited area. Think of the largest Californian county, San Bernardino (it’s also the largest in the U.S.). It includes heavily urbanised areas north of I–10 near Los Angeles, many mid-sized desert communities stretching from Victorville in the west to Needles on the Arizona border, and vast stretches of sparsely populated desert between Barstow and the Nevada line. It would be a practical impossibility for a small company to come up with a business model that serves all of that.

Berdoo is an extreme case, but the same kind of county-level geographic and economic diversity can be found throughout California.

On the other hand, that’s not a hard problem for a mobile carriers with a national footprint. Because they already offer differentiated services across various types of communities and terrain, they urged the FCC to change the CBRS rules to suit their business model. The FCC complied yesterday.

There are concessions for the small guys: sub-leases and local bidding credits were allowed, for example. But the decision gives the four big mobile carriers – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint – a big advantage. If they upgrade service for rural communities, and not just focus on affluent urban areas, prices should be lower and service levels higher than what local WISPs typically offer.

That’s a big if.

Fight begins over who gets spectrum assigned to self driving cars

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

.

The automotive industry might pay a high price for sitting on spectrum for 20 years, without using it. Ironically, it comes when an automotive use for the 75 MHz in the 5.9 GHz band allocated to Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) is right around the corner.

Lobbyists for Charter Communications, Comcast and other monopoly model cable companies want the frequencies reassigned and used to expand one of the unlicensed bands that’s commonly used for WiFi (although being unlicensed, it can be used for pretty much anything else, too). There’s a lot to be said for making more unlicensed spectrum available, and extending an existing band is simpler, from a user perspective, than creating a new one.

The trade off is that the spectrum won’t be available to support self-driving cars, as automotive technologists are assuming. Or at least they’ll have to share it with other users, which might or might not be practical.

Autonomous vehicles will have at least a gigabit worth of data, and maybe more, circulating on their internal networks. The major source will be high resolution video cameras that the cars use for eyes. Most of the processing will happen onboard, but there are also plans to share video between vehicles. For example, your car could be looking through a video camera on the car in front of it, to get a better view of what’s heading down the road.

There are other uses for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. Mobile carriers would prefer that all of it be done via their networks, for a price of course. That’s a problem, though, and not just because it would, in effect, let them impose a private tax on passengers. The networks that the four major carriers are building out in the U.S. won’t have the capacity to support just the connectivity that car makers need even if they have access to a dedicated automotive band.

Part of the problem is regulatory disconnect. The Federal Communications Commission assigned the band to DSRC twenty years ago, with particular applications in mind. Those applications never materialised, but new, self driving car technology, which was never anticipated, developed instead. At the same time, federal transportation officials are trying to come up with a solution based on the older, unused service model.

Right now, everyone is playing the District of Columbia’s typical zero sum game – one bunch of lobbyists gets the spectrum, another loses it. There should be a win-win solution that lets self driving cars communicate with each other and increases the bandwidth available for people, too. To figure it out, the FCC has to focus on technology and the future, not politics and the present. That might be a hopelessly tall order for the current batch of commissioners.

Self driving cars will be ready, but U.S. 5G networks won’t

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Manufacturers might have self-driving cars ready to roll in the next five to seven years, but how far they’ll roll will, in large part, be determined by 5G mobile network deployments. To support fully autonomous driving, where no human driver is needed and passengers can just kick back and ignore the road, fast broadband connections will be necessary.

Nobody knows yet how fast, but minimum service levels will depend on three speed metrics: download throughput, upload throughput and latency. All three will have to be better than what’s available via today’s 4G networks.

The chart above was published by GSMA, which is a trade group that represents mobile carriers around the world. It reckons that up and down throughput will have to be in the 10 Mbps range, with latency – the round trip time – in the 1 millisecond range, in order to support autonomous driving.

Continental is one of the automotive technology companies that has to actually invent and manufacture the equipment, and design the supporting platforms for self driving cars. It takes the GSMA estimate as a starting point, and stretches those specs: latency might not have to be so good – they’re considering a range of 10 milliseconds to 100 milliseconds – but speeds might have to be faster, maybe as fast as 100 Mbps.

Existing 4G networks can’t support those speed and latency requirements. The four major U.S. mobile carriers all have typical latencies well over 50 milliseconds. Their real world download speeds in California almost never hit the 10 Mbps mark, and upload speeds are significantly less than that, often by an order of magnitude.

Despite the hype from carriers and the Federal Communications Commission, there’s little indication that ubiquitous 5G networks in the U.S. will be there when the automotive industry’s technology is ready to go to market. You might be able to buy a self driving car by the middle of the next decade, but opportunities to take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel (or whatever controls it might have) will be limited.

5G reality still lags 5G hype in U.S.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Lots of 5G talk, not so much 5G action at the Mobile World Congress Americas conference in Los Angeles this week. No phones, no 5G-specific services, no schedules for 5G mobile deployments, Verizon’s fixed wireless plans and AT&T’s equally limited real soon now announcements notwithstanding.

Although it has a hemispheric mission, this year’s show was nearly all about U.S. carriers, content and services. The question on the minds of equipment and technology vendors – mostly from asian and european companies – was what will U.S. carriers do?

“5G is not about doing the same things faster. It’s about doing entirely new things”, said Rajeev Suri, CEO of Nokia during a keynote talk. “Blazing speed is important, but it’s not the only thing”. What those new things will be in the U.S. is still largely a mystery. He was one of many speakers who urged U.S. companies and policy makers to make decisions and act fast to maintain leadership.

If anything, AT&T took a step backward. The keynote speech by David Christopher, who heads up AT&T’s consumer wireless business, focused on video. AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner’s content businesses has to move forward right now and its existing 4G network is well suited to video distribution, so Christopher’s 5G brush off makes sense – Wall Street is a lot more interested in today’s revenue than tomorrow’s capital spending plans.

Cameron Coursey, an AT&T product development vice president, pointed to the 2022 to 2025 time frame as a target for meaningful availability of 5G service. Meaningful in the sense that enough 5G infrastructure will be deployed to support new products and services that absolutely depend on it. An AT&T assistant VP, Suzanne Hellwig Navarro, also focused on 4G, saying that the carrier will continue to upgrade its 4G core, a process – and a positioning statement – that AT&T misleadingly calls “5G evolution”.

Self driving cars, and the increasing role of cars as a consumer electronics platform, are an entirely new thing. The automotive industry follows 5G deployment plans closely, and is timing its product development cycle to begin producing data-heavy cars in the 2022 to 2025 time frame, according to Kenichi Murata, a Toyota executive who also spoke at the conference. He was speaking on a global basis, though. There didn’t seem to be any assumption – certainly no expectation stated – that the U.S. would be ready then.

Mobile industry moves ahead, but mobile trade show backslides

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Ten years ago this week, I went to what was then the CTIA MobileCon show in San Francisco for the first time, and began this blog. My first post was about an app that turned a smart phone into a mobile hotspot – an unremarkable standard feature now, but back then it was controversial.

Carriers – particularly AT&T, which had an early lock on the iPhone market – were dead set against it. Networks were a mix of 2G and 3G technology, and capacity was severely constrained, compared to today’s 4G infrastructure. It was also a business model issue. Carriers wanted to capture as much of the revenue that came from content, services and apps that flowed through their networks. They were as motivated to fight tethering apps then, as they are to fight network neutrality now.

The show has changed, too. In 2008, CTIA ran two shows a year: the big spring equipment show, usually in Las Vegas, and a fall event, called MobileCon, that focused on apps, content and technology. As the industry changed, though, the center of gravity shifted to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and the two CTIA shows collapsed into a much diminished, single conference in the fall. The final CTIA show, in Las Vegas in 2016, was a shadow of its former self.

Then CTIA partnered with MWC, to create MWC Americas. Its maiden voyage in San Francisco last year seemed to be a hit. The exhibits and conference sessions reflected a hemispheric audience: there was much to learn about mobile telecoms in Latin America, and the U.S.-style smarmy keynotes and meaningless powerpoint presentations were largely replaced by execs with something interesting to say.

This year’s show in Los Angeles was a step backwards. The show’s focus was almost completely on U.S. carriers and regulators (and the universal message was get the lead out). None of the panels or keynotes I attended had a single speaker from Latin America. Policy discussions were Beltway echo chambers. Even the so-called “International Perspectives on Spectrum and 5G” panel consisted of an FCC bureaucrat and two corporate lobbyists from Washington, D.C.

Next year’s show will also take place in L.A., but it’ll happen in late October. The hope is that it’ll be better timed for a lively event. I hope so too.

5g, of a sort, coming to “parts of” two Californian cities in October

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Verizon grabbed what media spotlight was shining yesterday at the opening of the second Mobile World Congress Americas show in Los Angeles. Its announcement that it would be first to market with 5G fixed wireless service wasn’t a surprise – it’s been talking about it for months – but putting a price tag and a launch date on it makes it much more real. Whether it’s really a big deal or not is a matter of how you look at it.

Mobile customers can add the fixed Verizon service to their accounts for $50 a month, standalone subscriptions are $70 a month. Verizon says users “should expect typical network speeds around 300 Mbps” with no data caps (although a mobile carrier’s definition of a data cap and yours is probably different – as the Santa Clara County Fire Department found out). The new service will be available “in parts of” Los Angeles, Sacramento, Indianapolis and Houston, beginning next month.

A very limited, fixed service-only roll out of 5G service gains two things for Verizon: a day or two of media buzz, and a test platform for 5G service, of a sort. The fixed wireless gear they’ll be installing (a service call is required) isn’t fully compliant with the official 5G spec, and will have to be replaced when the real stuff is available sometime next year. But it’s a legitimate beta test with actual customers, and that could give Verizon an operational and marketing edge down the road.

The announcement also helps to let some of the hot air out of the 5G balloon. Earlier this year, Verizon hyped 1 Gbps throughput, which it still claims is the “peak” speed for its 5G fixed service. There’s no reason to doubt that 5G networks can support gigabit throughputs, but that’s a long way from consistently delivering it to customers. Dialling expectations back to 300 Mbps is a good move.

U.S. mobile capacity still trailing demand

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

U.S. mobile network speeds dropped during 2017 when operators went all in with unlimited data plans, according to an analysis done by OpenSignal, a London-based mobile metrics consultancy. Carriers responded well, although speeds weren’t back up to pre-unlimited levels. But you can forget about mobile as a replacement for wireline service.

In the first half of 2017, AT&T and Verizon responded to competition from T-Mobile and Sprint and went back to offering unlimited data plans. Over the next few months, the average download speeds on their networks dropped. According to OpenSignal’s latest report, they’ve managed to reverse that trend…

A half year later, there’s both good news and bad news for AT&T and Verizon. The good news is Ma Bell and Big Red seem to have stanched the bleeding created by unlimited plans. After six straight months of tracking decreases in LTE speeds, in September speeds for both operators leveled out in our measurements, and in Verizon’s case, speeds started creeping back upward. The bad news is in November, both AT&T and Verizon were still well short of their 4G speed highs established in February. Meanwhile, Sprint and T-Mobile speeds have steadily increased over the same 11-month period.

OpenSignal also released some market-specific data, including four markets in California: San Francisco-Oakland (which doesn’t apparently take in Silicon Valley), Los Angeles (including Orange County), San Diego and the Inland Empire. In every one of those markets, Verizon had the greatest 4G availability and the fastest download speeds. AT&T had the best network latency performance in L.A. and the northern Bay Area and tied with T-Mobile in San Diego. There was a three way latency tie in the Inland Empire, between Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T.

The numbers show that U.S. operators are responding to growing consumption of mobile bandwidth, but struggling – successfully, it appears – to keep up with demand. It also gives credence to Ericsson’s prediction that mobile traffic will grow seven-fold in North America over the next five years.

Mobile carriers need to continuing expanding the capacity of their networks and they will. 5G upgrades begin in earnest next year (2018 is the year of 5G pilots) and will continue over the next decade. But they are running as fast as they can just to keep up with mobile data demand. Any suggestion that mobile networks will meaningfully supplant wireline broadband service is nonsense.

Truth is the first casualty of small cell deployments

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

Mobile broadband companies are increasingly getting it when it comes to aesthetics, but pledges made on the front end aren’t always fulfilled by construction and operations staff or backed up by management. Wireless lobbyists and public relations people understand that they need to speak the right words to massage away concerns about how small cell installations will look as they proliferate along urban and suburban streets. But those oh-so-sincere promises, accompanied by beautifully rendered conceptual drawings, don’t always survive the descent into contract language, let alone appear on poles.

The City of Santa Rosa learned this lesson from Verizon – the hard way, according to an article by Christi Warren in the Press Democrat

The equipment — including large metal in-ground utility boxes about 5 feet tall — varies greatly in design from anything the city was previously shown by Verizon, the wireless provider installing the antennas, said Eric McHenry, director of Santa Rosa’s Information Technology Department.

While the city had no role in the equipment design, Santa Rosa officials went through a significant amount of back-and-forth with representatives of the wireless carrier on what the units would look like on city-owned streetlights, McHenry said. Officials took pains to make sure the antennas would be as unobtrusive as possible, he said.

“We frankly as a city were also surprised by what these first ones looked like,” he said, referring to the units Verizon is installing on utility poles. “They look nothing like what we had discussed with Verizon for our city streetlights or even the pictures that we shared with the council (of the installations) on wooden poles.”

The mobile companies have figured out that talking a good aesthetics game is tactically wise, but it’s a position that changes rapidly as rhetorical fights cool down. And once burned, city governments are very reluctant to make the same mistake twice.

That means there’s very little trust between cities and mobile companies, with good reason: the truth can be in short supply. The people tasked with making the case for wireless facilities might just be repeating what the boss said to say. City staff and policy makers can’t assume that companies will ultimately keep those promises because, as Santa Rosa found out, they often don’t.

Self driving cars will need wireless broadband, but not for heavy duty computing

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInRedditEmail

There will be a flood of bits swirling through self driving cars, and virtually all of that data will be processed by onboard computers, even where 5G networks are deployed.

“Autonomous vehicles are software defined”, said Deepu Talla, vice president of autonomous machines at Nvidia, a high end chip maker, speaking at CES. That software will run on onboard computers, and won’t be processed served from the cloud via mobile broadband networks, he said. There are four reasons for that:

  1. Latency. If you’re in a moving car, the round trip for data takes too long.
  2. Bandwidth. Cars will continually generate huge amounts of data, particularly from the many high definition video cameras they’ll use to monitor where they’re going and what’s around them.
  3. Connectivity. It’s not always there, particularly in rural areas, but even in cities there are momentary holes and bottlenecks in network coverage. Not big enough, perhaps, for a human to perceive but enough to delay machine to machine communication for critical milliseconds.
  4. Privacy. Although it’s not as big of a concern for cars as for, say, medical devices, it’s still a limiting factor.

5G won’t solve the problem, Talla said. Latency may decrease but it will still be there and 5G’s greater bandwidth will be eaten up by greater demand. “the amount of data will increase too”, he said.

Continental, a German automotive technology company, plans to scale up in-car local area networks to 10 Gbps to handle that load. Most of it will be video streams from high resolution cameras – 8 megapixels – that have to processed and analysed in real time. Each car will have at least four cameras, and possibly more. Plus radar and lidar, and video streams transmitted directly from cars up ahead.

Mobile broadband will still play a role. Live connections to the cloud are yet another source of data, particularly for error detection, debugging and instant repair. Connectivity will be required for cars to reach Level 5, the top level of autonomous operation, according to Continental staff who briefed industry analysts during CES. At that level, the car does everything, everywhere, without the need for human monitors. That’s the point where you can take a nap in the back seat while driving to work.