Tag Archives: 5G

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.

5G smartphones, systems ready for 2019 exhibition season

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

It’s a lot like spring training. Mobile 5G service is moving into the “proof of concept” stage, according to a joint press release from Samsung and Verizon. They trotted out a design they intend to offer to consumers “in the first half of 2019” at a Qualcomm meeting this week.

Both Verizon and AT&T plan to light up very limited 5G (or in Verizon’s case, near–5G) networks in several U.S. cities by the end of the month. Those, too, will be demonstration and testing platforms, rather than full-on, consumer facing service. And it’ll be fixed – not mobile – service, delivered to people in homes and businesses via WiFi “pucks” (as AT&T describes them).

Those are workouts, not regular season games, and they’re necessary. It’s one thing to develop standards and design new systems, it’s quite another to deploy them in the wild. Paying customers will evaluate the service based on their expectations, not on design specs. Cell sites will go where terrain, access and capital budgets allow. Smartphones – the critical link in the system – have to fulfil those expectations while working within network constraints.

It’s no surprise that Apple plans to sit out this next round in the 5G deployment saga. According to a story in Bloomberg, the company is sticking to its playbook and waiting for the dust to settle before adopting the new standard…

As with 3G and 4G, the two previous generations of mobile technology, Apple will wait as long as a year after the initial deployment of the new networks before its main product gets the capability to access them, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the company’s plans.

Apple’s previous calculations – proven correct – were that the new networks and the first versions of rival smartphones would come with problems such as spotty coverage, making consumers less compelled to immediately make the jump.

With its 5G smartphone still just a proof of concept product, Samsung is unlikely to get enough into the market next year to make much of a dent in demand, but it will earn a place in the spotlight for being first. We won’t see 5G service deployed to a meaningful degree in 2019 but, like Cactus League baseball, it’ll still be a lot of fun to watch.

AT&T rep says 5G is only for infill in rural California, and she’s probably telling the truth

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Salinas windmill cell site

AT&T doesn’t plan to deploy 5G networks in rural California. According to AT&T staff lobbyist Alice Perez, small cell sites will be used for “infill” purposes in rural communities, to supplement big macro sites.

Those infill small cells might even be limited to 4G capability, and not use 5G technology. Her comments came while she was dampening 5G expectations. Any kind of cell site can be small, and she was quite keen about 4G systems, such as AT&T’s planned public safety network – FirstNet – and “voice over LTE”, which AT&T still hopes will be a replacement for copper-based Plain Old Telephone Service in rural areas.

Perez spoke last Thursday at Valley Vision’s Capital Region Broadband Summit in Rancho Cordova. So did I, presenting an analysis of broadband infrastructure in Sacramento County.

For the record, 5G is not an “infill” technology. It certainly can be used for that purpose, like you can use a semi-truck to drive to the store to pick up a six pack. But 5G is about increasing broadband capacity many times over via densified networks and newer technology. And it’s about creating a platform that can support many different types of applications and system architectures on a single network, aka “network slicing”. Without a critical mass of 5G infrastructure, none of that is possible. All you’ll accomplish is to knock a couple of dead spots out of 4G coverage.

AT&T will deploy genuine 5G networks over time, but only in communities with a sufficient number of high potential customers. Perez underscored that reality when she listed the communities where AT&T is in the process of negotiating agreements to attach small cells, of whatever sort, to streetlight poles and other municipal property: all were comfortably within the Sacramento region’s urban/suburban core.

It should not be a surprise that AT&T has no intention of putting true 5G infrastructure in rural areas. As Perez pointed out, decisions about where to build are based on AT&T’s expected return on investment.

Concentrated 5G cellular networks, and the equally dense fiber deployments needed to support them, will only happen where customers are concentrated and the money to be had is equally dense.

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

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

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.