Tag Archives: 5G

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.

Small WISPs handed a tougher business case by FCC spectrum decision

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

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

by Steve Blum • , , ,

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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

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

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.

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

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

by Steve Blum • , , ,

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.