Tag Archives: 5G

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

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

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

by Steve Blum • , , ,

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

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

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

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

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.

The planning-optional Trump administration has no plan to nationalise U.S. telecoms

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The proposal to build a national, federally owned and operated 5G network grabbed a lot of attention early yesterday morning – it was a better wake-up jolt than a double espresso – but as the day went on it became clear that it was an out of the box analytical exercise by low level staff and not an actual plan. Axios broke the news on Sunday night, posting a slide deck and white paper prepared by national security staff that made the argument for clearing off 500 MHz of spectrum in the 4 GHz range and deploying a coast-to-coast, made-in-America 5G network that’s presumably more secure than off the shelf infrastructure made abroad.

The core argument was that China has the lead in 5G and artificial intelligence technology, and the U.S. needs to do something about it. Side benefits included quicker rural broadband upgrades – the paper assumed the network could be completed in three years – and an end to city by city bickering over permits and access to right of ways and poles.

Industry reaction largely amounted to huh? AT&T’s corporate statement urged gratitude for “multi-billion dollar investments made by American companies”, but forgot to mention the multi-billion dollar subsidies private telecoms companies are getting from federal and state governments. Weird.

The most robust defence of the telecoms industry came from the Federal Communications Commission. Four out of the five commissioners slammed the plan – Jessica Rosenworcel declined to rise to the bait.

But a nationalised wireless system can’t be ruled out in an administration that lurches from one random policy to another. The project was touted as an information age version of the Interstate highway system that was launched in the 1950s and largely completed within 25 years. It was pushed through on national defence grounds by president Dwight Eisenhower, who had been thinking about a unified federal highway network since 1919, when he spent two months in an Army convoy averaging 6 miles an hour, travelling from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco. Maybe president Donald Trump had a similar seminal experience: trying to tweet from the back nine at Mar-a-Lago perhaps?

Is it time for mobile carriers to scrap unlimited plans and bring back caps?

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Pricing has a major impact on mobile data usage, and when marginal bits are free – as with unlimited plans – traffic jumps significantly. That’s the conclusion of a study by NPD Group, a market research firm that covers a number of industries, including telecommunications.

Subscribers with unlimited plans use 67% more mobile data than subs who have caps. Interestingly, though, people with capped plans consume 8% more data overall, when WiFi offloading is factored in. The press release about the study doesn’t offer much detail – presumably, that’s what you’d get in a paid report – but it does offer one interesting data point: more and more data, particularly video, is streaming through smartphones, one way or the other…

The average U.S. smartphone user consumes a total of 31.4 GB of data on a monthly basis (including Wi-Fi and cellular consumption). This is up 25 percent from one year prior, when the total monthly data consumption averaged 25.2 GB per user…

Streaming video remains the number one driver of cellular and Wi-Fi data consumption on mobile and fixed networks, accounting for 83 percent of the total data used by smartphone owners. In Q3 2017, 67 percent of all smartphone users reported accessing video content via an app at least once a month, up from 57 percent in Q2 2017.

For the sake of playing around with numbers, take Ericsson’s estimate that the average North American smartphone currently consumes 7 GB of data a month and egregiously assume that there’s a 50/50 split between unlimited and capped plans in the market. In very round numbers, that implies that people with capped plans use about 5 GB a month and those with unlimited plans burn through 9 GB a month.

Whether those are the actual numbers or not, it’s an illustration of the dilemma facing mobile carriers. Do they stick with unlimited plans and hope that they can increase base rates quickly enough to pay for added capacity to meet demand – Ericsson predicts average North American consumption will be 48 GB by 2023 – or try to limit it with usage based pricing and reduce the need for capital spending on network expansion?

$351 billion U.S. consumer tech 2018 forecast built on broadband

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Source: Consumer Technology Association, 7 January 2018. Click for the full presentation.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) predicts that connectivity, particularly via mobile networks, will fuel industry growth, with total U.S. retail sales hitting $351 billion in 2018, up 3.9% from last year. .

Traditional consumer hardware categories are flat or declining, while connected devices and services are booming – for example “smart speakers”, which are tied to artificially intelligent, voice recognition services such as Amazon’s Alexa, are predicted to hit $3.8 billion in 2018, a 93% increase.

This forecast was released yesterday at CES, which used to be the Consumer Electronics Show and which is produced by CTA, which used to be the Consumer Electronics Association. Increasingly, the industry is defined by software, content and networks, and not by gadgets and gizmos. Hence the rebranding from electronics to technology. That shift is also showing up in revenue figures.

The $351 billion predicted U.S. industry total includes $20 billion in music and video streaming services, a 35% jump from 2017. If you back out that revenue, the predicted growth in retail revenue in 2018 will only be 2.5%. Hardware growth is probably even lower. Only a few, top line category forecasts were released, and some – arguably all – are a mix of digital bits and physical products.

All eleven of the categories that were broken out rely on broadband connections. Without connectivity, speakers and homes aren’t smart and virtual reality is virtually nothing. So it’s no surprise that CTA analysts spent more time talking about 5G mobile networks than televisions, or even smartphones.

“We’re in the connected era”, said Steve Koenig, senior director of research for CTA. “We understand the importance of connectivity, not just to to the industry but to the global economy”.

Many of the really cool things to come that Koenig talked about will depend on the fast, low latency bandwidth that 5G networks will deliver in urban areas. Without it, the promise of technologies like self driving cars, augmented reality or robotics won’t be fully realised. But it’s important to remember that residential wireline networks will continue to do the unglamorous heavy lifting in a connected, consumer technology-enabled world.

Koenig predicts that five years from now, nearly 800 million “consumer tech connected devices” will be sold annually in the U.S. For that to happen, we need modern networks. Of every kind.

Verizon’s Sacramento 5G deal is about R&D and politics now, mobile service later

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The City of Sacramento’s 5G deployment deal with Verizon will expand the broadband service choices consumers have by a little bit, and pave the way for faster mobile service in the future.

The deal allows Verizon to use city assets to install what will initially be an experimental 5G network that’ll provide fixed service, presumably into homes and businesses, in competition with AT&T and Comcast. But it’s immediate value is as a development project, with technical and political benefits.

It’s no coincidence that the company chose California’s capital city. Verizon was one of the main backers of senate bill 649, which was approved by legislators but was vetoed by governor Jerry Brown. In his veto message, he said he was looking for “a more balanced solution”, which guarantees it’ll be back next year. SB 649 would have given mobile carriers at-will access to city and county-owned property, such as light poles and traffic signals, at below market rates. During legislative hearings, Verizon offered lawmakers rides around Sacramento in its 5G demo van, and generally made its presence known. The deal reached with Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg, a termed-out but formerly high profile state senator, will help keep Verizon top of mind at the capitol.

Leading off with fixed service allows Verizon to test 5G technology while it is still in the development stage. It can deploy a limited amount of network equipment based on the recently finalised initial set of 5G specifications without having to worry about full mobile coverage. Same with customer premise equipment. It’ll be a while before 5G mobile phones are widely available to consumers, but Verizon will have no problem sourcing and installing early and limited versions of gear that’ll support fixed service.

The deal puts Sacramento first in line for true, mobile 5G service, as it launches on a full commercial basis over the next few years. When and where that build out happens will depend to a great degree on both the political and technical results.

5G now a matter of national security, Trump administration decides

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Telecommunications is one of the sorts of infrastructure that the Trump administration wants to improve, but its interest seems limited to upgrading wireless infrastructure for eventual 5G service. That support might only include regulatory reform, particularly federal preemption of state and local laws and property rights, rather than money.

It’s hard to tell exactly what the Trump administration means when it puts out statements about spending plans, telecommunications or otherwise. And it’s impossible to know what congress will ultimately do. That said, the National Security Strategy paper released last week links telecommunications infrastructure upgrades with security policy, although the intended funding source could be telecoms companies and state and local governments, and not necessarily the feds…

Federal, state, and local governments will work together with private industry to improve our airports, seaports and waterways, roads and railways, transit systems, and telecommunications. The United States will use our strategic advantage as a leading natural gas producer to transform transportation and manufacturing. We will improve America’s digital infrastructure by deploying a secure 5G Internet capability nationwide. These improvements will increase national competitiveness, benefit the environment, and improve our quality of life.

It’s possible to read this as evidence that the Trump administration is swallowing the nonsense that mobile carriers are peddling about 5G being the ultimate replacement for all things broadband. That’s a stretch, but shouldn’t be completely dismissed, either. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

The big impact is that tying wireless infrastructure to national security gives a political boost to the Federal Communications Commission as it speeds toward even greater preemption of state and local control over wireless site permits and, perhaps, municipal property such as light poles. It also puts a veneer of respectability on even more radical recommendations made by industry-centric committees that are advising the FCC, including a de facto ban on municipal broadband systems() and confiscation of city-owned dark fiber.

The FCC will have bulletproof cover to hide behind, and a strong argument to make during the inevitable court challenges to any new wireless policy it makes. National security is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a trump card in domestic policy debates.

5G mobile tech finally moves from marketing hype to a hard standard

by Steve Blum • , ,

A formal, implementable set of specifications for 5G mobile broadband technology and service is now final. The international organisation responsible for the standard – 3GPP – reached agreement on an initial set of specs at a meeting in Portugal on Thursday.

That means that equipment manufacturers can start making gear – first fixed, because that’s easiest, and then mobile – that meets an agreed upon 5G standard. Carriers can implement pilot projects that won’t be orphaned as the technology develops. Superseded perhaps, but not rendered useless from either a technological or a network management perspective.

All four of the big U.S. mobile carriers signed on, along with most of the world’s other heavyweights

AT&T, BT, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Huawei, Intel, KT Corporation, LG Electronics, LG Uplus, MediaTek Inc., NEC Corporation, Nokia, NTT DOCOMO, Orange, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., Samsung Electronics, SK Telecom, Sony Mobile Communications Inc., Sprint, TIM, Telefonica, Telia Company, T-Mobile USA, Verizon, Vodafone, and ZTE have made a statement that the completion of the first 5G NR standard has set the stage for the global mobile industry to start full-scale development of 5G NR for large-scale trials and commercial deployments as early as in 2019.

It’s significant from a broadband development perspective because there is now a firm, widely – virtually universally – standard to measure claims of 5G technology against. It keeps us out of the trap we fell into a decade ago when 4G services were coming to market. Because 4G could mean LTE, which became the de facto standard, or WiMAX, or whatever the marketing department said it was, there was no easy way to debunk false claims of 4G service made by mobile Internet service providers. 5G will be different because there is a commonly accepted standard.

That won’t stop mobile carriers from making false claims. But they’ll only be able to get away with it if we let them.