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The Misguided mmWave Dance

Perspective by Ernest Worthman

One of the big selling points of 5G is that it will work miracles for data rates, latency, security, agility and so forth. We cannot really call that a lie, because 5G does have the potential of upping the bar for these performance parameters by at least an order of magnitude, or more.

The real problem is that, in the early hype of 5G, this sleight of hand was promised across all radio spectrum segments even though it was well known that little of what 5G offers can happen below 3 GHz. C-Band offers a better platform but still has limits to 5Gs promised over-the-top performance. It would take a while before the industry would fess up to the fact that the full benefits of 5G can be realized only in the higher spectrum where unencumbered wide swaths of contiguous bandwidth are available, i.e., the mmWave spectrum.

I read what Mike Kapko of SDxCentral had to say about a visit Earl Lum of EJL Wireless Research made to Verizon’s San Diego 5G market to analyze its 5G Ultra-Wideband network. I want to drill down on some of his observations and comments.

According to Kapko, Lum did a “thorough study of Verizon’s mmWave small cells, including coverage and performance.” From that study, Kapko reported, Lum stated that the case for high-frequency spectrum would only see very extreme use cases. To be fair, in this instance the discussion was about Verizon’s ramp-up of expansive mid-band 5G deployment. But the rest of Kapko’s report of his interview with Lum seemed to imply that mmWave would never be a primary platform for anything.

Whoa there, podner!

Although mmWave may not end up as a primary platform like its lower-spectrum relatives, millimeter-wave will certainly be ubiquitous in the applications it is suited for – and there are many.

Let us put aside that much of the mmWave hype of yesterday was just that – hype. It was everywhere, especially from carriers. The real issue is what mmWave is really capable of and how that will play into the overall 5G wireless umbrella for all players, not just the carriers.

First of all, mmWave is a short-distance platform for most use cases, especially for mobile broadband. There are long-hop microwave use cases, but those are relatively limited and not really common in the 5G space. However, being a short-distance platform will not stop the proliferation of potential mmWave applications and use cases. I wholeheartedly disagree that mmWave will only see “very extreme use cases.”

I believe the potential for the mmWave use case is ubiquitous – from edge compute to holograms and everything in between. There are dozens of use cases where mmWave will be just what the doctor ordered. It will be the only technology that will meet uber-stringent specifications of speed and latency.

These use cases depend upon mmWave spectrum becoming available. However, that will not be an issue. We can use the 30 GHz-to-150 GHz spectrum where, for starters, contiguous spectrum is available. Eventually, use cases will creep up to higher frequencies as the technology to utilize the higher spectrum evolves and matures.

Just for kicks, here is a short list of use cases I am familiar with that will work in the mmWave arena. This is just the higher-level flyover. Additionally, there are many applications and opportunities within each of these:

  • Edge compute
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Pico cells (most commonly, residential, and commercial in-building applications)
  • Ultra-broadband (various applications)
  • Military (fire control in the military, for example
  • Machine-to-machine (M2M)
  • Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB)
  • Last-mile copper and fiber replacements
  • Everywhere XR (all flavors)
  • Security (high-definition video streaming/broadcast)
  • Smart factories, farms, manufacturing and warehousing (Industrial IoT, Industry 4.0)
  • Entertainment venues
  • FWA
  • Enterprises

This really only scratches the surface, but an endless list would be pointless. This serves to present my perspective.

The one thing Lum, as well as some other analysts such as MoffettNathanson, is correct about is that, for the carriers, in the <6 GHz spectrum, and to some degree in the 3.5 GHz C-band, mmWave will not play a large role. It will generally be relegated to offload applications and cells and will comprise of only a small percentage of that particular 5G spectrum usage. Meanwhile, exactly how and for what mmWave spectrum will integrate with low-band spectrum is still a bit fuzzy.

Early on, those with more than a cursory understanding of RF technology knew the hype of 5G mmWave would fall short, eventually. Not just mmWave, but the whole 5G ecosystem. But this is a mmWave discussion, so … staying focused ….

When it comes to large-size deployments of straight mmWave, it will not work. To bathe any large metropolis with a mmWave network would require an unreasonably large number of APs – hundreds of thousands – a practical and logistical impossibility. The tangential support such as power, antenna proliferation and more also becomes impractical. Nevertheless, we also understood the promise of it – short-distance coverage applications.

Many companies are working on such applications and the mmWave technology to make it happen. Ericsson, Qualcomm, Keysight, TI, Infineon and dozens, if not hundreds, of others are involved in mmWave to one degree or another.

Additionally, the industry is also aware of mmWave challenges. Challenges have been known for decades, and the industry has developed a mature and successful approach to dealing with them. I have been involved in mmWave site design over the years, so I have at least a cursory understanding of what it takes for their successful deployment and long-term successful functioning. Designing and deploying mmWave sites, whatever they are, is just a matter of considering the degradation elements and conditions.

That is not to say that mmWave is a one-size-fits-all. Certainly, there are use cases where mmWave just will not do the job, for whatever reason. However, the industry is aware of that.

I am always surprised when analysts paint a technology with a wide brush. Although there may be a lot of analysts who understand the non-technical aspect of RF, few can weld technology with economics and other metrics.

In the end, I completely disagree with Lum’s assessment that mmWave will not become a major player in 5G. 5G is not just about eMBB or C-band. Outside of that, the mmWave market is fertile and full of applications and use cases – and potential.

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Ernest Worthman is an executive editor with AGL Media Group.

 

What Happened in 2021, and What’s Going to Happen in 2022

Contributed article by John Strand, Strand Consulting

2021 started with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) turning its physical event, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, into a digital event.  In February, GSMA made its Barcelona Mobile World Congress (MWC) into a combination digital and physical event. Usually, MWC attracts about 100,000 guests. In 2021, there were about 20,000 participants, of which only 5,000 came from outside of Spain.

GSMA expects to implement MWC 2022. The question is whether the physical part will be much bigger than it was in 2021. Although there are fewer hospitalizations with this wave of COVID-19 variant, more people become sick and need to stay in bed for at least a week. This variant is more likely to affect business negatively, particularly labor-heavy companies. This in turn is quite likely to affect the physical portion of MWC negatively, because unnerved potential convention-goers probably will remain at home.

2022 will continue to showcase that the mobile telecommunications industry plays a critical role in enabling modern society to function. Telecom companies should receive more goodwill and should become better at exploiting it.

Strand Consult’s study of the broadband middle mile showed that rural broadband providers face many challenges in their effort to deliver broadband to disparate customers over large geographic areas. The study creates transparency for policymakers about the cost, level and source of internet traffic. It demonstrates that five so-called Big Streamers account for a disproportionate share of downstream traffic. For every $1 of revenue earned from the five Big Streamers (Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Disney+ and Microsoft), rural broadband providers incurred 48 cents in middle mile costs (equipment, electricity and labor), which they could not recover from the Big Streamers, end-users or government reimbursement programs.

The Big Streamers have tremendous global market power and ignore broadband providers’ requests to negotiate on cost recovery. Moreover, the free caching solutions proffered by the Big Streamers add costs to networks and only serve proprietary content. Strand Consult observes that there is a pervasive problem of unrecovered cost at the local, national and international levels that threatens sustainability and undermines policy to close the digital divide. In 2022, this problem will have an effect on the forward motion of the broadband segment.

Many Talk About OpenRAN, but Mobile Operators Still Buy Classic RAN

In our opinion, O-RAN is one of the most overhyped technical solutions since the launch of 3G wireless communications in the year 2000. Although the use of O-RAN promises to cut RAN capital expense (capex) by as much as half, it does not rise to the level of hyperbole that 3G would turn radio spectrum into gold. But eventually, it comes close.

In August 2021, Nokia paused its work in the group for fear of violating U.S. restrictions on the many Chinese members. Strand Consult has yet to find an O-RAN proponent who can explain how the prevalence of 44 Chinese companies in the O-RAN Alliance does not compromise O-RAN.

O-RAN is being promoted by industry and governments from the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and even Russia as trade policy and enterprise enhancements, though the O-RAN market itself appears to be growing minimally. The U.S. executive branch stopped referring to the O-Ran Alliance in its policy communications and now uses the O-RAN Policy Coalition as if it’s a technical standards development organization. Yet the O-RAN website clearly shows that it’s an advocacy organization whose purpose is to influence governments on behalf of its member companies.

It is important to understand that O-RAN is built on top of 3GPP 4G and 5G technologies. It is not a solution that can replace existing networks on a 1:1 basis. Nor do O-RAN technologies support 2G and 3G, which most of the world still uses for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and telephony. If a legacy operator wants O-RAN, it probably would have to maintain two sets of parallel base stations, one set for 2G and 3G and the other 4G and 5G. Running two parallel networks increases rental and energy costs, compared with running one network.

If O-RAN reaches the level of success its proponents predict, it will account for less than 1 percent of the 5G mobile sites in 2025 and not more than 3 percent in 2030. It looks as though O-RAN is too little, too late, to make a difference in a world in which operators are deploying 10,000 classic 5G sites every month.

At the end of the day, mobile operators’ job is to deliver a great network experience to their customers. O-RAN technologies offer only limited features compared to the 200 3GPP 5G networks launched globally by the end of 2021. In practical terms, one cannot compare the functionality of Rakuten´s in Japan 4G and 5G network with the functionality of an American 4G and 5G network.

The United States will evolve further as it upgrades from 3GPP Release 15 to Releases 16 and 17, and Rakuten probably will fall farther behind. The O-RAN claims are even further distorted when proponents say the O-RAN is a way for Europe to catch up with the United States, China and Korea in 5G technology. Note that the United States and South Korea achieved 5G leadership without the use of Huawei and ZTE equipment or the use of O-RAN.

2022 will see continued O-RAN advocacy, although it will be more difficult for its proponents to evade the tough questions about the hard reality.

China and Huawei Probably Will Have Another Difficult Year

When Joe Biden became president in January 2020, many wondered how U.S. policy would change, concerning China and Huawei. Strand Consult maintained that the policy was bipartisan and was unlikely to change, and, if anything, it might be toughened, particularly as reforms adopted in 2018 gave the new administration additional tools to prosecute human rights violations.

Huawei still faces significant financial pressure, and public opinion about Huawei has not changed. Many countries see it as unsafe and unsustainable to use Huawei equipment in telecommunications networks. Many operators have experienced increased reputational and regulatory risk by using Huawei, and corporate customers do not want their sensitive and valuable data to be vulnerable to the Chinese government.

In any event, the good news is that it need not be expensive to rip and replace Chinese equipment. As operators evolve to 5G, they have planned for upgrade costs already, and fortunately, there are many competitively priced alternatives to Huawei.

Huawei has pivoted to the cloud market and attempts to bill itself as a trustworthy IT supplier for the public and private sectors and as an alternative to the large IT software companies that supply a combination of services and a cloud. Huawei probably will succeed with its strategy in China and in some countries sympathetic to the Chinese regime. However, it will be a hard sell for Huawei to convince public sector buyers in the United States and Europe to buy its solution of putting data into Chinese IT systems and the Chinese cloud.

Cybersecurity Is Getting Even Bigger

In 2021, it was telling how gatherings from leaders from across and political spectrum, from developed and emerging countries alike, view cybersecurity. All nations are concerned about addressing serious global problems like illicit finance, human trafficking and ransomware driven by rogue nations and crime cartels. This concern means that secure networks and the practices to defend them will become even more important in 2022.

Both the United States and the European Union have rolled out new policies and regulations to improve network security, including 5G. This includes the European Union’s Toolbox and the U.S. Secure Equipment Act, which FCC to deny equipment authorizations to firms posing an unacceptable national security list. These companies include Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hangzhou, Hikvision and Dahua. Drone maker DJI is most likely be added, and many national security experts say restrictions should be increased for Lenovo, TikTok and chipmaker YMTC.

Strand Consult believes the push for greater security is incompatible with O-RAN technologies, which are increasingly influenced by Chinese players.

Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft – Big Tech Mutates Faster Than Corona

There is good news and bad news about big tech. Just when health authorities believe they have the virus under control, a new variant emerges. Similarly, governments are trying to regulate big tech. Yet, just when it seems that big tech could be pinned down, big tech adapts to the new reality – with a new name, a new practice or a new public-private partnership.

The conversation about big tech and its role in society will continue in 2022. Policymakers must realize that big tech is adapting faster than the efforts to regulate it.  If anything, the regulations adopted to date, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), have made big tech even stronger. Today, these companies’ revenue, market share and earnings have increased, compared with the time before regulation. Additionally, the government has made it harder for small and medium sized companies to compete.

The bottom line is that efforts to regulate big tech have failed.  Governments should instead make big tech pay for its use of resources. Current policy allows big tech a free ride on telecom networks and the public’s airwaves. These giveaways only increase big tech companies’ market share and profitability.

These are important lessons as policymakers look at the cloud market.

The Cloud Explodes in 2022

Policymakers will turn their attention to public clouds, which hold an increasing amount of citizen and enterprise data. Big tech probably has more knowledge and data about people and firms than the government itself. In 2022, cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft and Google will emerge in the public consciousness. It is hard to see how a Chinese alternative could gain traction in this market, but it still raises questions about existing cloud practices.

Mobile operators put parts of their networks in Amazon, Microsoft and Google clouds. As mobile networks are increasingly integrated with clouds, this means that individuals and firms are even more embedded with big tech. There is no turning off big tech and no choosing not to use it.

This situation adds to the complexity and difficulty of data portability from one cloud to another. In practice, companies may find it impossible to migrate from one cloud to another.  Although this sets off alarms in the antitrust world, it does not diminish the technical reality that cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft and Google are not comparable 1:1. In practice, Amazon, Microsoft and Google will not achieve the same result if you use the three platforms’ AI solutions to analyze your data.  One big question in 2022 is which has the most intelligent AI solution: Amazon, Microsoft, or Google?

One thing is for sure: It is far easier to switch the vendor of 5G infrastructure equipment than to switch cloud providers.

The Markets for Mobile Phones and Services Are Boring

Strand Consult has chronicled the development of the mobile phone market and has published popular reports on the iPhone. It has grown banal to watch Apple launch subsequent new versions of the iPhone that look nearly identical to the one before. With few technical improvements in each subsequent phone, the main difference is the model number. In 2021, Apple released iPhone 13, and in 2022, there most likely will be an iPhone 14, and so on. It is a testament to the company’s marketing that it has been able to navigate inevitable device fatigue.

Mobile apps also lumber on with subsequent versions. The key development in 2021 has been the use of mobile apps to manage COVID-19, and that trend will continue in 2022. Additionally, governments have entered the mobile app market in a big way with vaccine passports, which for many countries have become or will become de rigueur.

Tower Companies Spread in the Value Chain

Tower companies are an important part of the efforts to find profitability in an increasingly difficult telecom market. Many mobile carriers have discovered that they can sell their towers and post unrealized assets. In Europe alone, selling towers has contributed some 36 billion Euros to the mobile industry.

Around the world, we see tower companies starting to spread in the value chain. In Brazil, they invest in fiber, while others consider whether to enter the spectrum market. In 2022, we will see much more of this activity.

A study case is Denmark’s TDC. Three Danish pension funds, PFA, PKA, ATP and Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets have chosen to split the telecom operator into an infrastructure company and a service company. The two new entities will be TDC Net for infrastructure and Nuuday for service. We believe it to simply be financial acrobatics. The trend of the breakup of telecommunications companies into infrastructure and service entities will be seen increasingly in 2022.

The Market for Private 5G Networks Is Hot and Crowded

In 2021, much was written about private 5G networks, such as, who will build them, and who will run them. It’s a market in which many want to enter, everyone from mobile operators to IT companies to systems integrators to infrastructure suppliers. O-RAN players also want to enter, though it remains to be seen if they can deliver the heavy demands of a classic mobile network. Expect fierce competition, very low margins and an inevitable shakeout.

The C-band Cha-cha

The United States notched an unparalleled success with the C-band spectrum auction, a record for the U.S. spectrum at more than $90 billion. Mobile operators were set to launch 5G in this band on Dec. 5, 2021, but were hijacked by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which posted a dubious advisory about 5G transmissions and altimeters.

U.S. planes fly to more than 50 countries where some 200 5G networks operate, and there have been no reports of interference between 5G transmissions and altimeters. The FAA, which has known of 5G for years, has done nothing to modernize altimeters. The question is which aviation lobby the FAA is protecting, which most likely is small aircraft operators and possibly helicopter operators that don’t want to upgrade their safety equipment.

Commercial aircraft makers such as Boeing produce planes with three modern altimeters each. Their requested mitigation was a guard band of 110 MHz; the FCC doubled it. U.S. operators also volunteered to reduce power levels around U.S. airports for six months to prove compatibility and will roll out 5G in the band on Jan. 5.  Thus, the United States has the most generous, though excessive, protections for altimeters in the world.

All in all, we’re going to see that the big markets are going to set agendas for other markets. Much of what is needed requires political goodwill in a world in which the political system rarely understands the importance of what is happening.

2022 Will Show Rising Prices in the Wireless Space

After mobile and broadband prices have fallen over time, 2022 should be the year when prices rise around the world. Look no farther than little Denmark, which, in 2021, found the telecom regulator colluding with energy companies to price-fix the wholesale price of fiber access at a level above what the market offers. As such, prices are guaranteed to rise in Denmark because of regulators’ efforts. Given that the regulated price of fiber will increase, broadband prices on private networks will follow.

We also expect that many of the operators that have difficulty creating value for their shareholders through organic growth will raise prices in 2022. It follows that a highly valuable service such as broadband telecommunications should increase in price. This is the law of demand, and without price increases, it will be difficult to invest in network upgrades.

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John Strand is CEO of Strand Consulting.

 

India Shoots for 2024 for 6G – Ha!

By Ernest Worthman

Ern Worthman

When I saw this, I must say it was the best Monday morning laugh I have had in a long time. In what universe (to paraphrase Sheldon Cooper from “Big Bang Theory” fame) is that going to happen? Well, it seems everybody is jumping on the 6G bandwagon of late.

India has had nothing but struggles to get 5G going. There have been reports after reports about how India is struggling with spectrum, regulations, infrastructure, and they want us to believe they can have 6G running by the end of 2023. Heck, they will not even auction off any advanced 5G spectrum until 2022 according to India’s Minister for Communication Ashwini Vaishnaw. Nor do they have a native 5G software for their core yet.

When it comes to spectrum, India is getting ready to auction off spectrum in bands starting as low as 700 MHz to 3,600 MHz bands. There is also mmWave spectrum in that pile.

Not that India does not have a wealth of intellectual capability. I see and publish bleeding-edge papers from them all of the time. So, it is not at all difficult to believe India can develop B5G technologies. However, understand that B5G is a wish list today. While there is certainly research and studies going on and, theses and antitheses’ being published, it is years away from any kind of congealed mass, or from, or platform, or technology, or whatever tangible something we can work with.

It also depends upon where we want to draw the B5G line. If we set a low bar for it, sure, maybe in a few years we will see some hardware that can up the ante for radiating elements. However, one must also remember that there is a wide gray area where 5G and B5G will coexist for years. In fact, I believe there will never be a distinct delimiter between the two. B5G will simply be the advancement of 5G until we find a different way to transmission information beyond wireless – and who knows when or even if that will ever occur. But there are some really interesting reads about this.

The news came from Vaishnaw who claims development work on B5G (as I like to call it) has already started. So, India now just joins a group of countries that are dipping their toes in the B5G waters. That is not news.

But to claim that working 6G will be seen in the next year to 18 months is, to me, pure hype, not even wishful thinking. Especially since the majority of other governments and private research is shooting for 2028 at the earliest. And that will likely be the evolution of advanced platforms in B5G by the inclusion of elements such as AI, XR (eXtended reality), Internet of Anything/Everything (IoX), autonomous vehicles, intelligent machines, and more.

Is it reasonable to expect to see the inklings of B5G by the end of the decade? I am confident that this is a reasonable schedule. But what we will see will only be a peak at 6G and more likely the maturation of 5G as it scales and evolves. True revolutionary wireless networks will likely be closer to 2035.

That is not to say that we will not see some amazing advancements in what wireless can accomplish (holographs for example). But these are being touted as being part of 5G as well, as are the other above-mentioned platforms/technologies.

Right now, just about anything goes with xG. There are no hard and fast lines in the sand where 5G ends and B5G begins. As I said earlier, there may never be. 5G will continue to evolve for at least a decade or two. Whether, at some point, we decide to call it something other than B5G is probably in the hands of the marketers and hypsters.

 

Lockheed Martin, Keysight Test 5G Solutions for Aerospace, Defense Communications

Lockheed Martin and Keysight Technologies have collaborated to advance 5G in support of mission-critical communications for aerospace and defense applications. The companies are collaborating on a 5G.MIL testbed that Lockheed Martin teams will use to advance 5G capabilities for multiple applications. 

5G brings high-speed data rates, connection density, trustworthiness and low latencies to wireless communications networks, according to a Keysight prepared release. The collaboration advances Lockheed Martin’s 5G.MIL vision to support secure and resilient connectivity for defense and national security applications, the company said. It said the two companies also aim to adapt commercial 5G technology to meet tactical communications needs in terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks operated by the Department of Defense (DoD). Working with Keysight on automated test cases to evaluate cyber security and vulnerabilities across all 5G components and interfaces, Lockheed Martin is also able to determine the cyber resiliency of its 5G-enabled solutions across the lifecycle – from development through operations.

The testbed, which reached initial operational capability in July, will help Lockheed Martin’s 5G.MIL teams verify interoperability and performance with 5G assets and simulate reliable and secure communications, according to Keysight. Since that time, Keysight said, both companies have worked together to emulate, test and validate 5G open radio access network and non-terrestrial network communications. Through a strategic collaboration memorandum of understanding, the companies will incorporate additional capabilities to support emerging research and development needs and to remain current with the latest 5G advancements and beyond, Keysight said.

5G in 2027?

Perspective by Ernest Worthman

Amid all the chatter about how “5G has arrived” and the constant barrage of news bytes that 5G will change the world and has hit new data speeds, yada, yada, yada, comes a reality check from an unlikely media source in the computer world – PCMag (PCRag, as I like to call it).

PCMag is a consumer pub that spends more time doing happy camper surveys between ads about curing dementia and toenail fungus. It likes to talk about things such as who is the fastest internet provider, tips and tricks on Windows optimization, kicking your kids off of Wi-Fi, and finding hidden secrets of apps like Tic Toc and Facebook, rather than providing serious discussions about wireless technology. Every once in a while, it does seem to hit a 5G nail on the head. In this case, PCMag commented on a Finnish report that noted reliable and somewhat pervasive 5G will not arrive before 2027.

I have been hard on the industry hype that claims any real presence of 5G. Sure, deployment and coverage of 5G will become increasingly visible in what I like to call islands, as the rollout proceeds. However, these islands will only offer limited footprints for some time to come. But, as the PCMag journalist pointed out, being able to use 5G for your primary communications network, consistently, is years away.

How one sees 5G is subjective and depends upon a number of factors, just like how one sees quantum computing (QC). Yes, we have a couple of — if one stretches the envelope — quantum computers. They are housed in a sterile environment kept at zero degrees Kelvin. They are highly susceptible to movement, vibration, even looing at it with an evil eye, and must be kept in extremely stable environments. Under these conditions, they do function as quantum computers. In reality, depending upon with whom one speaks, opinions vary from “yes, we have” to “practical quantum computing” is likely a couple of decades off (Gartner, expes at least 10 more years of hype, according to a recent report). However, the unqualified answer to that question is no, we do not have real QC now.

This kind of pushing the envelope is commonplace. Not just with QC, but also with platforms such as wireless, autonomous vehicles and smart X, as well as technologies such as dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) virtualization, software-defined networking (SDN) and O-RAN. In all of these cases, we can say it has arrived, but as well, in all of these cases, the technology or platform is nascent.

Porting that to 5G, if we had listened to the hypsters, we have had 5G since 2019. Do you remember AT&T’s attempt to sell 5G by issuing phone updates that changed the 4G icon to 5GE? Over the last year or so, we have deployed 5G, but only as non-standalone (NSA).

However, these deployments are isolated islands of 5G, with minimal performance (read: performance is not much better than 4G). Does that mean we have 5G? Or does having 5G mean we have the ubiquitous 5G deployments and performance hitting the hype that has been levied these past couple of years? Add to that the fact that only 4 percent of respondents in a Morgan Stanley report said they would switch carriers to access new technologies like 5G. To me, this does not sound like we have 5G.

Another set of financials released by Elisa, a wireless carrier in Finland, on the operator’s 5G launch said it made $3.50 per month per customer from 5G. However, the details are sketchy, and the report does not break down that number further.

Most carriers, globally, are calling 5G a success and throwing out figures and hype that make it sound like 5G is on a fast track. Perhaps that is true in countries like Korea and China, but in the western hemisphere, carriers are simply exaggerating what the numbers really mean. And the hype continues.

Although it is old news now, recall when T-Mo got caught exaggerating claims of 5G being nationwide. Also, remember the National Advertising Division of BBB National Programs examined some of T-Mobile’s claims about having the best 5G network and found that they were potentially misleading to customers.

T-Mo does have a good dispersion of 5G at the lower frequencies they use. However, the benefits of 5G are not as spectacular in lower frequencies as they are at frequencies with more available bandwidth (above 6 GHz). Hence, while T-Mo may cover 200 million people, that coverage is qualified with location — not everywhere or all the time — and performance. Typically, T-Mo’s 5G at these frequencies only comes in at just over 100 Mbps. Although that is a two-to-three-times improvement over typical 4G data speeds (~35 Mbps), it is not nearly the super-speeds of the hype — although that may change somewhat when they bring the midband spectrum they acquired from the merger with Sprint online.

Other carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon, are working at mmWave frequencies. These do deliver significantly faster speeds. However, we are all aware of the propagation and penetration shortcomings of mmWave in large-area coverage and building penetration. Therefore, they are more working with siloed deployments in dense, high-traffic areas in cities, stadiums and, soon, airports, campuses and other similar footprint areas. Where these limited mmWave networks are deployed, the speeds are impressive — anywhere from 600 Mbps to 1.5 Gbps in the most stellar installations. Yet, in other than a few shining examples, the hype still continues.

Okay, circling back to the issue of do we or do we not have 5G — IMHO, as with QC, the unqualified answer is no, and the qualified answer is yes, but it is still nascent. I tend to agree that it will be years before we can say we have a 5G network that meets the expected performance of the 3GPP specs and does so with a large enough global footprint so much of the time the user has access to it.

The best perspective comes from an observation that emerged from the recent Brooklyn 6G Summit. The overall consensus was that 5G has a long way to go, with much that needs to be learned and applied in 5G, before we tackle 6G. That knowledge base will be what shapes the future beyond 5G (B5G), years from now.


Ernest Worthman is an executive editor with AGL Media Group.