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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.


Ernest Worthman is an executive editor with AGL Media Group.


AT&T, Verizon Agree to Additional 2-week 5G C-band Rollout Delay

Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. secretary of transportation, and Steve Dickson, the FAA administrator, sent a letter to the heads of AT&T and Verizon on the evening of Jan. 3 in which they thank the mobile carrier chiefs for their agreement to delay initial deployment of 5G wireless services on C-band frequencies for two weeks, along with adopting some additional mitigations. The mitigations would be intended to offset potential interference from 5G transmitters to aviation navigation equipment, including altimeters in aircraft.

The two federal officials included with their letter a final term sheet with details of the terms of the agreement.

A statement the FAA issued said that the wireless companies have offered to implement a set of mitigations comparable to measures used in some European operating environments.

“While U.S. standards and operating environments are unique, we believe this could substantially reduce the disruptions to air operations,” the statement reads. “These additional mitigations will be in place for six months around 50 airports identified as those with the greatest impact to the U.S. aviation sector.”

AT&T said that it had, at Buttigieg’s request, voluntarily agreed to one additional two-week delay of our deployment of C-Band 5G services. The carrier said it remains committed to the six-month protection zone mitigations outlined the letter it sent to the secretary and the FAA administrator.

“We know aviation safety and 5G can coexist, and we are confident further collaboration and technical assessment will allay any issues,” AT&T said.

Verizon said it has agreed to a two-week delay that it said promises the certainty of bringing the United States what it called its game-changing 5G network in January, “delivered over America’s best and most reliable network.”

President Joe Biden issued a statement about the 5G deployment agreement in which he said that his aministration is committed to rapid 5G deployment, while minimizing disruptions to air operations and continuing to maintain the world’s safest airspace.

“Last night’s agreement is a significant step in the right direction, and we’re grateful to all parties for their cooperation and good faith,” Biden said. “This agreement ensures that there will be no disruptions to air operations over the next two weeks and puts us on track to substantially reduce disruptions to air operations when AT&T and Verizon launch 5G on January 19.  For the last few months, my administration has been convening technical experts at the FAA, the FCC, and from the wireless and aviation industries to discuss a solution that allows the expansion of 5G and aviation to safely coexist, and I am pleased those efforts helped produce yesterday’s agreement.  I want to thank Secretary Buttigieg, FAA Administrator Dickson, and FCC Chair Rosenworcel, as well as AT&T and Verizon and airline industry leaders, for their tireless work to ensure that the expansion of 5G and aviation can safely coexist.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel reacted today to the agreement between the wireless carriers and the aviation industry to begin 5G deployment on Jan. 19.

“Last night’s agreement provides the framework and the certainty needed to achieve our shared goal of deploying 5G swiftly while ensuring air safety,” she said. “It was made possible by the FCC, DOT, FAA, the wireless companies and the aviation industry working together to share data, bring together technical experts, and collaborate in good faith to ensure the coexistence of wireless and aviation technologies.”

Verizon Extends 5G Ultra Wideband to 100 Million in United States

This month, more than 100 million people in 1,700 U.S. cities will have access to speeds up to 10 times faster than 4G LTE1 via Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband network, Verizon revealed today.

Verizon said its 5G Ultra Wideband features download speeds as fast as 1 Gbps and the capacity to support data-heavy actions from multiple devices simultaneously. It said the network allows downloading of huge documents and streaming movies in HD audio and video, playing console quality games and conducting video chats, video conferencing and FaceTime calls with clear sound and video.

Hans Vestberg, chairman and CEO of Verizon.

“This massive launch will put incredible speeds, reliability and security in the hands of our customers and amplifies our offering of reliable home and business broadband options to more places around the country, well ahead of the commitment we made last year,” said Hans Vestberg, chairman and CEO of Verizon. “As 5G Ultra Wideband becomes available to more and more people and businesses, it will allow our customers to do more amazing things.

“We’ve already proven our success with Fios broadband in the Northeast, and now we will give millions more consumers and business owners around the country a real choice in how they get their internet,” Vestberg said.

A map of mobility coverage will be available at launch and more information about business services and coverage can be found at verizon.com/business/why-verizon. Customers interested in 5G Home service can visit www.verizon.com/5g/home/. Verizon offers additional information at Verizon.com/5G and Verizon.com/5G/Business

AT&T, Verizon Reject 5G Rollout Delay Requested by Biden Administration Officials

By Don Bishop

Referring to what they said would be an unprecedented and unwarranted circumvention of due process if they should agree to a request by Biden administration officials to delay their rollout of 5G wireless service on C-band radio frequencies, the heads of AT&T and Verizon rejected the request that Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, and the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Dickson, sent to them on Dec. 31, 2021.

Replying in a letter on Jan. 2, John Stankey, CEO of AT&T, and Hans Vestberg, chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications, said that the framework Buttigieg and Dickson proposed for the delay asks that AT&T and Verizon agree to transfer oversight of their multibillion-dollar investment in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas representing the lion’s share of the U.S. population to the FAA for an undetermined number of months or years.

“Even worse, the proposal is directed to only two companies, regardless of the terms of licenses auctioned and granted, and to the exception of every other company and industry within the  purview of the FCC,” the letter reads. “Agreeing to your proposal would not only be an unprecedented and unwarranted circumvention of the due process and checks and balances carefully crafted in the structure of our democracy, but an irresponsible abdication of the operating control required to deploy world-class and globally competitive communications networks that are every bit as essential to our country’s economic vitality, public safety and national interests as the airline industry.”

However, in the spirit of cooperation, the heads of the two companies wrote, their companies would volunteer to alter their use of the C-Band spectrum a six-month period, unless they and the FAA determine that the voluntary limits should be relaxed sooner.

“Specifically, for six months, until July 5, 2022, we will adopt the same C-Band radio exclusion zones that are already in use in France, with slight adaptation to reflect the modest technical differences in how C-band is being deployed in the two countries,” the letter reads. “That approach — which is one of the most conservative in the world — would include extensive exclusion zones around the runways at certain airports. The effect would be to further reduce C-band signal levels by at least 10 times on the runway or during the last mile of final approach and the first mile after takeoff. This is over and above the protections we already committed to put in place around airports that were detailed in the letter to the FCC on  Nov. 24th, 2021 — protections that the FCC referred to as among ‘the most comprehensive efforts in the world to safeguard aviation technologies.’ As you know, U.S. aircraft currently fly in and out of France every day with thousands of U.S. passengers and with the full approval of the FAA. As a result, France provides a real-world example of an operating environment where 5G and aviation safety already co-exist. The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France. If U.S. airlines are permitted to operate flights every day in France, then the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States.”

Meanwhile, in a tweet sent on Jan 1. that included a copy of a letter he sent to Buttigieg, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said that nearly 40 countries have turned on 5G wireless communications service on C-band spectrum, yet the Biden administration is working to needlessly delay C-band operations in the United States. He said that step only would undermine America’s 5G leadership and the mid-band work accomplished over the past few years — mid-band refers to the C-band radio-frequency spectrum.

“The Biden administration is not asking for a two-week delay; they’re demanding an indefinite halt in what appears to be every major market,” Carr said. “The Department of Transportation’s irregular, eleventh-hour tactics — 660 days after the FCC resolved these issues — do not reflect competent decision-making, but gamesmanship. It is incorrect to say that there are unresolved safety concerns that would benefit from additional time. The expert agency charged by Congress with making precisely these types of determinations (the FCC), resolved them years ago in a thorough, 258-page decisional document.”

Carr said that based on expert engineering analysis, the FCC included what he called a massive guard band to protect aviation that was two times as large as the one certain aviation advocates originally asked for. In addition, he said it would be twice as large as even that conservatively sized guard band, because wireless carriers operate their systems are in the lower portion of the frequency band.

“The FCC’s decision is not just grounded in science, engineering, and facts, it is backed by the aviation industry’s own, real-world experiences flying safely every day into nearly 40 countries that have live C-Band operations today,” Carr said.


Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.


Biden Administration Officials Ask for Further 5G Rollout Delay

Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, and Steve Dickson, the Federal Aviation Administration administrator, sent a letter on Dec. 31, 2021, to the heads of AT&T and Verizon, asking them to extend a delay of their companies’ launch of 5G wireless communications service in radio-frequency spectrum known as C-band, at least in areas near what they called priority airports. The companies had been planning to start using the frequencies, the rights to which they purchased in an FCC auction, on Jan. 5.

“We recognize the significant investment your companies made to launch 5G C-band service, and the importance of expanding 5G service for the American economy,” a letter from the two officials reads. “At the same time, absent further action, the economic stakes for the aviation industry and the disruptions the traveling public would face from commercial launch of C-Band service on Jan. 5 are significant, particularly with the ongoing stress and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Accordingly, we seek to build on our productive discussions by offering the attached proposal as a near-term solution for advancing the co-existence of 5G deployment in the C-Band and safe flight operations.”

The letter said that under the framework in the proposal, commercial C-band service would begin as planned in January with certain exceptions around priority airports. The FAA and the aviation industry would identify priority airports where a buffer zone would permit aviation operations to continue safely while the FAA completes its assessments of the interference potential around those airports, the letter reads.

“Our goal would then be to identify mitigations for all priority airports that will enable the majority of large commercial aircraft to operate safely in all conditions,” the officials said. “This will allow for 5G C-band to deploy around these priority airports on a rolling basis, such that C-Band planned locations will be activated by the end of March 2022, barring unforeseen technical challenges or new safety concerns. Meanwhile, the FAA will safely expedite the approvals of Alternate Means of Compliance (AMOCs) for operators with high-performing radio altimeters to operate at those airports.”

The action Buttigieg and Dickson took in writing to the heads of the two wireless carriers followed Airlines for America’s Dec. 30, 2021, filing with the FCC of an emergency request to delay the rollout of 5G wireless service. A membership organization, Airlines for America represents North American airlines. Referring to the potential for harmful interference to aviation navigation systems that use C-band frequencies, Airlines for America said that the FCC “has never provided a reasoned analysis of why it has rejected the evidence submitted by the aviation interests,” as reported by Bloomberg News.

As cited by the news website The Hill, Bloomberg said that the wireless companies agreed to roll out the 5G service at reduced power for a temporary amount of time in order to compromise with airline groups, but Airlines for America said that would not be enough.