Hearing from the major players within the 5G ecosystem, it is easy to be overcome by the hype and promises of 5G. When talking one-on-one with the major players within the ecosystem, it becomes clearer that the real benefits to society and the ecosystem are years down the road. Enhanced mobile broadband and fixed wireless service are the key selling points initially. The new, revolutionary applications requiring high through-put and ultra-low latency will not be standards frozen until Release 16 – some time mid-2020. The intriguing applications, still under development, taking advantage of the bigger wireless pipe will take years to roll out fully. 5G will usher in tremendous technology improvements, but it will take years to realize.
Here is the current ‘readiness status’ of US carriers and 5G rollout plans:
- Currently two cities with 5G
- 30 markets promised by end-2019
- Implementing 39GHz mmWave spectrum for initial rollouts; sub-6 GHz next year
- Rolling out fixed wireless service for US$50-US$70 (lower price if a Verizon Wireless subscriber)
- Started 5G pricing US$10 higher than LTE service plans; has dropped that US$10 premium (but it may return)
- Smartphone availability: Moto Z3 with 5G mod; pre-orders of Samsung Galaxy 5G smartphone will have a short exclusivity period in Verizon.
- 5G in 19 cities in 2019
- Expect 200m POPs by YE2020
- Attempting to lead the rollout of 5G private networks within enterprises, hospitals, and universities
- Using the mmWave spectrum within 2019 smartphones
- Sub-6GHz next year
- Like Verizon, selling fixed wireless service utilizing mmWave
- Service: No pricing announced
- Plan is to have near full US coverage with 600MHz by end-2020
- T-Mobile also has the mmWave spectrum, but the company states it is not mature enough
- T-Mobile still hopes to merge with Sprint; Sprint’s mid-band spectrum holdings would be a perfect complement to T-Mobile’s low and high spectrum
- T-Mobile will not have smartphones until second half 2019; 600MHz support is unique and even Samsung and LG did not prioritize this variant
- Planning on a fixed wireless service; to help receive approval for Sprint merger the company is stating it will roll out fixed wireless in rural areas
- Pricing: T-Mobile announced 5G service will be the same as the cost of LTE
- Four markets will launch by the end of May; 5 more in 1H19
- Sprint will use mid-band 2.5GHz for its initial 5G rollout
- Strategy remains focussed around adding massive MIMO radio support to LTE as 5G is being rolled out
- Sprint has stated they cannot go it alone without the low bands that Verizon and AT&T have; the carrier continues to lobby for merging with T-Mobile
- Service: Sprint has not announced pricing
Other key takeaways from the event:
- The rollout of non-standalone 5G (5G delivered over an LTE core network) means the LTE core will need support for more than10 years.
- Everyone needs to work hard in the ecosystem, not just the carriers, network infrastructure players, or semi companies.
- Network backhaul still needs to be enhanced; backhaul challenges become more complex in 5G as networks need to support ultra-low latency down to 1 millisecond. There are also the challenges of supporting a much denser network.
- Qualcomm is leading the push as much as anyone in the ecosystem as the company may have the most to gain. The company leads in 5G modem technology. All 5G smartphone licensees are implementing Qualcomm’s RF 360 front-end solution, a solution done with their JV partner TDK. Qualcomm is also the early supplier of mmWave modules. The company is also a leader within the standards body and R&D services. So, it is not surprising seeing the company a leader in the marketing of 5G service and new applications.
- Understanding of security flaws is happening only now as all these edge devices get on to the network.
- Demands of 5G are strict on the entire ecosystem. One small example is the challenges of antenna players. They are being forced to employ more channels, improve coverage, utilize beamforming techniques while staying in the same footprint or they have massive headaches with zoning and receiving city approvals.
- Roaming architecture is still suspect. As carriers introduce 5G core, some carriers will have voice over NR and some will not.
- Fixed wireless has most carriers excited—especially carriers implementing mmWave. Also, keep an eye on new players such as Starry who is also offering a fixed wireless service.
- Carriers are excited about new revenue streams such as 5G private networks for enterprise/stadiums/hospitals/universities.
- Network slicing new architecture and innovations allow more options for computing.