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Home > News > Industry News > Beating the bandwidth blues wi.....

Beating the bandwidth blues with 5G

  • Author:Ella Cai
  • Release on:2017-06-14
Mark Barrett examines the US networks’ contrasting approaches to planning for 5G and millimetre wave technology adoption.

Despite the fact that the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released four millimetre-wave (mmWave) bands for 5G, recent news from T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T shows that there is no agreement yet on 5G standards.

T-Mobile said on 2 May that it will begin to roll out “true” next-generation networks nationwide using its newly acquired spectrum. But it won’t be the first to promise a 5G roll-out in the US. Its plan – the “boldest to date” says the Financial Times – expects the network to be up and running from 2020. It will join Verizon, which is set to launch limited services in 11 US cities, and AT&T, which aims to roll out in two.

While Verizon and AT&T plan to focus on fixed wireless access using the licensed mmWave spectrum at 28GHz, T-Mobile’s chief technology officer, Neville Ray, says that it will use the 600Mhz spectrum, which it acquired in this year’s auction for the 5G launch. Ray’s blog says: “T-Mobile is the first company to commit to building a nationwide 5G network. And that’s not Fixed 5G.”

Verizon and AT&T’s focus on the 28GHz band brings far greater bandwidth (0.85GHz), but will be used for fixed wireless access only. The companies were in a bidding war to buy Straight Path, which owns a significant amount of the 28GHz (and 39GHz) spectrum in the US. Verizon won with a $3.1bn bid for the nine-employee company with no other assets.

The fact that T-Mobile will rely on 600GHz isn’t completely surprising. At Mobile World Congress (MWC) Ray said 5G simply wasn’t ready, citing the technical challenges of using mmWave technologies. PC World reported Ray saying at Ericsson’s MWC kick-off press briefing that: “he’s still in the LTE business,” and that “5G is not ready yet. For one thing, using mmWave frequencies like 28GHz for mobile services is still a big technical challenge.”

The reasons cited by T-Mobile and AT&T for their respective strategies are the same. AT&T’s senior vice-president of wireless network architecture and design, Tom Keathley, said at the Nokia/New York University ‘Brooklyn 5G’ summit last month that: “A main aim is to find out how mmWave technology works.” This raises two key questions – what spectrum can or should be used for 5G and is Verizon/AT&T’s strategy to begin with fixed wireless access the right one?

5G Spectrum
Ray argues against what he calls three myths. The first is that “there is ‘5G Spectrum’ and ‘not 5G Spectrum’. 2G, 3G and 4G are available across low, mid and high-band. Why would 5G be any different? It won’t.”

Conversely, Ian Gillott, the founder of the iGR analyst house which specialises in wireless infrastructures, says: “Much has been said about 5G networks being used to provide higher bandwidth and network speeds and this will take more small cells. So 600MHz should not be thought of as “5G” spectrum – it is not. But 600MHz still has value – all licensed spectrum has value… 600MHz will be great for providing bandwidth over a wide area and in hard-to-reach places.”

Standards have yet to be set, so neither Gillott nor Ray is wrong.

What will 600MHz be good for? The band is broken down into two blocks of 35MHz, one for basestations (617MHz to 652MHz) and one for cell phones (663MHz to 698MHz). Compare this with the licensed 28GHz and 39GHz bands, which respectively give 0.85GHz and 1.4GHz of bandwidth, and the unlicensed, newly-extended 60GHz band (which gives 14GHz of bandwidth) and there is a big difference.

However, 600MHz is great in delivering range. The higher the frequency of the radio signal, the less distance it can travel through the air. This lower band can cover wide areas with signals and will generally go into buildings well, but they are also harder to control, which makes it difficult to deploy small cells.

5G will need to bring together a wide range of applications, from delivering 4K video over cellular, to remote IoT applications, to last-mile technologies. The 600MHz band may be a key part of getting services to remote regions, but bandwidth will also be essential.

Focus on fixed wireless access
AT&T is seeking to improve its ability to use mmWave technology so it needs as controlled a way as possible and fixed wireless access provides this. The US test and certification body the National Science Foundation (NSF) has made $400m funding available to drive 5G last-mile innovation.

IP companies like Blu Wireless, as well the big players like Qualcomm, have been developing mmWave technologies for unlicensed‑band applications such as Wi-Gig and 4G backhaul, but its use for the front‑end applications is. Blu wireless has championed its use for many months, arguing for using 5G mmWave technologies as part of the last‑mile delivery. It allows operators and equipment vendors to develop systems based on these technologies and lets them begin to get infrastructure in place to define and develop the standard.

However the demand for bandwidth means that licensing is a fairly dated approach based on an old system. Licensed bandwidth is complex, costly, power hungry and – at a combined 3.85GHz for the three bands – not so large. Although it’s roughly double LTE’s 2GHz, the 60GHz band, which is ideal for fixed wireless access, delivers 14GHz of spectrum – speeds in the region of 25Gbps.

The Wireless Broadband Alliance also backs the use of unlicensed 60GHz spectrum. A survey of its members found that 88% of respondents think the technologies are critical for the development of 5G.

Mark Barrett is chief marketing officer at Blu Wireless Technology