The first part of the 5G standard has been approved, subsystems are in the pipeline, carriers are getting more specific about the timing of their rollouts, and there's been a weird proposal to nationalize 5G networks.
5G is imminent. No, really.
The lag between the conception of any industry-wide technological proposal and its implementation can be excruciating. Proponents need to build coalitions of potential users and potential vendors, formulate and agree to standards, design subsystems, design systems, identify and respond to unexpected technological and business hurdles, and accommodate newcomers with ideas for improvements and add-ons and tangential applications. And all the while, people are talking, talking, talking about it. By the time whatever-it-is is on the cusp of being rolled out, people can be so exhausted by anticipation that perhaps they can be excused for impatiently wondering if the idea will ever become a reality.
And so it is with 5G. We were promised 5G years ago. We were told it’s on an accelerated schedule. Well, where is it already? Toward the end of that preparatory process.
5G will be comprised of many standards; the first of them, 5G NR (New Radio), was approved at the end of 2017. It may look like not much is happening because commercial 5G services are yet unavailable, but with a formal standard in hand, activity is ramping up to make sure the first 5G services are up and running well before the year is out.
Here’s an early February 2018 roundup of some of what’s happening with 5G.
Verizon, KT, and Samsung installed pre-5G equipment for the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, MN to transmit 4K HDTV video feeds for a set of mostly private demonstrations. The three companies were clearly pleased with the results. KT said it used the 50 Mbps video streams to create omniview (a stereoscopic rendering of game play), which it transmitted to Verizon back in the US, while Verizon used the feeds to create a virtual reality (VR) view of the game, which it shared with KT in South Korea. Samsung supplied prototype VR and omniview headsets for the demonstrations.
KT has plans for several public demonstrations of 5G technology during the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Sprint said it is gearing up for one of its largest capital expenditures ever with its evolution to 5G networks. Company execs told analysts they plan to start by deploying MIMO antennas that are software upgradeable to 5G NR, allowing the company to use its spectrum for LTE and 5G simultaneously, according to a transcript of the meeting provided by Seeking Alpha.
Sprint asserted it will be first to provide mobile 5G nationally in 2019. While Sprint is talking about mobile services – on-the-go telephony and broadband – AT&T and Verizon have been clear that their first priority is fixed wireless broadband, although AT&T previously announced it is also testing mobile 5G in 12 markets in the US.
In its most recent conference call with analysts, AT&T reiterated its intention to be first in the US to offer a 5G service, which will be fixed wireless broadband. As AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said, “The use case I get most excited about is the opportunity to have nearly a nationwide broadband footprint and it could be a fixed line replacement.” (The transcript of this call was likewise provided by Seeking Alpha.)
Verizon, meanwhile, has plans to have commercial fixed broadband service in three to five US cities before the end of this year. The company said Sacramento, CA will be one of them late last year.
Other cities where Verizon might roll out standards-compliant 5G are likely to be from the list of cities where Verizon last year said it would install what it called pre-5G infrastructure. In addition to Sacramento they are: Ann Arbor, MI; Atlanta; Bernardsville, NJ; Brockton, MA; Dallas; Denver; Houston; Miami; Seattle; and Washington, DC. Last year when Verizon announced this list, it also said the upgrade from pre-5G to 5G would be software enabled.
It is not clear that Verizon and Sprint are talking about the same software upgradeability, but they are both customers of Ericsson, and Ericsson just announced software that will allow customers to evolve to 5G NR as soon as they have spectrum available. The only customer of the 5G software upgrade that Ericsson identified by name was Swisscom.
Anokiwave, meanwhile, said it now has kits available for its new 256-element, reconfigurable active electronically scanned antenna, which operates in the 24.25 – 27.5 GHz band. The company said its AWA-0142 antenna includes an integrated controller that can steer beams to predetermined positions within a wide scan volume with minimal latency and system sensitivity.
Movandi and Keysight Technologies just announced they are collaborating to test and validate the former’s 5G front-end solution while optimizing the latter’s over the air (OTA) test systems. Movandi’s BeamX is a scalable RF front-end solution that integrates RF, antenna, beamforming, and control algorithms into a modular millimeter wave (mmWave) solution intended for customer premises equipment (CPE), small cell, and base station applications.
All previous evolutions in wireless technology have been accompanied by the introduction of new handsets that can take advantage of the new network capabilities. That might have happened if the global industry stuck to its original timetable of introducing 5G in 2020, but some companies – notably AT&T and Verizon – insisted on being able to provide something labeled “5G” two years earlier than that.
Chipmakers have clearly accelerated their development schedules as well. Qualcomm, one of the companies that will be providing chipsets for handsets, recently said handsets will begin to appear in 2019.
Both Sprint and Verizon said Qualcomm has committed to having ready a chipset that can be used to make 5G mobile handsets by the end of this year. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure added a Korean supplier will provide similar chipsets in the first half of 2019.
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Brian Santo has been writing about science and technology for over 30 years, covering cable networks, broadband, wireless, the Internet of things, T&M, semiconductors, consumer electronics, and more.