Some global carriers appear confident that standards-compliant network systems will be available soon enough to stick to promises that some markets will have commercial 5G services before the year is out.
The entire point of inducing the 3GPP to accelerate its process for developing 5G standards was so that some of the largest carriers in the world, including AT&T and Verizon, could start rolling out service by mid-2018. A full quarter past mid-2018 and AT&T and Verizon have deployed some 5G network equipment, but neither has introduced a commercial service.
For companies that were in such a hurry two years ago, their rollouts of 5G have been far less exciting and significantly less consequential than, say, zip-lock technology being incorporated directly into food packaging.
Verizon has vowed to begin offering 5G fixed wireless broadband in Los Angeles, Houston, Sacramento, and Indianapolis on October 1; it is signing up subscribers now. The service will use “pre-standard” equipment – gear that was specified and completed before the original 5G New Radio standards were finalized at the end of 2017 – from Ericsson and Nokia.
That Verizon is sticking to the update schedule suggests the equipment works just fine. Verizon might have to replace it sooner rather than later, but even if it does, the company will work hard to insulate subscribers from any problems associated with the swap. Maximum throughputs will be 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). The company plans to offer the Moto Z3 as its first 5G handset; it's part of the Z line that was built to accept modular additions, and 5G capability is going to be a mod. It is likely to arrive in the latter half of 2019.
AT&T soured on fixed wireless, but is sticking to its latest plan, which is to switch on mobile wireless service in parts of several cities before the year is out. The original list included Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Waco, Charlotte, and Raleigh, and the company recently added San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Louisville. Cities that will experience at least some AT&T 5G next year include Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. The company said it will be using standards-compliant equipment, and the first 5G handsets won’t be available until at least the end of this year for anybody; AT&T previously announced it would deliver its service through in-home “pucks,” essentially hot-spot routers.
T-Mobile, meanwhile, announced an allocation of $7 billion to purchase 5G network equipment, and said it would split that evenly between two major vendors, Ericsson and Nokia, who will spend the rest of this year installing 5G equipment in 30 cities including New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas. T-Mobile was the only major bidder for licenses to 600 MHz spectrum in the federal spectrum auction concluded in January, and also has some licenses for millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum at 26 GHz and 39 GHz. The company extended an ongoing agreement with national tower owner/operator Crown Castle for access to the network of small cells it is erecting.
Sprint announcements about its plans have been modest, in part because it is waiting for the merger with T-Mobile to happen, so T-Mobile will be driving the bus afterward. Sprint has touted massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), an enabling technology that 4G networks can also exploit. Nonetheless, the company insists it will be the first US carrier to offer 5G handsets – which will come from Samsung – sometime in mid-2019.
Swisscom has engaged Ericsson to just do its entire 5G transport network. Ericsson said it will have “end-to-end responsibility” for Swisscom's 4G and 5G networks, from radio base stations to the data center. The vendor said that includes hosting core applications such as IMS and packet core and managing network slices end to end with Ericsson Dynamic Orchestration.
SK Telecom is another carrier that said it will rely on Ericsson and Nokia for its 5G network needs. It also said it will be sourcing devices from Samsung, and plans on offering 5G service in a dozen markets by the end of 2018.
5G is all about vertical applications, one of which is assisted driving and autonomous vehicles. Qualcomm said China Mobile Research Institute (CMRI) and a subsidiary of China Mobile have built roadside units (RSUs) to provide wireless connectivity with motor vehicles. Interestingly, the RSUs and the communication system currently do not use 5G.