No room for Wi-Fi at 5G North America

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Most wireless technologies were discussed during 5G North America event last week in Austin, co-located with 5G New Horizons and the Big Communications Event. Lots of discussions were held around the role of mi-band frequencies, fixed wireless access and mmwave, massive MIMO, MEC, but little or no word of the possible role of Wi-Fi into this whole 5G planet nor the role of cable and wireline operators and technologies.

Some panelists during a CBRS discussion including Dr. Preston Marshall even went so far as declaring that Wi-Fi is dead. We heard that one before during the WiMAX era and of course Wi-FI thrived instead. We will have to wait for the upcoming WBA conference in June to hear what role Wi-FI will play in the 5G era.

MEC

Many 5G applications such as remote surgery or self-driving cars require low latency. MEC is aimed at solving the latency issue. MEC is made possible by virtualization but there is no single edge and the location of the edge depends on the use cases and what latency is required.  In the case of C-RAN, the edge may be the rooftop, the RF edge is close to the antennas and radios. In other cases the edge can be the BBU hotel. Is MEC network specific or it is shared between wireless and wireline networks? Is edge conflicting with the cloud or part of it? What new business models will be made possible with MEC? Would a Netflix for example own its own MEC infrastructure? What about private networks? Virtualized RAN solutions will be a key part of the evolution to 5G and enable operators to reduce network equipment expenditures. In a Virtualized RAN, functions can be taken as far from the edge as possible. Nine use cases for virtualized networks have been defined by ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute. Two of these use cases are virtualization of the mobile core network and virtualization of the mobile base station, or radio access network.

CBRS

During a briefing with Commscope, we discussed the possible FCC decision on license areas with the conflicting interests of small and rural players who seek smaller licensing ( and thus affordable) areas vs larger telcos who seek economies of scales in large licensing areas. A decision is expected most likely in July-August. This uncertainty is making large players like GE to wait and see before they deploy their solutions in the top 3 verticals: Aviation, Healthcare and Utilities.
The New T-Mobile
Several Sprint and T-mobile representatives spoke at the event, under the “New T-Mobile” marketing header.
  • The two companies are mostly approaching 5G as higher capacity or “4G-LTE on steroids” –
  • That 4K and 3D/immersive video will come to mobile devices/subscribers.
    • That makes sense given that T-Mobile has 30-50 MHz of 600 MHz that will be deployed in 5G
    • Despite the limitations in the use of MIMO and higher interference at that frequency, it provides a path to deliver reasonably high bandwidth, that which will meet market needs, over the next few years at the very low cost compared to the use of higher bands.  I totally agree with the strategy: mobile users do not currently require higher bandwidth than 4G-advanced can deliver. However, TM can start advertising a 5G network with nationwide coverage that will meet growing needs, including new applications, whatever they happen to be.
    • The reality of mobile devices is that 1080p HD is sufficient because 4K on such small devices exceeds the range of human perception.  Users may notice a difference when pressed, but do not notice the difference during normal viewing, usually at several inches/ arm’s length away.
    • Moreover, MNOs can provide Roku/ Sling type storage capability to catch large media files locally or on the device itself.
  • T-Mobile is not approaching 5G as a direct competition against cable-replacement as compared to Verizon or AT&T.  However, that follows what makes sense based on their available spectra bands and what is easiest to exploit and ramp to higher density.
  • Even so, T-Mobile has plans to develop 3.5 GHz and mmWave service, including for use on handsets in addition to backhaul.
  • While not directly going after cable-replacement, OTT already compete against wired.  As 5G bandwidth comes onboard, that will blur the differences between mobile BB and fixed that much further than it already has. It makes sense to assume that if 5G lives up to TM’s plans, of 10X+ higher speed, then the caps of full-bandwidth service under the unlimited plans will scale similarly.  As a conjecture, if current throttling limits increase by just 5X instead of the 10x-30x New T-Mobile says is coming, then many users will find a mobile subscription to fill their home broadband needs.  That should be able to occur 1-2 years prior to a response by VZ or T, long enough to capture marketshare and reset the image from being ‘almost as good and cheaper’ to being ‘better and costs no more’.  That is probably T-Mo’s strategy – to grab enough marketshare to continue to build revenues based on mobile subscriptions that then can be spent using higher bands to develop the more expensive and dense Gigabit 5G network.  At some point it does not matter if you call it ‘cable-replacement’ or not – effectively the same market will be served as cable.

Overall a good conference on 5G although too many tracks running in parallel.

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).

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