I’m a Star Wars nerd and this week brings the release of the latest installment to the franchise, The Last Jedi. Before Disney took the helm, George Lucas kept us all confused with prequels and sequels. When it comes to 5G, one thing is certain—“fixed” 5G is the prequel to mobile broadband 5G network rollouts, expected by 2019 to 2020. Recently there’s been lots of talk about fixed 5G. What is it? When will it be available? Why should you care?
Fixed Wireless Access
Fixed Wireless Access (or FWA) provides connection to the Internet via wireless mobile networks, rather than traditional cable, digital subscriber line (DSL) or fiber. The benefit of FWA lies in the convenience of set-up, but traditionally its performance relative to wired methods is poor. Remember the WiMAX technology promoted by Clear several years ago? I was able to easily self-install a router in a window of my home, but the throughput and reliability was always lacking. With 5G, however, lower latency and fast speed should prove to make the offering much more viable. In 2018, the tier one carriers will be rolling out fixed “pre-5G” deployments based on high frequency millimeter wave (mmWave), beam-forming, and massive multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) technologies. The revenue potential is significant, with many forecasting it to be a $1B business by the end of 2019.
Trials and error – AT&T and Verizon Wireless
AT&T has been trialing fixed pre-5G for quite some time in my hometown of Austin, Texas (go Longhorns!), and recently announced an expansion to three additional cities—all of which coincidently also host major college campuses: Waco, TX (Baylor University), Kalamazoo, MI (Michigan State System) and South Bend, IN (University of Notre Dame). My guess is that academia is a great environment for testing the collaborative advantages of the technology, and campus labs can simulate both consumer and commercial applications. Regarding longer-term commercial offerings, while AT&T has been mum on defining the use case for fixed 5G, it has reiterated that it would be offering 5G services by the end of 2018.
Sprint and T-Mobile don’t seem bullish on fixed 5G services and have stated publicly that their focus is on mobility. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise for Sprint, since it does not have a content offering relative to AT&T’s U-verse and DirecTV services, or Verizon’s FIOS service. T-Mobile did announce this week that it’s entering the content delivery space with the acquisition of Layer3TV. Time will tell if its attitude about a fixed 5G service will change as they roll out their new service offering in 2018.
The error in all of this lies in some level of public misinformation. AT&T has long spoke of its “5G Evolution” which in reality is an enhanced version of the current 4G LTE standard. Verizon Wireless has also been guilty of taking liberty with promoting 5G ahead of its final ratification by the 3GPP standards body.
Disruptive infrastructure entrants are making (mm) waves
Beyond stalwart infrastructure players Ericsson and Nokia , there are smaller companies offering disruptive solutions to facilitate the rollout of fixed 5G services. Mimosa Networks, for example, has developed what it calls Spectrum Reuse Synchronization (SRS) technology. Leveraging massive MIMO and beam-forming learnings, Mimosa has developed a set of cost-effective and easy-to-deploy products that support both rural and urban higher-density deployments. Ubiquiti Networks has long offered fixed wireless solutions with its AirFiber lineup of outdoor point to point solutions. The company also offers a set of software tools and network management to ease configuration, deployment, and ongoing maintenance.
So now that you know a little more about fixed pre-5G and when to expect it, why should you care? From my perspective it should give us a taste of what will be coming down the road when the 5G standard is ratified and deployed. Data intensive applications such as virtual reality will certainly be showcases, but it will also be interesting to witness what the big carriers do with the technology, from a new services creation perspective.