Could 5G Have Found Its Glass Ceiling?

Dan Jones
9/20/2017
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Low-emissivity glass used in modern homes and apartments could become an impediment to delivering 5G connectivity to users indoors, Light Reading hears.

US carriers are currently testing "millimeter wave" radios for use in fixed and mobile 5G services. Light Reading has now been told that the 28GHz radios have trouble penetrating low-emissivity (low-e) glass, which is designed to insulate the home while cutting UV rays from the sun.

Low-e glass works by using an extremely thin metal-oxide coating on the window. Other window designs also use gas fillings and reflective coatings for better energy efficiency.

Multiple people have confirmed to Light Reading that low-e glass nearly completely blocks mmWave 5G signals. The lower-band cellular signals used today -- from 800MHz to 2.5GHz in the US -- are much better at penetrating common building materials, albeit by no means perfect.

In the US, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) are already conducting field tests with 28GHz radios. Both carriers are aiming to deploy commercial fixed wireless, likely in 2018, with initial mobile 5G services to follow in 2019-2020.

Fixed wireless services had been expected to use a 5G radio -- delivering around 1-Gbit/s downloads -- self-installed by the user, via a unit that sits in the window of the domicile. This approach would reduce costs for the carrier versus cable -- as it means they don't have to run fiber to the home -- as long as the signal can get into the home.

Some trials have apparently boosted the mmWave signal to try and improve test performance, but the FCC has strict limits written into radio test licenses. NYU Wireless, meanwhile, is working on more tests and research into beam steering and being able to look for other reflective paths if the line-of-sight path is blocked.

The simplest solution, however, would be to mount the 5G antenna outside the house, run power to that box and then use a WiFi router to distribute the connectivity indoors.

This would get ambitious as a self-install project for users, particularly as they would need to get the best line-of-sight signal while clambering around the roof of their home, assuming they even have access to the roof. This then starts to cut into 5G's cost advantage over a fiber deployment, one of its selling points for both carrier -- and presumably -- the end user.

We've asked AT&T, Verizon and a 5G startup, Phazr, for comment on the e-glass issue. We'll update the story if they come back with new details.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
5/25/2018 | 10:19:51 AM
Re: WiFi as the workaround?
Still true and happening soon though.
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
5/25/2018 | 10:19:17 AM
Forbes realizes this is an issue now!
keep up, peeps!

See: https://www.forbes.com/sites/annatobin/2018/05/25/could-5g-have-trouble-penetrating-buildings/#285299029f97
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/26/2017 | 3:16:54 PM
WiFi as the workaround?
> then use a WiFi router to distribute the connectivity indoors.

How silly. This defeats the purpose of using cellular service. There are times when it's desirable to use cellular service instead of a stranger's WiFi for security/privacy reasons.
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
9/22/2017 | 10:58:17 AM
Re: The Glass Ceiling has existed for some time
Possibly, the original concept was a self install antenna, that may be changing as they learn more.
bosco_pcs
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bosco_pcs,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/22/2017 | 8:26:13 AM
Re: The Glass Ceiling has existed for some time
Dan, To echo 7's point but with a slightly different perspective, I wonder if this is not a problem but a competitive advantage to some parties. I mean, while you think it is an issue from an average 5G user's perspective, the power that be controls the access. After all, the tenants of the building pay rent, not the visitors.

Still, thanks to your column, I have alerted my friend (EE PhD) maybe there is business to be had. His initial response is similar to 7. He thinks Google and a bunch of startups are making a bunch of solutions but it is beyond my understanding

Cheers
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
9/21/2017 | 5:17:24 PM
Re: The Glass Ceiling has existed for some time
The whole point was to reduce labor/ installation vs. Cable for residential, yes.
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/21/2017 | 5:09:18 PM
Re: The Glass Ceiling has existed for some time
 

I can see that for residential applications, but it does not seem likely to me that the kind of performance that fixed wireless gets out there today in the WISP market is close to acheivable that way.

seven

 

 
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
9/21/2017 | 3:46:16 PM
Re: The Glass Ceiling has existed for some time
The initial concept was a user- mounted antenna, to keep costs down.
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/21/2017 | 3:11:53 PM
Re: The Glass Ceiling has existed for some time
 

Well, on the business side of existing fixed wireless most of the antennas are roof mounted so it is not a big deal...maybe that is what the plan is for 5G.

seven

 

 
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
9/21/2017 | 1:30:00 PM
Re: The Glass Ceiling has existed for some time
This sounds like it could step up the problem. Interesting that none of the carriers happily talking about fixed 5G etc have really mentioned it, to my knowledge, at least in a public setting. 
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