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Mobile

5G Demos Show the Tech's Spectrum Achilles Heel

The Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit in Maui, Hawaii, this week, has seen several early 5G device announcements and demos, but also illustrated how crucial massive amounts of available spectrum will be for 5G services.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon announced Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) 5G phones (two in AT&T's case) at the Summit. There were demos of the Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) Motorola z3 with its 5G add-on module, and the Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR) Nighthawk 5G, a.k.a. AT&T's 5G "Mobile Puck." (See Now AT&T Promises Samsung 5G Phone in Spring 2019, Too, Verizon Plans to Offer Samsung 5G Phone in H1 2019, Verizon's First 5G Mobile Device? It's a Snap! and AT&T Reveals First Commercial 5G Device.)

Although journalists reported that access to demos was somewhat limited.

On location, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) told The Verge that it had deployed a 5G network in 100MHz of 39GHz millimeter wave spectrum. So downloads were running at 130 Mbit/s to 140 Mbit/s, according to Ericsson.


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In July, Ookla reported "mean download speed over mobile in the US increased 20.4%" between the first half of 2017 to the same period of 2018 to a range of 27.33 Mbit/s to 20.38 Mbit/s amongst major US operators. So these 5G tests are still considerably faster than 4G LTE now (assuming you even get close to those LTE speeds where you live!) but not near to the promised 5G millimeter gigabit speeds. (See For AT&T, 5G Is a City Kitty, Not a Residential Fat Pipe .)

Now, we actually have some 5G speed numbers from Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) to compare this with. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said this week that its fixed wireless 28GHz pre-standard 5G Home service is coming to" 800 Mbit/s or 900 Mbit/s, with a guaranteed 300 Mbit/s "minimum" download. (See Verizon's Vestberg Mum on 2019 Capex but Ebullient on 5G Prospects.)

Now Verizon is using 28GHz and 39GHz for this fixed service, Vestberg says in his recent UBS webcast. The service is available in parts of four US cities using equipment supplied by Ericsson and Samsung.

He confirmed that Verizon is using 400MHz channels for service.

So one of the main differences between the Maui tests and the actual Verizon commercial service appears to be the amount of spectrum available to be used. A basic rule thumb for wireless services is: The more spectrum available, the more speed and capacity available across the shared bandwidth. This is more true than ever with 5G.

No wonder Vestberg lauded the operator's acquisition of Straight Path in May 2017 for $3.1 billion. The deal has given the carrier a definite head start -- and maybe a lead -- in high-band mmWave spectrum as 5G auctions start to get underway in the US. (See Verizon Buys Straight Path for $3.1B, Beating AT&T to 5G Spectrum and FCC 5G Auction Now at $490.7M in Bids.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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