What Constitutes a Commercial 5G Network, Anyway?

As actual 5G services are starting to arrive, what does 'commercial' 5G network actually mean right now?

Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

October 12, 2018

3 Min Read
What Constitutes a Commercial 5G Network, Anyway?

This week has got me wondering about what actually constitutes a commercial 5G network right now, in the earliest days of next-generation deployments.

A couple of announcements and comments have bought this into the light for me. Notably, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) -- with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) -- claiming "the first call on [a] commercial 5G NR network." (Watch it below.) That is a 5G network using the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 5G New Radio (5G NR) specification. (See 5G in the USA: Where We at With Mobile?)

Now, for one, Verizon has only announced commercial, as of October 1, using its own-brew 5GTF specification, with plans to update to the NR standard as soon as possible in 2019. (See Verizon's Home-Grown 5G Arrives Today and Verizon Confirms Mobile 5G in 'Early' 2019.)

Yet, on the video, Nokia says it connected between Washington, DC, and Basking Ridge, NJ, using Verizon spectrum (likely 28GHz), and the 3GPP standard. Where, so far, Verizon only has commercial service launched in parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento, using its own spec.

A Nokia spokesperson told me that all the recent demos that Nokia has been collaborating with Verizon on are using 5G NR spec and "on the road to making mobile 5G service a reality." They referred questions about whether this was a commercial network, however, to Verizon.

Here's what Verizon emailed me in reply:

  • This video call originated on commercial 5G NR equipment deployed in DC and went to a smartphone in our HQ in Basking Ridge, NJ. This was the latest in our ongoing testing of 5G technology. It was a commercial deployment in that it took place over 5G NR equipment deployed in the field -- the same equipment our 5G mobile networks will eventually use -- versus the pre-commercial TF technology we tested in our larger trials last year. We've also done some testing/demos with Nokia on NR technology at our respective HQs in NJ, but this one was "in the field." All part of the testing we're doing to get ready for 5G mobility in early 2019.

So I dunno? Should we count something as a commercial network because it uses commercial equipment, while not delivering a service that customers can actually buy yet? Seems a bit squirrelly to me, but what do I know?

It's not as if Verizon and Nokia are the only ones playing fast and loose with definitions of commercial 5G right now, either. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s Gordon Mansfield, VP of RAN and device design, referenced Verizon's 5G Home launch while on stage, without ever actually naming the operator. (See AT&T: We're Not Only Focused on mmWave for 5G.)

What are the key technologies and processes that will underpin successful, full 5G deployments? Check out our 5G Big Picture Prime Reading report to find out.

Mansfield pointed out that AT&T has already been "serving users at Magnolia Silos with [fixed] broadband 5G" since December 2017. AT&T announced that it would hold a wireless trial at the Magnolia Market at The Silos shopping complex in Waco, Texas, on December 17, 2017. The operator is using millimeter wave spectrum to deliver connectivity to shoppers, distributed via WiFi.

AT&T is expected to launch 3GPP mobile 5G in parts of 12 US markets in "late" in 2018. (See AT&T's Mobile 5G Plan Leaves as Many Questions as Answers, AT&T: We're Not Only Focused on mmWave for 5G, and Nokia, Samsung Are Beating Ericsson in 5G Sales to AT&T, Says Analyst.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Dan Jones

Mobile Editor

Dan is to hats what Will.I.Am is to ridiculous eyewear. Fedora, trilby, tam-o-shanter -- all have graced the Jones pate during his career as the go-to purveyor of mobile essentials.

But hey, Dan is so much more than 4G maps and state-of-the-art headgear. Before joining the Light Reading team in 2002 he was an award-winning cult hit on Broadway (with four 'Toni' awards, two 'Emma' gongs and a 'Brian' to his name) with his one-man show, "Dan Sings the Show Tunes."

His perfectly crafted blogs, falling under the "Jonestown" banner, have been compared to the works of Chekhov. But only by Dan.

He lives in Brooklyn with cats.

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