America's First 5G? So Far: So Blah!

Fixed 5G will be good for Verizon and friends, but it surely doesn't appear to be anything like a wireless revolution. Yet!

Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

December 1, 2017

3 Min Read
America's First 5G? So Far: So Blah!

Is it too soon to say it? Verizon's 5G launch, which will be in Sacramento, Calif., in the second half of 2018, and most likely the first 5G launch in the US, is kind of, er, underwhelming.

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has committed to launching in just three to five markets -- including Sactown -- in 2018. The wider rollout will start in 2019, the operator said. (See Verizon Says 'Up to 5' Fixed 5G Markets Will Go Live in 2H18.)

The initial fixed 5G service will essentially be a wireless alternative to its FiOS fiber-to-the-home service. From the early results of tests that Verizon has released, households that are less than 1,000 feet from the 28GHz 5G cellsite -- or, more likely, small cell -- with good line-of-sight (LOS) will get the best connection speeds: more than 1.4 Gbit/s, according to a Verizon presentation. (See Verizon Says 'Up to 5' Fixed 5G Markets Will Go Live in 2H18.)

The operator says it will use window-mount and possibly roof-mounted antennas to get the 5G signal to a WiFi router that can then support multiple devices within a home. Like I said, a true alt-cable service using a high-band wireless signal.

This is good for Verizon and its suppliers, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) Big Red will be able to deliver this service to a market of up to 30 million households, and do it cheaper -- and probably faster -- than it would with the wired FiOS service.

As I've previously reported, this high-band spectrum service probably won't be viable in rural areas, because the 28GHz signal doesn't play well with foliage. Home owners or renters with low-energy (low-e) glass might also need to know more about how 5G works -- or doesn't -- with their domiciles. (See Could 5G Have Found Its Glass Ceiling? and Nokia Bell Labs & Verizon Stretch Fixed 5G to the Home.)

So, the first 5G offerings in the US will be quite dull, frankly. We're unlikely to get into virtual reality, self-driving cars, or massive Internet of Things (IoT) for at least a few years yet, if not longer. You'll have to wait for the sexy stuff.

Verizon is still, in fact, testing its home-brew 5GTF fixed specification. It has had, or is continuing, tests in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Atlanta; Bernardsville, N.J.; Brockton, Mass.; Dallas; Houston; Denver; Miami, Fla.; Seattle; and Washington, DC. Verizon 3GPP NR tests will come next year. (See Verizon Asks for Additional 6 Months for Fixed 5G Tests.)

So, Verizon is being very cautious with its initial rollout. Three to five markets won't even make a dent in its capex exectations for 2018.

But this is how the early rolllouts of new wireless specifications start. We can see it with both 3G and 4G, the deployments started with wireless laptop cards and 4G routers respectively. Really not sexy stuff!

It took years before the iPhone arrived, in 2007, and kickstarted the smartphone revolution -- at least in the US -- and gave focus to 3G and, later, 4G services. This is the typical pattern with wireless. The operators and vendors that do the heavy lifting of deploying the infrastructure to enable the next-generation cellular don't typically come up with the devices, apps or services that eventually define it.

Will 5G be different? Maybe. But probably not from all the evidence I've seen so far

— 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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