Verizon might be planning to make some very different choices when it comes to building next-generation 5G wireless networks, which the operator plans to start field trialing next year. (See Verizon & Partners to Field Test 5G in 2016.)
Light Reading has heard from a couple of industry sources that the operator wants to take a different approach to getting wireless services into the home with fifth generation (5G) technologies. In part, this is to do with some of the new revenue opportunities that 5G will open up in terms of location tracking, audio/video and more. It is also, however, partly because of initial limitations expected with 5G.
5G proper isn't actually defined yet. In fact, the technology is likely to be deployed in two phases: Phase I is intended for 2020 deployement, with Phase II arriving in 2022. (See Is This the 5G You're Looking For?)
One point we can be relatively certain of is that some of the initial 5G deployments are going to be using much higher frequency spectrum with multi-antenna arrays of 64 elements or more.
So-called "centimeter waves" -- otherwise known as super high frequency (SHF) waves -- are expected to be the first 5G frequencies. These waves, so called because they range from one to ten centimeters, sit between 3GHz and 30GHz, with 28GHz emerging as a possible choice for initial 5G service in the US. (See FCC Chair Wants to Take 5G Higher.)
Initial 5G is also shaping as a slimmed down data plane technology with little internal control. So the systems are likely to use LTE-Advanced as the management element. In other words the '5G' bit will be the Autobahn (data plane) and LTE will be the stop, go, speed, slow signs (control plane).
What this all means is that initial 5G service could be really fast -- tens or even hundreds of times faster than today's 4G services -- but lack range and be affected by line of sight issues. 5G could be up at gigabit-per-second speeds over-the-air but the signal won't be reach over tall buildings or trees.
Therefore, early 5G applications could be more like a fixed wireless point-to-point service, with the radios on the edge of the network, within a few kilometers of end user terminals, and backhauled via fiber or dense microwave radio links. Look at the way startups such as Mimosa Networks Inc. are trying to build an alternative to fiber-to-the-home technology to get an idea what early 5G might be like. (See Mimosa's Backhaul Bubbles With Massive MIMO.)
This suggests certain applications for early 5G that Verizon could be working on, such as:
- 5G as a fixed access network alternative in places where Verizon has either sold its copper access networks and fiber is too expensive to deploy. This is particularly relevant in rural areas.
- Broadcast TV to the home, building on what they learn with LTE-Broadcast.
- Super-fast connectivity in the home. This seems the least likely, since the in-home devices have to be super-cheap to make it viable and early 5G technology won't be cheap.
Verizon itself isn't going into details just yet. Light Reading asked David Small, EVP of wireless operations at Verizon Wireless, about 5G recently. He reiterated that tests are going ahead in 2016 and said the operator will have more news to share in the future. (See Verizon: Cloudy With a Chance of Radios!)
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading