In all the talk about accelerating 5G, testing 5G and getting 5G in the hands of a few lucky consumers in the next couple of years, there is one aspect of the next-generation wireless story that is still bugging me.
What is the range of millimeter wave (mmWave) high-bandwidth 5G, and how will that affect where and how the technology is actually deployed?
I ask because there appears to be several different takes on how mmWave 5G (typically 28Gz and 39GHz today) will arrive and -- hopefully -- thrive in the coming years.
mmWave 5G, by the way, will nominally use frequencies between 30GHz and 300Ghz (28GHz? Close enough apparently!) for wireless broadband communications and more. The advantage of using such high frequencies -- 2.5GHz is the loftiest band used for cellular in the US at the moment -- is that there is a lot of mmWave bandwidth available for new 5G services. It is also much easier to develop massive antenna arrays at a reasonable size with higher frequencies. (See Sprint Gets Ready for Massive MIMO, Eyes 2.5GHz for 5G.)
There are trade-offs, however, because the signal penetration and range at 28GHz or higher gets shorter and more subject to line-of-sight and foliage concerns. (See 60GHz: A Frequency to Watch for more.)
For instance, Samsung Corp. said recently that it tested its 28Ghz infrastructure with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) for its home-brewed fixed 5G service at ranges of up 1,500 feet (500 meters). If those ranges hold true beyond the customer trials -- note if -- that would mean a 5G radio deployed every couple of blocks in Manhattan, just for a fixed wireless service. (See Verizon to Start Fixed 5G Customer Trials in April.)
Which has recently led me to wonder exactly how widespread mmWave 5G deployments will be? I asked the CTO of Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Ulf Edwaldsson, about exactly this in March at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
"We have never said they would be nationwide rollouts; that would surprise me a lot," Edwaldsson said. (See Islands in the Stream: Don't Expect Full mmWave 5G Coverage in US, Says Nokia.)
Ericsson, remember, is one of the two companies -- along with Samsung -- doing customer trials with Verizon on fixed 5G. So this is going to be an important area to watch as it will help determine exactly how expensive and lengthy a process might be to deploy 5G. (See 5G Faces a Marathon, Not a Sprint.)
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading