5G and Beyond

Low-Band Will Take 5G Indoors, Just Not Quite Yet

One aspect that is less mentioned about low-band 5G is how much better it will be at penetrating indoor areas than current high-band millimeter wave deployments in the US.

2020 is going to be the first year where 5G starts to go indoors. This will largely happen as low-band 5G arrives with AT&T probably delivering service via a 700MHz network and T-Mobile using its 600MHz spectrum to deliver nationwide services in the US.

Verizon signed an agreement to deploy indoor distributed antenna systems (DAS) for its millimeter wave 5G with Boingo recently. But this will start by deploying 5G DAS in large buildings like stadiums and malls, so won’t be relevant to smaller offices or housing.

Big Red has put dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) between 4G and 5G on its list for 2020. So it could also use its 700MHz spectrum for this.

Indoor 5G capabilities could be seen as one of the motivating factors -- at the technical level -- in the Sprint and T-Mobile merger. "600MHz is good indoors," Sprint CTO John Saw told Light Reading at Sprint’s 5G launch in Times Square Tuesday.

T-Mobile intends to launch its nationwide 5G in 2020 with its 600MHz spectrum. But if T-Mobile is able to merge with Sprint, it would be able to add Sprint’s 2.5GHz holdings to that 5G service.

The problem for all of the carriers in the US, and beyond, is the availability of low-band -- or multi-mode -- 5G handsets. The 5G devices you can buy so far are high-band millimeter wave devices, or a few mid-band devices for Sprint.

Low-band devices will become available as Qualcomm rolls out its latest 5G X55 modem, but this is months away yet. "It could be very much down to when handsets are available," said Daryl Schoolar, practice leader of Ovum’s Intelligent Networks team.

So far, AT&T and T-Mobile are expecting the Samsung Note 10+ 5G with multi-mode support (with the X55 modem) in late 2019.

Schoolar expects that T-Mobile will be the first to launch low-band 5G devices, with AT&T following. Verizon will be the third, while Spirit awaits the outcome of its merger with T-mobile.

Low-band 5G will not offer the gigabit speeds of millimeter wave, instead delivering downloads at a couple of hundreds of megabits.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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