I have to tell you. I have been speaking to so many people about 5G. It seems that the front-runners are AT&T and……….. Sprint!
That’s right. AT&T is no surprise because they are always on the front bleeding edge of technology along with Verizon. That’s why we are so enamored with #1 and #2. They are willing to try new things and make it work. Deep down we love that about Verizon. They will take the hit to make it happen. VoLTE, LTE, WCDMA, FIOS, U-Verse, and more. AT&T is usually quick to follow Verizon, but we all know they wait for Verizon to learn the expensive and painful mistakes! We all know that AT&T and Verizon have bought up a lot of cmwave and mmwave spectrum for fixed, but let’s talk about mobile spectrum here.
Yes, I said Sprint!
However, did I say Sprint? YES! By golly, Sprint has all that 2.5GHz spectrum that they have been rolling out at a snail’s pace. They could do so much with it. There’s just one obstacle, and that is Sprint’s management. Well, that and the BILLIONs of dollars of debt. We all thought Softbank would be the magical wizard to turn them around. Hey, that didn’t happen right away, but they did a great job, along with Marcello Claure, in getting the debt reduced, you know, down from over $30B to maybe $24B. Don’t you worry, Wells Fargo is right there to defend them, and offer them more financing? They love those interest payments. So, would I, I could live off that for the rest of my life. If only I had the Billions to give them in the first place.
(By the way, I challenge Claure to a one on one soccer match! If we don’t get physical, I think I could outrun him. If he hits me, that 6’ 6” frame of his would probably flatten my little 5’ 10” frame.)
Back to the point, 5G spectrum, which Sprint has plenty of and we want to see them deploy. I believe they have the chance to leapfrog everyone, including Verizon if they could roll it out. However, it’s like the kid with the new muscle car and no money for gas. Hard to show off when you’re pushing the car.
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They have the spectrum, and I really think that massive MIMO LTE would take them into 5G quickly. We have all seen their past deployments. Network Vision, which wasn’t so bad, but they found a way to create too many options. They thought they knew best having over 30 options at every tower. Sounds great because there are so many choices, but the reality hit when they had confusion, miscommunication, and lack of coordination. Great plan, poor execution. Whereas Verizon’s deployments are rather simple, usually less than 10 configurations to keep things simple and streamlined. They have the one-off models, but for the most part, they keep it simple and streamlined, don’t they?
What about the spectrum that Sprint has? They have a great asset if only they didn’t have the substantial debt and a history of botched deployments. I know we all thought Clearwire had a great plan, but that isn’t around any longer either. In fact, I think the sites are finally all off air.
Will Sprint be able to deploy cost-effectively and leapfrog the other carriers? I hope so, but history is against them. They really should let the regional manager do their own deployments, that would make more sense.
Verizon has 5G spectrum, but fixed or mobile?
Verizon is not the heaviest in mobile spectrum. They haven’t invested like the others, but they are very strategic. They are getting the biggest bang per bit. They have been able to build enough sites, use CRAN, and break down the coverage in an absolutely brilliant way. They have less spectrum than AT&T, but they have done so much more. WOW! Now they have a ton of mmwave and cmwave to make the fixed deployment happen. They appear to be betting heavily on this play. My outlook is that they intend to let mobile go to 5G when it’s ready, which is in about a year. I think they could control the fixed wireless and then transition it to the mobile users as needed.
I would imagine it’s something that could control and play with because fixed is easy to build and change compared to the live wireless network. If you think about it, the fixed wireless is something that can be changed, updated, and tested endlessly without hurting an existing network. They would deploy pockets of small fixed networks today and get all the bugs worked out. They can also test devices that could be installed by the end user. This is progress in an environment that they can control. Unlike the mobile network.
One more thing to consider, the mobile network will evolve as the standards evolve. The fixed network can be shaped. The mobile network needs to be treated with TLC, (tender loving care) because the users on the network will get pissed if they can’t watch the latest cat YouTube video. I am just saying that quality matters to Verizon. The mobile network will get there when it’s good and ready. The fixed network can be tested today then evolve into extended support for the mobile network once the devices add the spectrum.
Can T-Mobile transition 600MHz to 5G?
Now we have T-Mobile. They are deploying that 600MHz that they got from the FCC. I know they can roll it out quickly, but I think they are finding it’s not the beachfront property that then-FCC commission Tom Wheeler said it was. However, it is an asset that T-Mobile has, and they are rolling out at breakneck speed. You have to love those guys. Some devices even have 600MHz in them.
T-Mobile gets me excited when they talk about deployment because they deploy, they build, roll out, and kick ass. It’s not a game they play, as some other carriers. They put their money where their mouth is. I hear people make fun of Legere for being a marketing guy, but if you ask me, it ain’t bragging when it’s true. The numbers and coverage prove it.
T-Mobile wants 5G, but can they achieve maximum performance on 5G in 600MHz? I would like to think so but the spectrum would make the equipment huge, so that may be a drawback. It is going to be a challenge, and it explains why T-Mo is trying so hard to get more of the 3.5GHz spectrum. They intend to use it for the concentrated coverage that 5G can offer. They want to densify where they can and to be honest, it’s going to be cost-effective at 3.5GHz. Especially if they want to take a shot at fixed wireless. They didn’t’ seem as interested in the cmwave and mmwave that Verizon and AT&T were sucking up. Luckily, carrier aggregation may be their saving grace. They may be able to use it to make all that spectrum look like a huge pipe. They may get massive MIMO working well and cost-effective in the lower bands. I hope so anyway. It may be a stretch to see if it’s cost-effective to deploy massive MIMO at 600MHz. Once more devices have band 71 in them, it will be a game changer. That 20MHz of spectrum will really help once it’s aggregate with, say 3.5GHz spectrum.
OK, 5G on 600MHz FDD has to consider some things. The antennas for 600MHz are larger than the higher frequencies. This means that the tower may have more weight and larger devices on it. When they go massive MIMO, it will be huge, why? Because the transmit will have 32 x 32 and the receive will have 32 x 32, (FDD needs to have separate antenna arrays in 2018). This adds expense but dramatically improves densification. So, T-Mo will have to weigh out the expense versus the payback. Does it make sense to deploy this in urban environments? YES! Does it make sense to deploy this in suburban and rural environments? Of course not, unless John Legere decides to build a home there. I am just saying that there must be a good reason.
Why do they need massive MIMO?
- It’s going to improve throughput and densification because now they can pass high data rates to multiple users at the same time, (MU-MIMO).
- It’s going to reduce the need for small cells around the macro site.
- It’s going to improve CRAN densification scenarios.
- It’s the stepping stone to 5G.
- They could do it in any spectrum, but the 600MHz is new and covers a lot of real estate. It makes sense to put it in as massive MIMO from the start if it’s cost-effective.
AT&T talks 5G, but do they have a plan?
Then there is AT&T, they have a ton of spectrum, but they don’t seem interested in deploying all of it. They have almost as much spectrum as Sprint. they even have a lot of deployed. But they just sold off the 600MHz spectrum they won in the last auction. I guess they decided they didn’t need it. They are a large carrier, they have a lot of spectrum, yet they are starting to focus on fixed wireless, like Verizon. They have every intention of appealing to the consumer as an internet provider, maybe even an entertainment provider.
The one thing about AT&T, like Verizon, they have the resources to do it all at the same time. They are already testing fixed wireless. In fact, they have been looking for a reliable solution for years. Now, they can finally live that dream. They were testing in Texas with different technologies. Now they may be able to have a viable solution that could boost them into the WISP category along with Verizon. It’s really a great thing.
As for the mobile network, they seem to be following the same strategy as Verizon. Big companies think alike. Sure, they will claim to have 5G first, but the reality is they will do it with fixed wireless first then the mobile network will get there when the standards are set, and the OEMs have a viable product.
Let’s not forget that AT&T has the FirstNet system to cater to. Really, it’s just a bunch of site upgrades to add Band 14 to the sites. The real work will be connecting to the FirstNet core and then set up all the stores for the public safety market. While this sounds exciting, it’s really something that Verizon has been doing. As far as I can see, there is no solution for the push to talk and I have no idea what the price points are. Remember that public safety has budgets, at least outside of NYC they do. I am sure NYC has a budget, but they always find the money to do new and innovative things, if the mayor wants it. Again, sorry, I am off topic yet again.
While AT&T has promised mobile 5G in 2018, they need to move quickly to do anything. I am not sure if they really plan to do something, or just call what they have 5G. They really need to deploy massive MIMO first then jump to 5G.
AT&T is investing heavily in fixed wireless so that they can scale back FTTH. Look out cable companies; you have even more competition beyond what they did with U-verse and DISH.
What about DISH spectrum?
Let’s talk about everything DISH did with their spectrum. Hmmm, well, alrighty then. Not much to talk about, so let’s move on. (DISH, my perspective is that they are not an innovator!) I would love it if they would prove me wrong, and do something, anything, or sell the spectrum.
DISH talks it up like they will build IOT, but let’s look at history and see what they have done. Again, I see very little. Maybe someone could help me out here. Nothing to brag about.
And then there are the cable companies.
I think the cable companies might consider a merger with a carrier soon. The ideal merger would be T-Mobile. They look great, in fact, T-Mobile could do great things with a cable company or with the DISH spectrum. Just keep T-Mobile in control. Regardless what you think of John Legere, look at his track record in the wireless industry. He created growth in subscribers and coverage area. He remained on the edge of technology. He created marketing campaigns that had real results. He was willing to experiment and try things that others feared like no contracts. For the most part, it worked, and when it didn’t, he moved on. Much like Verizon has done when they saw a program flounder. That takes courage. Sorry, I digress.
The cable companies do own some spectrum. They have the backhaul to support it, and they could build a core very quickly. While they have all of this, even Comcast seems happy being an MVNO with Verizon. They did win 600MHz spectrum, but only in their primary markets. They seem content to provide Wi-Fi everywhere. That license free stuff is easy to roll out, and the equipment is reasonably cheap. Comcast seems happy with that model.
I have no idea what Charter’s plan is. I wonder if they know what their plan is?
To make this easy I put short descriptions below:
- Sprint – tons of spectrum, heavy debt, poor organizational skills.
- Verizon – the Big boy, pushing fixed 5G, mobile will happen when it happens.
- T-Mobile – very aggressive, needs to roll out 600MHz, counting on 3.5GHz to fill mobile 5G requirements.
- AT&T – read Verizon, pretty much the same plan.
- DISH – right, OK, little to say.
- Cable companies – probably waiting to merge with someone.
There you go, I hope you enjoy! Resources and links below that not only back this up, but you may enjoy them as well.
Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!
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