Where will 5G be Available?


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I don’t mean what parts of the country, that is pretty obvious. The 5G cities have been announced, and remember that, cities. Cities offer the biggest population, hence the biggest payback. Macro sites are loaded, and densification is happening. 5G can help alleviate a lot of problems. New spectrum and a new generation of transmission combine to improve the end user’s experience. Cities make sense.

We know they will cover outdoors, but what about indoors? What about densification?

When we look at 5G, we talk about towers and small cells. But most of you know that the small cell of today is very different. When we look at the HetNet systems, we need to be cognizant of how they will be deployed.

All the US carriers have a mix in their networks. It all depends on how they want to deploy and mount them. Here are some examples.

  • They have macro sites, which we commonly associate with towers but could be a rooftop or monopole sites.
  • Mini Macros that could be on a pole, at a tower, or on the side of a building.
  • Small cells are generally on a pole, lower to the ground, or in a building. Close to the end user. They could be inside a building as part of a DAS solution or a stand-alone solution to improve coverage and loading.
  • CRAN systems are all over. They have the full power radio head on a pole or rooftop.
  • DAS is still a priority for large venues. It’s keeping DAS vendors busy; all the upgrades and new spectrum are making all DAS vendor happy. (Not to mention public safety continues to spurn DAS activity.)

We all know that the 5G builds have started in the USA. Sprint and T-Mobile are pushing their Massive MIMO and 5G systems for the mobile users while Verizon and AT&T are pushing their mmwave FWA systems to offer hi-speed internet in homes and businesses. AT&T and Verizon are deploying mobile 5G as an upgrade but putting mmwave bands in their devices. AT&T is getting ready to launch it along with the rest. They all have a plan to offer this service to mobile users and possibly push it to the in-home user.

However, the end user will rely on multiple systems: Macro, small cells, femtocells, and even CRAN. The HetNet is alive and kicking. LTE helped pave the HetNet system to handoff seamlessly. For 5G to succeed, it’s going to be critical to expand the HetNet even more. Across many spectrums, across many types of cells, and formats (meaning 5G, LTE, CDMA, GSM, Wi-Fi, and who knows what else).

What about indoor coverage? The carriers don’t talk a lot about that. Well, maybe Sprint since they came out with the Magic Box, which is really cool by the way. At some point, the indoor question has to be resolved. How will the user handle indoor 5G coverage? We can’t just put femtocells everywhere, or can we?

To look at the issue, we have to break down who the indoor user will be. We’ll have the home internet customer who sees the carrier as an ISP. We will also have the smartphone user that relies on that device no matter where they are, indoors or outdoors. Is Wi-Fi the only thing that makes sense?

Mobile users will want the smartphone to work everywhere. I know it sucks when you go to a building, and your smartphone doesn’t work. If you’re not on someone’s Wi-Fi, chances are good it will suck! If you are on someone’s Wi-Fi and don’t know the access code, the coverage sucks! If you’re on Wi-fi and they limit your usage, that sucks too. Wi-Fi should always be free! I repeat, I expect Wi-Fi service to be free everywhere, not just my home and Starbucks.

What about small businesses? They want more than to surf the internet. They want to do business and work remotely. They need reliable connections.

Maybe the home internet business will absolutely need an unlimited data plan. They probably don’t want to use their phone as a hotspot, although, I have done that, and it works!

Indoor coverage will be critical. The thing is, which indoor customer will the carriers shoot for?

Even the mmwave FWA systems know it will be all that they can do to provide coverage inside a home or small business. For the carrier to rely on the “outside-in” coverage may not be viable anymore. In fact, now it’s a problem. Inside, will they still rely on Wi-Fi? It looks that way.

Are you wondering, what’s “outdoor-in” coverage? I am glad you asked. It is when the carrier uses outdoor small cells or macro sites to penetrate through windows and cover as far inside a building as they can.

Guess what, many buildings built in the last 5 to 10 years have energy-efficient windows. That means it not only keeps the sun out but RF as well. Blocking RF is bad because it keeps the carriers signal out as well.

I think that Wi-Fi is a solid pillar in the home coverage model. For homes, they will use mmwave, or a carrier’s mobile band for backhaul then use Wi-Fi inside the home. The mmwave will act as wireless backhaul.

On the other hand, small businesses know that customer’s love Wi-Fi, if it’s free, but they may want something more secure, like private LTE or 5G. Today they have a second Wi-Fi system, one business and one for customers.

Will the carrier provide the backhaul instead of the cable company or an ISP provider? Are going to rely on the carriers to offer us coverage for mobile and fixed? How is that going to work indoors without a fixed connection?

I know that the carriers don’t want to build or support any DAS systems that are not already built. That’s the thing, will they replace the wired connection? Are they going to deploy mmwave indoors or rely on something else?

I think that CBRS is a great way to get LTE and 5G indoors. It works well, the lightly licensed spectrum, and that makes it very secure. Is it worth the extra money? The carriers don’t want to pay for it, so are you going to pay for it? Probably not unless you have a critical need. Let’s face it; Wi-Fi 6 will be more than good enough for most small businesses and home users.

We know that the stadiums, airports, and hospitals will continue to upgrade and maintain the DAS systems they have. Whether it’s owned by a carrier or the property/venue owner, it’s going to be upgraded as needed. They do it today, and that probably won’t change anytime soon.

If you are a property owner and have a mid-size venue, I don’t see the carrier paying for it. Sorry, but if you’re into PropTech, then figure it out.

So, the thing is we have to be prepared to cover indoors. I just need to understand what the carriers intend to do. Are they going to rely on Wi-Fi? Are they going to rely on something else?

You may be wondering what obstacles will slow things down? I am glad you asked! There are a few things slowing down carriers and private networks.Small Cell Cover 4

Spectrum Usage;

Obviously, the carriers will convert all of their equipment in the existing spectrum to 5G, so keep that in mind. I am going to gloss over that because if you ask them if they have enough spectrum, they will surely answer “NO!”. When you ask them how much they need, they will always say “MORE.”

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I think as far as the outdoor densification that small cells and radio heads will be mounted on poles. Densification is going to cover the population where it makes sense. While your thinking this only serves to get the signal closer to the people, which it does, it also helps spectrum reuse. They are going to be efficient is the use of spectrum by condensing the broadcast area into smaller areas.

However, with mmwave, that will help out even more for densification. Suddenly, you have a spectrum that does not travel far but has lots of bandwidth. That is ideal for spectrum efficiency. You can put in a small cell and offer massive broadband to a concentrated area. While this used to be seen as “not good” for the carriers, now it’s great. Densification needs to be efficient for spectrum use as well as coverage. The more spectrum you can isolate into one area, the better the spectrum reuse.

Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are betting heavy on mmwave. In fact, they expect that to help them offload as much as possible. To enhance their mobile spectrum with maximum efficiency.

However, it’s great that the CBRS spectrum opened up for offloading and LAA. CBRS is low power. Low power is a good thing now; it limits coverage and allows for spectrum reuse. The spectrum is great, but the limitations are based around incumbent earth stations and radar that originally had the spectrum. They are going to move it from there eventually, but for now, the incumbents have priority. That will limit where it can be used.

The carriers can’t wait to get their hands on this spectrum because the perception is that it will be cheap, and equipment is available today. Equipment is being tested by most of the OEMs. There are trials being done today.

The FCC voted to release C-band spectrum for 5G use. All 500Mhz could be available soon. Currently being used for satellites, and cable company head ends, 3.7 to 4.2GHz spectrum. This opens up even more for 5G if it can be released in a timely manner. It takes the FCC a very long time to do anything. I’m not sure who will own it and if the current owners can sell it or if the FCC will sell it off. If you know, email me at wade4wireless@gmail.com and tell me.

Mounting Options;

I think we all know that the existing towers will continue as they have been, they will just upgrade to massive MIMO and/or 5G. The carriers will continue to upgrade the mobile systems to 5G. Many will add FWA bands, like mmwave, to serve FWA customers. Macro sites make sense, awesome backhaul and facilities; it’s an upgrade. Adding a new system.

I talk a lot about smart cities, small cells, CRAN, and how the systems will be deployed for densification. In fact, if you go here, https://wade4wireless.com/2019/01/13/smart-cities-need-smart-permitting-processes-for-poles/ you can see the list.

The reality is, as I see it anyway, the carriers pushed the FCC and states push to get the permitting and rent barriers moved aside. The CTIA and WIA helped make that happen. They did all that they could to see it through. While it’s still an issue on the city and municipality level, things are rolling along. The carriers have everything in place to move ahead with pole mounting.

Pole mounting may have political issues, but the good news is poles are getting smarter! I see all kinds of modular poles out there. That is something that should accelerate the densification. While I would like to say that we could put all 4 carriers on one pole, they don’t play well together. The bigger carriers try to buy up all the space on poles, so they have exclusive rights. On the one hand they complain about the rent, and on the other hand, they pay for pole exclusivity. Does that make sense to you? So, by planning ahead and putting in many good-looking, smart poles should solve this problem. We have to include fiber runs to all poles like we do electric so that cities are smart from day one. A smart city has smart poles; smart poles have gigabit backhaul, wired or wireless.

We can’t just look at outdoor mounting. Although that’s what I talk a lot about, we have to look at the indoor coverage. How will DAS systems look for 5G? I think passive DAS will not work with 5G as well as the active systems. I think that active antennas may become the norm especially if the carriers begin to rely on mmwave and CBRS spectrum to solve large venue issues.

How can they not, all that spectrum that can handle so much more bandwidth and users? Massive MIMO antennas coupled with 5G should solve a lot of issues at NFL stadiums. Can you image increasing your spectrum form 20 or 40 MHz carriers to 100 or 500 MHz carriers? WOW, the difference is exponential! Assuming the backhaul can support it.

Mounting new antennas is the issue. That costs a lot of money and, as we all know, carriers hate investing in DAS. They have to upgrade, but this will be a major upgrade.

What about small to midsize businesses? I can answer for small business unless you have T-Mobile or Sprint which provide solutions for small business, magic box or femtocells, you may not get much help. I am sure AT&T and Verizon have those solutions, but I don’t hear much about them form people I know or in the press.

So small business, continue to rely on Wi-Fi. Don’t fret though, Wi-Fi 6 coupled with the FCC releasing the 6GHz band to Wi-Fi may open up some amazing spectrum. That may solve all of your problems. You may be able to partner with a cable company and rely heavily on Wi-Fi rather than a 5G system.

Mid-size businesses are in a predicament because they may not want Wi-Fi for security reasons. The good news is they could build private LTE and 5G systems using unlicensed spectrum or the CBRS. It won’t be cheap though; they will need to build and design the system.

With all the talk of LTE in a box, I have yet to see a mid-size business use something like that. Why is that? It seems like a viable solution. Yet, I do not see it, at all.

The Players;

One thing to think about when looking at 5G, it’s not all about the carriers. The new spectrum will open up the doors for other players.

For instance, DISH is rolling out their IOT system on their spectrum. I am not sure, but I would imagine they will have some type of 5G format running to reach the devices. It is DISH so we’ll have to wait and see what their system will look like. I am happy that DISH is finally deploying something real. All that money for spectrum is being put to use. WOW! We live in exciting times when DISH spends money for a nationwide system! They partnered with Ericsson to build it. Let’s see how that works out. Ericsson sees its share of problems lately, but that’s another story.

We also have cable companies that have dreams of mobile systems. Many, like Comcast, have invested heavily in Wi-Fi systems that blanket a city. They plan to do more with the newer spectrum. I believe they will look to the CBRS to create something that their MVNO system can use to save on charges from carriers like Verizon. They may rely on the spectrum they own, partner with DISH to use their spectrum, get in on the mmwave spectrum, or even use the C Band spectrum to roll something out. I can’t wait to see it. We live in exciting times for technology.

So, while I often talk of how the carriers are going to move into the ISP business, I think that the carriers are going to see more and more competition form the cable companies as they move in on the mobile business. It’s a two-way street, my friends.

The OEMs:

I would think that the OEMs would be happy, but the big ones are not as happy as you think. This is the time for the smaller OEMs to make a dent. They can be disruptors. The carriers already are pushing for open RAN, ORAN, to be released already. This would increase competition and, in theory, drive the hardware costs down. They should know as hardware costs go down licensing costs for software go up. Software licensing is done annually and is an OpEx, whereas the hardware is CapEx. Do you want to pay now or pay later? It really doesn’t matter because there is already licensing fees on all of this. LTE and 5G will have to be constantly upgraded. They will need new features, apps, bug fixes, and general maintenance of the operating system just to keep up with the competition.

I bring up ORAN because it opens up the door for hardware to be cheaper and easier to distribute. With eCPRI to make the fronthaul interface common for anyone and open. While the BBU functions seem highly proprietary at this time, the radio heads may become more and more open.

Finding new manufacturers may not be that hard; it’s the bugs and problems that will be worked out. It may be a lot more work up front just to get them GA.

For the CBRS, everyone has equipment in that band. SpiderCloud, Ruckus, Airspan, and they have great solutions. The chances are good that they will put a dent in the bigger OEMs, like Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung. I didn’t mention Huawei because they are not in the USA, sorry Huawei.

Oh, did I fail to mention Cisco? Cisco is going to make progress in 5G with all the support they can add. I see them pushing their gear in more and more networks. They are primed to make a difference in the 5G race. The only problem is that they are Cisco, and many people are looking for alternatives to them as well. Competition is out there like Juniper, Nokia/Alcatel-Lucent, HP, Aruba, Avaya, Brocade, Extreme Networks, and the list goes on. So, they have an opportunity to push; the smaller fish will be eating away at their market share.

Summary:

OK, are you thinking that we didn’t address the HetNet? Guess what? It’s all about the HetNet! We have accepted there is no one network, or spectrum doing it all. The 5G system is not going to be the only system you’re using. It’s like 3G and 4G. The end user will hop from 5G to 4G to Wi-Fi. The device will have radios for spectrum form your carrier and so much more. Think about it, CBRS, Wi-Fi, unlicensed LTE, and more. We can’t limit ourselves to one technology or one spectrum.

The HetNet has been here since 3G. With LTE the term faded in the background because, while it’s always there, it’s the new normal.

Definitions:

  • Active Antenna – this is an antenna that also includes the active radio.
  • BBU – Base Band Unit where the cell site processing takes
  • BTS – Base Transceiver Station, the BBU and possibly radio head.
  • CBRS – Citizens Broadband Radio Service is a spectrum in the 3.5GHz range set aside for lightly licensed and licensed usage in the USA.
  • eCPRI – Enhanced Common Public Radio Interface, fronthaul transport interface used between BBU and Radio head or active antenna.
  • CRAN – Centralized RAN which means the BBU hotel is somewhere nearby, usually within a few hundred kilometers, to the radio head and antennas scattered through the building or city.
  • C-RAN – Cloud RAN is when the BBU functions are happening in the cloud and feel radio heads scattered around a city or state.
  • FWA – Fixed Wireless Access, generally a cell site that sends signals to a fixed user, not mobile.
  • GA – General Acceptance, a term used by the carriers to release something to the system after it passes through the lab and FIT testing.
  • HetNet – Heterogeneous Network is a mobile network composed of different types of cell types and access technologies.
  • IOT – Internet of Things
  • ISP – Internet Service Provider
  • LAA – Licensed Assisted Access that leverages additional spectrum to work with the licensed spectrum through aggregation. By aggregating the carriers together, you get the combined bandwidth.
  • Macrocell – I full self-contained cell site with 3 sectors and complete backhaul. Generally, a full power, RF, site that covers a wide area.
  • Massive MIMO – this is an active antenna with many small transceivers in it that work together to beamform the signal out to the end user using MIMO, usually MU-MIMO.
  • MIMO – this is multiple in multiple out, the idea in wireless is that the MIMO antenna system can send multiple beams out at the same time to do 2 things. 1) make sure the receiver(s) get the best signal by having multiple transmit, receive, or both signals simultaneously. OR, 2) the signal can be sent out simultaneously to talk to two different user devices simultaneously, MU-MIMO.
  • Mini Macro – is in between a macro cell and a small cell, it had mid power and most of the features of a macro cell but is self-contained in a mid-size form factor.
  • OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturer.
  • Radio Head – the radio that is generally located very close to the antenna to transmit the desired RF into the antenna.
  • Small Cell – A small self-contained cellular radio. Could be used for limited outdoor or indoor coverage. Generally low power and small in form. Could be used in a ceiling or on a pole.

References:

Thank you for your time to learn something new! Let’s use it today.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

See Ya!

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