Two Takeaways from 5G Americas Keynote

by | Sunday 14th October 2018

The 2018 5G Americas Analyst Forum was held in Dallas on October 10 – 11 to a well-attended crowd of industry analysts. I did not estimate the attendance, but the main meeting room, about the size of the famed San Diego Convention Center’s Ball Room 20, appeared about 75% occupied.

 Neville Ray, 5G Americas board chair and CTO of T-Mobile, delivered the opening Keynote speech and presentation.  Here are two key takeaways from the keynote. Deep dives into the operator panel sessions and roundtable discussions will follow at the SAR Brainwave website.

Take Away #1: There is more to 5G than the mmWave Sizzle  

The old marketing saw, “Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak” applies for telecom marketing, generating worldwide buzz and traction for 5G. Call it over-hyped if you like, but the sizzle appears successful as much of the infrastructure, operator, analyst, and regulatory communities move to realize the 5G vision.

All things for all applications.

Some of the criticism about 5G is how it tries to be all things for all applications, and analysts rightly sense unease with this approach. While the standard is broad and future looking, the intent is to make 5G applicable across industry and society while providing a basis for at least a 10-year useful life. It is the operator community that will deploy diverse strategies and differentiated service, as is apparent in the USA mobile operators’ opening moves on the 5G playing field. 

5G is Multi-Spectral

One of my favorite charts below illustrates the breadth and depth of 5G, and it will be far more encompassing than the sizzling hot mmWave spectrum.  The real 5G steak comes with the Mid Band deployments. It will take some time to deploy the full 5G that supports the triad of Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), and massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC).     

5G High Band

The chart below highlights the 5G dilemma of capacity vs. coverage. The narrowness of the mmWave illustrates the small reach but massive capacity, the main applications for which are Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) and dense urban hot-spot/venue deployments.

5G Mid Band

The second layer in the 5G stack is Mid Band, although there are different opinions on how to delineate High Band, Mid Band, and Low Band. Mr. Ray points out that much of the world converge on 3.5 GHz for 5G deployment, with some countries clearing hundreds of MHz of spectrum for their operators. Just a few years ago the telecom ecosystem dismissed 2.5 GHz spectrum as a poor value, but now it sees 3.5 GHz shaping as prime spectrum for 5G. By using Massive MIMO antenna technology, operators can overlay a 3.5 GHz 5G network on existing 3G towers.

Mr. Ray points out the American Conundrum is CBRS at 3.5 GHz, which has limited spectrum and lower power limits than will other global 5G deployments. 

Much digital commentary refers to the “5G Race,” and if that is the right analogy, then the 3.5 GHz spectrum allocation is a problem for the USA FCC to fix. If you want to view 5G as a race, then there are multiple races: one among Chinese and Scandinavian infrastructure vendors, many races among operators competing in national markets, and the global race among mobile handset vendors.

5G Low Band

Finally, there is Low Band, which for T-Mobile is 600 MHz, but for others can be as high as 2.5 GHz. The value 5G brings to Low Band spectrum is wide area coverage for use cases that benefit from low latency and certainty of delivery. Low Band LTE will serve as the anchor for 5G NSA (non-stand-alone). Cellular spectrum may eventually migrate to 5G SA (stand-alone) regardless of the band as operators migrate their subscriber base to 5G mobiles but that will take many years.

Take Away #2: Differentiated Innovation vs. Centrally Planned

Industry publications have it that China and South Korea are rationalizing national plans for 5G to avoid duplication of investment and gain the maximum coverage as efficiently as possible. Those mobile operators will march in step toward the national goals of a common and widespread 5G, though it is not clear how they will differentiate their services.

US Operators Differentiate

On the contrary, US operators pursue differentiated strategies, while national goals remain less obvious. If there are benefits to winning the race, this presents another difficulty for US operators to overcome.

In the chart below, we see highly differentiated approaches to 5G. Just as 5G supports a diversity of applications and spectrum, we should also expect a diversity of strategies.

What Else? 

The 5G Americas Analyst Forum is rich in content and much more than an analyst can cover. I the next few days, I will deliver a detailed analysis of the roundtables I attended:

  • Massive MIMO Antennas 
  • Enterprise and Industrial IoT 
  • Global 5G Deployment 
  • Multi-Access Edge Computing 
  • Operator Panel Discussions 
  • Low, Mid, and High Band

Contact the author:

Joe Hoffman