Troika 230More cells, more antennas, more spectrum are the three major tools for adding capacity. To begin:

Adding antennas is usually the cheapest choice in 2018. Nearly every telco is going to four (4x4 MIMO.) Adding spectrum is very attractive when you have some unused but expensive if you have to buy it. Adding cells was the approach before LTE-A in 2014 permitted aggregation. Since then, tower building has almost stopped in the developed world. Any upgrade should include 256 QAM, more bits per Hz.

Antennas: True in Thailand and AT&T in the U.S. are rapidly upgrading the entire network to four antennas. 5G Massive MIMO - 64 or 128 antennas - is used by China Mobile. Verizon, Globe, and soon many more where there is a need. On average, a three-time improvement. Results vary enormously with the terrain. Bharti and Jio are moving fast because India is one of the few with a real spectrum crunch.) See MassiveMIMO.rocks.

Spectrum: AT&T and Verizon had 60 MHz of unused spectrum, enough to more than double the network. This was largely useable until ~2014m when carrier aggregation made it possible to combine disparate bands, such as 700 and 2300. Deutsche Telekom and most of the Europeans had been hoarding some spectrum for CA. From 20 MHz (single carrier,) most are going to 60-80 MHz (three or four carriers.) AT&T and SK in Korea have already projected using five carriers when that becomes possible. 5G millimeter wave offers 100's of MHz, attractive but expensive. 3.5 GHz is now becoming available and LAA allows grabbing some more at 4.9 GHz.

Cells: Towers are so expensive few are being added except where there is no coverage today. Less than 3% of the developed world is not covered already. Small cells remain relatively few but are natural in dense areas. Sprint is using them heavily in San Francisco and AT&T in New York. It's cheaper to add antennas or spectrum rather than towers or even small cells in most places.

Small cells will be widely used where telcos believe in 5G mmWave. mmWave has limited reach so it requires a massive build. Verizon has ~50,000 towers for 98% coverage. mmWave across the country will require about one million. The high cost means mmWave will be extremely limited in most countries for 5-10 years from 2017. Most telcos can't find enough customers to fill their networks so are reluctant to invest. Few believe there will be enough demand for low latency or gigabit speeds to justify spending so much. It may be a decade or more until that changes. 

more to come

 

It used to be simple; build more towers where you need them, buy spectrum if that wasn't enough. Today, very few towers are built in the developed world. Verizon's failure to bid in the 2016 auction made clear everything's changed. For years, very few towers have been built in the developed world for yea Around xxx, tower building almost ended. Improved 3G and then LTE provided enough of a boost few new towers were needed in the developed world. More spectrum could be put to use and more bits carried per hertz. That continues most places, but since ~2014 adding antennas became an atractive alternative. Two

From 2014, most telcos reaped a bonanza and suddenly had surplus spectrum. Carrier aggregation." meant AT&T's spectrum at 2300 could be put to use, "aggregated" with their 700 or 1800. LTE began with a single "carrier," usually 20 MHz. When aggregation became practical, those needing capacity easily put a second carrier into use, doubling capacity. By 2016=2017, many used three or four carriers, with a near linear capacity increase. AT&T and the Koreans have announced five carrier for 2018, with many others likely. That was a very cheap upgrade because no new spectrum had to be purchased.  Capex at carriers lke Verizon actually went down. Verizon skipped the 2016 auction because they Probably the cheapest upgrade is putting to use spectrum already owned. The spectrum crisis was wildly exaggerated. ~2014, almost all carriers suddenly had plenty of unused spectrum. AT&T as late as 2017, has 60 MHz of unused spectrum, enough to double capacity.

 

 

 

dave askOn Oct 1, Verizon will turn on the first $20B 5G mmWave network, soon offering a gigabit or close to 30M homes. The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while keeping capex at around 15%.

The Koreans, Chinese, and almost all Europeans are not doing mmWave in favor of mid-band "5G," with 4G-like performance. Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 4X to 10X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year. I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

The predicted massive small cell builds are a pipe dream for vendors for at least five years. Verizon expects to reach a quarter of the U.S. without adding additional small cells. 

In the works: Enrique Blanco and Telefonica's possible mmWave disruption of Germany; Believe it or don't: 5G is cheap because 65% of most cities can be covered by upgrading existing cells; Verizon is ripping out and replacing 200,000 pieces of gear expecting to save half. 

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 5G Why Verizon thinks differently and what to do about it is a new report I wrote for STL Partners and their clients.

STL Partners, a British consulting outfit I respect, commissioned me to ask why. That report is now out. If you're a client, download it here. If not, and corporate priced research is interesting to you, ask me to introduce you to one of the principals.

It was fascinating work because the answers aren't obvious. Lowell McAdam's company is spending $20B to cover 30M+ homes in the first stage. The progress in low & mid-band, both "4G" and "5G," has been remarkable. In most territories, millimeter wave will not be necessary to meet expected demand.

McAdam sees a little further. mmWave has 3-4X the capacity of low and mid-band. He sees an enormous marketing advantage: unlimited services, even less congestion, reputation as the best network. Verizon testing found mmWave rate/reach was twice what had been estimated. All prior cost estimates need revision.

My take: even if mmWave doesn't fit in your current budget, telcos should expand trials and training to be ready as things change. The new cost estimates may be low enough to change your mind.