Suddenly, it's possible and happening. Costs are down; performance and reach up; "commercial deployments" moved to 2019 by Verizon and AT&T; mobile may be ready for 2020. Engineers like NTT CTO Seizo Inoe are moving up their forecasts for time to revenue. Tests are going better than expected. Most of the challenges holding back big telcos are being solved.
Nothing is certain, but many top engineers are close to convinced. I believe McAdam at Verizon has decided to go full speed ahead. Six months ago, then CFO Fran Shammo told Wall Street not to put 5G into their capex models for several years. He wanted to see the test results in 2018 before going ahead. Since then, Fran's been replaced by Matt Ellis. Verizon changed 2017 test plans from a few homes near their Boston research labs to 11 cities around the country. They've made a firm commitment to a "commercial deployment" of fixed in 2019.
We have only guesses for now, but $tens of billions of decisions are being made. Until we have extensive data from the field, everyone is relying on limited lab trials and models. There are no proven facts about mmWave economics. I can't do informed reporting without some numbers to use, so I'm collecting all the data I can find. Many answers also require estimates of traffic demand, how much people are willing to pay for what technology, whether connected cars require 1 ms, 5 ms, or 10-30 ms latency, and many some unknown unknowns. Improvements necessary and welcome.
Many answers also require estimates of traffic demand, how much people are willing to pay for what technology, whether connected cars require 1 ms, 5 ms, or 10-30 ms latency, and many other datapoints not covered here. In particular, "unlimited" offerings are driving up traffic demand far above expectations even six months ago.
The gleam in Lowell McAdam's eye discussing his future network was a hint. Verizon's purchase of $1B of Corning fiber convinced me the decision had been made to go to a one-third to one-half the United States. I have no inside information; the CFO didn't have too many drinks one night and spill secrets. Rather, the evidence and the logic drove me to believe this will soon be the largest network build in the Western world. It really doesn't look like Verizon will buy Charter (or whomever.) Making looks much cheaper than buying. It's also possible the 2017-2018 testing will be severely disappointing. They can change their decision until 2019-2020, when the spending gets heavy.
The evidence below needs to be considered alongside this separate article about what's inspiring Verizon to go ahead. The technology is (almost) ready. 5-20 gigabits is working in the labs and 10,000 engineers around the world are pushing forward. VZ is being killed by cable across the unfibered half of their territory. AT&T is making noise about going out of territory with wireless to the rooftops & gigabit to the apartments. The business logic is strong.
Most previously expected deployments before 2022 to be extremely modest. The highly respected NTT DOCOMO CTO in 2015 predicted little mmWave mobile before 2022-2023. That became the common wisdom among leading engineers despite the massive pr it would be sooner. At the Brooklyn 5G, he acknowledged advances have been made and he now expects sooner. Ted Rappaport is no longer the outlier on projected volume deployment. Nothing is certain yet, but many think Onoe is on target. 3GPP, under pressure from telcos, is cooperating.
3GPP, under pressure from telcos, is cooperating. They are expediting the ridiculously named "5G New Radio Non-standalone." That's mostly a 4G LTE system with some software tweaks and the ability to use mmWave as well as Wi-Fi spectrum. The existing LTE network will handle the hard stuff,
Small cells: fiber: Exchange: Cloud RAN: Core: Internet or PSTN. I believe Verizon has made the decision to spend ~$20B and add enough small cells to cover 1/3rd to 1/2 of the U.S. The major construction will be from 2019 to 2022.
Draft for comment: more thorough and accurate version to come. Improvements and disagreements welcome.
Verizon has decided to spend $20-25,000,000,000 on 5G millimeter wave to 30-40,000,000 homes, I believe. This is not a test, trial, or “part of 11 cities” deployment. This will be the largest new network in the western world.
1/3rd to 1/2 of the U.S. will be covered. In 2019 - if all goes well - they will begin installing between 100,000 and 300,000 small cells. They hope to finish this phase in 2022 or 2023.
Each cell will have a 4G/5G upgradable radio and will immediately add capacity to LTE, right where it’s most needed. That’s why Verizon didn’t buy any spectrum in the auction; LTE & LAA will provide what’s needed, even with an “unlimited” offering.
Millimeter wave mobile communications for 5G cellular: It will work! was a revelation in 2013. Back then, most engineers believed that rain and atmosphere made mmWave spectrum would play only a modest role in mobile communications.
Looking back four years later, most of what Ted, Samini and team wrote in 2013 is confirmed. This article was triggered when I noticed then NYU grad student Mathew Samini was an author on 15 major papers in three years (below.) These included the propagation test data and a more accurate Statistical Channel Model, an essential for designing networks. (Abstract below.)
Verizon will soon turn on millimeter wave to (a very few) homes in 11 cities; the Koreans have major plans for the next 15 months. It does work. The NYU team performed tens of thousands of tests in Manhattan as well as in Brooklyn. Their data was convincing. Four years later, $billions are being spent to solve the remaining problems and start to connect hundreds of millions.
It does work! Throughout the show, two large screens showed live data from a 1 GHz mmWave + 4x4 LTE MIMO system. The results were consistently between 19 gigabits and 21 gigabits. About 1 gigabit was LTE, an example of the gigabit LTE that will be sweeping the industry in the next two years. The mmWave gear ran consistently at 19 or 20 gigabits. While Huawei said nothing about availability, I infer 2020 is the target for working production equipment for mobile.
Not one of the dozens of network engineers I've spoken to lately disagreed with Ted Rappaport's conclusion "It will work." While we have no field results on millimeter wave to consumers, there are decades of results of mmWave for backhaul, high-speed point to point wireless, and heavy military usage.
Fotis Karonis sees everything before that as "proof of concept." He's Managing Director of Mobile and also IT, where he's advancing Software Enabled Networks. He believes BT will be first in Britain, implying the other British companies will be later. He didn't say the "first commercial" cells in 2020 will be many, so his date doesn't conflict with the 2022-2024 plan for volume mmWave from NTT's Seizo Onoe.
He acknowledges that BT still has a long way to go in LTE deployment. While they claim 99% population coverage with LTE, these maps from Open Signal suggest they are not using a robust measure of actual coverage. The map above is based on tested connections to LTE. Below, the 4G and 3G maps are side by side. Note how many places 3G is working but you can't even get 4G. That's strongly suggestive of either a crowded LTE network or optimistic coverage estimates.
Karonis is strong on the need for reliability, particularly as BT adds security services as customers.
Ted Rappaport of NYU, the world's foremost mmWave researcher, disagrees with my guess that mmWave 5G will be modest until 2021-2023. My opinion is backed up by opinions from several carriers and an estimate from Ovum that fewer than 1% of lines will be millimeter wave in 2021. Ted's opinion is shared by Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, who will deploy in Boston and probably San Francisco as soon as Verizon can get the equipment. That should be late 2017 or early 2018. Nokia and Ericsson have hundreds of engineers working on 5G mmWave.
I will be delighted to be proven wrong and see more rapid progress. Since my comment, Rappaport and team have published a seminal paper, Millimeter Wave Wireless Communications: New Results for Rural Connectivity (Abstract below.) They were able to detect a 73 GHz signal 11 kilometers away from their transmitter, a carefully aligned antenna 110 meters above average terrain. (Pictured.) They used 1 watt of transmitter power, levels similar to today's mobile phones.
A chance to watch. Press releases sometimes are as credible as politician's speeches, so I'm looking forward to watching Tuesday's live demo of a 5G network. At the Texas Wireless Summit, Arunabha Ghosh of AT&T will present Designing Ultra-Dense Networks for 5G at 9:40. At 10 a.m., AT&T will demonstrate their state of the art 5G testing. This will be one of the first public demonstrations of a 5G mmWave system. Webcast by RCR Wireless.
AT&T & Ericsson are working on phased arrays with ultra-fast beam steering, feedback-based hybrid precoding, multi-user multiple-input/multiple-output, dynamic beam tracking and beam acquisition. Beamforming and related technologies seem may be a breakthrough that extends the reach and throughput of mmWave systems. mmWave Works!, as Ted Rappaport proclaimed a few years ago. The question now is where it will prove financially practical. All those small cells and backhaul can be very expensive.
The day will mostly be devoted to connecting and automating cars, with top speakers. Robert Heath of the University of Texas is one of the organizers; he co-wrote the book on millimeter wave and is working to solve some of the remaining problems.