USTelecom Media

Paving the Road to 5G

Eyeing the future, telecom giants are working on hotly competitive roadmaps to bring 5G wireless services to American consumers.

5G promises to dramatically speed up mobile broadband; it could make wireless competitive to cable and fiber for video and web access. It would also enable connected cars and dramatically enhance the internet of things by better accommodating machine-to-machine communication.

If AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint schedules hold, 5G could be unleashed as early as 2017, although some observers say it might take until 2019 or 2020 before the technology is widespread.

AT&T completed its first public demonstration of its 5G technology at the Texas Wireless Summit in Austin in October. The demo showed off devices that delivered multi-gigabit per second bandwidth, some as high as 14 Gbps. The company’s 5G development figures prominently as a key rationale for its merger with Time Warner and plans for a $35 a month, 100-channel streaming service.

“We are going to be a head-to-head, nationwide competitor with the cable ecosystem. And 5G deployment is a game changer,” said Randall Stephenson, chief executive officer of AT&T in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Verizon is telling investors that it could build a fixed wireless service to compete with cable as early as 2017, due in part to spectrum it leased as part of its February 2016 acquisition of the XO Communications fiber business.

“5G fixed wireless would be a competitor to cable, or any broadband connection for that matter, said CFO Fran Shammo at a September 2016 investor conference. “While everybody else is talking that (5G) is a 2019 or 2020 event, that’s great, because I’m going to speed into the 5G world in ’17.”

T-Mobile says that it is “pushing the envelope really, really hard” to be ready for 5G.

“We’ve been pretty quiet on the 5G subject, but that doesn’t mean for us that we’re not doing anything. We’ve been extremely busy in trials,” said T-Mobile US CTO Neville Ray at the Competitive Carriers Association’s annual meeting in Seattle in September.

Fierce Wireless reports that T-Mobile also showed FCC Commissioner Mygnon Clyburn its mobile 5G links operating close to 4 gigabits per second and fixed 5G links operating close to 8 gigabits per second, with “terrific latencies,” according to Ray.

Sprint demonstrated elements of its 5G service in Philadelphia, during the Copa América Centenario, the 100th anniversary of the Pan American soccer tournament which was held for the first time in ten U.S. cities in June.

“Today we’re keenly focused on building a strong foundation for 5G by densifying our existing network with more cell sites and antennas, We know that future networks will need to be massively dense in order to meet the demand for higher data rates per person across a given geographic location,” wrote Dr. John Saw, Chief Technology Officer, Sprint in a June blog post.

While all the major players—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile—are pointing to the technical progress they have made in the development of the next generation wireless service, much remains to be done. Significant milestones include establishing industry wide technical standards, freeing up more spectrum with the FCC incentive auction and the deployment of millions of dense, smaller cells, all of which are required to deliver the coverage and capacity promise of 5G.