5G is expected to hit a wall, literally, in 2019 and beyond.
5G trials are underway and the technology, latency and data rates are poised to deliver on their promises, if the 5G signal can reach you, that is. Trials and plans indicate that it won’t.
The question “what is 5G and what new tech will it spawn” is one that has been heavily covered in 2018. I’m here to take that one step further to outline where the technology leaders at Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Sprint have all reached consensus, which frequencies will be used to support 5G, and how the cellular capability and reliability will fare in comparison to the 4G LTE signals we have today.
Summary of Where 5G Stands Today
It’s 2018 and 5G infrastructure is being tested and, although it still awaits the approval of the FCC, the infrastructure has been installed in 5G trial host cities. Ann Arbor, Atlanta, New Jersey, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Sacramento, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and others currently have 5G base stations installed and running.
All of the carriers, FCC spokesmen, and politicians agree that 5G is likely to be approved for use in 2019. Thereafter – likely in Q2 of 2019 – carriers will be quick to activate and expand the 5G infrastructure on base stations across many of the remaining parts of the country. The infrastructure is up and running, Qualcomm has developed 5G compatible chipsets, and these two elements will join in a beautiful union to deliver 5G to the public in 2019 for fixed applications like homes and offices. Mobile applications for 5G are ear-marked for 2020 delivery, though some indications show this could arrive in 2019 as well.
To make a long story short; 5G testing and 2019 availability is looking very good.
The Frequencies That Will Support 5G
The 5G stakeholders are identifying the balance between opening up enough spectrum to support 5G’s promises for 1GBps data rates and lower latency than we have ever known with the preservation of our scarce new finite resource; the radiofrequency spectrum. These talks have been hard-thought, hard-fought and are pretty much nailed-down at this point in time.
The 5G spectrum will be comprised of low-, mid-, and high-band frequencies. Let’s identify each of the bands we use today, all of those proposed for the 5G spectrum, and each of their advantages and disadvantages.
5G at 600 MHz:
This is a newly introduced portion of the 5G spectrum that possesses a substantial ability to penetrate material to give reliable coverage inside of buildings, vehicles, and other spaces. The disadvantage of the 600 MHz band is its need for exact specificity so as to not bleed into the surrounding bands. Additionally, at such a low frequency this will not be a viable solution that can support the 1GBps data rates and low latency that ultimately make 5G the far superior generation to 4G LTE, or even 3G, for that matter.
5G at 700 MHz:
This band is a great point of comparison for 5G because this supports our current low-band cellular connectivity on the 4G and 3G spectrums. This has very healthy ability to penetrate structures and delivers moderately low latency and healthy enough data rates to support many of our current demands for mobile data. The 700 MHz frequency would not be able to meet the expectations many have for 5G.
5G at 2 GHz:
This frequency is currently being used for PCS and AWS but has difficulties with in-building penetration. The signals transmitted on this band are a large reason that 20% of US buildings currently struggle with in-building connectivity. This shortcoming creates the need for a cellular solution that has the ability to either generate a signal inside of a building or capture the signal outside of the building and repeat the signal within the walls of the building for reliable, clear cellular connectivity for voice, text, and 4G LTE data.
5G at 5 GHz:
This frequency range puts us all in unchartered cellular territory. This is a higher band than we have ever used for consumer cellular connectivity. At this frequency we will have seen an improvement to data rates and latency, however, not one that is catapulting 5G forward in the way we have come to expect. According to RF penetration models and formulas, the structural penetration at 3.5 GHz frequency will be more than two-times worse than the 2 GHz frequency we use today. In comparison to the lower frequency 700 MHz bands, it will be exponentially worse.
5G at 10 GHz:
At 10 GHz there will be 5G coverage inside of untreated glass windows but likely nowhere else in the building. The majority of buildings will require in-building cellular aids for even remotely reliable 5G coverage. Buildings without 5G cellular enhancement solutions will be resigned to 4G LTE cellular signals which, as we know from experience, also require assistance for in-building coverage in many buildings.
28 GHz is the poster-child portion of the 5G spectrum. Testing on this band, Verizon has seen extremely low latency and 1 GBps data speeds at 2,000 feet from the nearest transmitting location. The propagation at this frequency is nearly identical to 4G LTE, which means coverage outdoors will be just as good. The extremely high frequency nature of the 28 GHz band means indoor coverage will be very poor; “nonexistent” may be the better word. The 5G trials from T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, US Cellular that I touched-on earlier are largely focusing on this band and, across the board, the penetration issues are causing issues for carriers.
5G at 37, 39 & 46 GHz:
For brevity, I’ll combine these. This represents an extremely high band for 5G; one that may or may not be necessary for the kind of data rates and latency we need at this point in time. This may just simply be too much. In my opinion, this feels like a sandbox for testing 6G or an expanded 5G LTE. In-building penetration would be a significant challenge that would impact more than 90% of buildings in the United States.
General Consensus Among 5G Stakeholders
My position on 5G has remained the same and holds consistent with the opinions put forth by the US carriers, 5G engineers, FCC, and 5G test reports. Essentially, the value behind 5G stems from using a much wider spectrum available at higher frequencies to deliver 1 GBps data rates at 2,000 feet from the nearest transmitting location. The catch with 5G is that as these frequencies heighten, the ability to penetrate material decreases to the point that there is absolutely no penetration whatsoever.
5G needs these high band frequencies to support all that consumers expect 5G to deliver and these frequencies will propagate without issue in open areas that have no structural impediments, however, in-building coverage will get hit hard. 80% of device usage occurs inside of buildings, which means four-fifths of the time consumers would have no 5G service and would be resigned to 4G LTE or even 3G in areas without 4G LTE infrastructure or coverage.
5G Single & Multi-Carrier Solutions
With some hesitation and hopes for a more favorable outcome, the carriers have accepted this challenge and suggest carrier-specific cellular hotspots as the solution. Yes, this will solve the challenge but let’s say you need in-building coverage for Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T, would you really want four boxes outside of your home to get multi-carrier 5G coverage in your home, office, or any other building? Probably not.
Sure, this would resolve the problem. But it would do so using a non-scalable means that would resolve one problem but create others elsewhere.
Speaking directly to improving 5G coverage, signal booster solutions are the please all, consolidated solution that is both HetGen and HetNet. The nature of cell phone signal boosters today means compatibility with all carriers, all signal types, and all cellular devices that exist on the 3G and 4G LTE networks today. That nature will remain unchanged for the fifth generation of cellular connectivity as well.
SureCall is dedicated to creating innovative and scalable solutions that solve these complex problems for not just one portion of the market, but for the entire North American market. No matter whether you need better cellular connectivity in a fixed or mobile application, be that 3G, 4G LTE, 5G or 20G, SureCall is sure to deliver a powerful and consolidated solution that solves for all of your challenges.
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