High Frequency Thrills Will Accelerate as 5G Approaches

Carl Weinschenk

As experts have noted, the era of 5G is approaching faster than initially anticipated. That reality is illustrated by a bit of news and a bit of commentary released during the early days of April. The bottom line is that the frequency characteristics of 5G will make this a particularly interesting transition.

The news, reported by Chron today, is that AT&T is buying what it referred to “embattled” Straight Path Communications for $1.6 billion in stock. Straight Path is the third largest holder of spectrum that has been approved for use for 5G by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The spectrum is at 28 Gigahertz and 39 GHz.

AT&T also acquired FiberTower Corp., which holds spectrum in the 24 GHz and 39 GHz ranges, earlier this year. Commentary in the story suggests that the big carriers are involved in a land – or rather, spectrum – grab as the age of 5G nears.

The world is dealing with significant spectrum issues. For instance, Vodafone Australia and the nation’s National Broadband Network are in conflict about spectrum in the 3.4 GHz to 3.7GHz. Mobile World Live says that Vodafone is not happy that the spectrum was awarded to NGN because it is said to be the only internationally aligned 5G spectrum. Vodafone wants to be on the same footing.


Things seem to be more peaceful in Sweden, however. The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority said that it will make 100 MHz to 200 MHz of spectrum in the 3.4 GHz to 3.6 GHz region and as much as 1 GHz in the 26 GHz band available for 5G tests.

The commentary also deals in part with spectrum characteristics. Light Reading reported that Qualcomm said last week that its first 5G smartphones will be on the market during the middle of 2019. The 5G NR (new radio) phones will include a LTE connection. The reason for the inclusion of the older protocol is physics. The high frequencies used by 5G (which commonly are shorted-handed as mmWave) have interference and distance issues. Light Reading suggests that the LTE connections, which by that point will be capable of robust 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) downloads, are a fall-back option.

The action will gradually ramp up during the next couple of years. The characteristics of networking at high frequencies guarantees that tremendous amount scrambling will occur, especially as launch dates grow near.

For instance, The Telegraph suggested last month that 400,000 new masts (which are similar to cell towers) will be needed to support 5G transmissions in rural Britain. Some of these will be 80 feet high. Of course, not all of these will be available when networks launch. It’s clear, however, that the worldwide wireless sector is in for some high-frequency thrills during the next half-decade or so.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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