The excitement over 5G technology focuses on the great benefits it will bring to mobility. That’s reasonable, but 5G will excel in another use case: fixed wireless.
Indeed, fixed wireless is first on the agenda. Providing a service to a moving target, and one that is switching between adjacent service areas, is particularly tricky. It makes sense that the fixed services, which figure to be a bit simpler, would be established first.
It’s happening. This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved Verizon’s request to lease 28 GHz and 39 GHz licenses from NextLink, an XO Communications subsidiary. The move means that Verizon will deploy fixed 5G services before 2018, according to Light Reading.
Verizon is aiming for pilot projects next year. The idea is that fixed testing and rollouts are moving up, which means that the mobile 5G move is likely to meet or even beat initial timeline estimates:
Verizon is effectively collecting all the pieces it needs to start 5G deployments, once further tests are completed of course. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said that 2017 will be a "development year" for 5G. "To get to a commercial launch and actually start to generate revenue -- I think that will come in very late '17 or '18," Shammo said during the earnings call.
Verizon is not the first guest to arrive at the 5G fixed wireless party. C Spire said earlier this month that it tested a 5G fixed wireless solution in Mississippi using Nokia equipment. The trial involved television content, including ultra-high definition television. Transmission speeds as a high as 2.2 gigabits per second (Gbps) and latency lower than 1.4 milliseconds were reached. C Spire says it has holdings in the 28 GHz range.
Technology, it should be noted, is a lot like having an extension built on a home: If things happen on the original timeline, they are, in reality, beating expectations. Things almost never happen earlier than promised.
Fixed wireless is not just a developmental stop on the way to mobile services. As the C Spire test implied, the technology is fast enough to distribute video. Investor’s Business Daily positions 5G fixed wireless as a threat to the cable industry; a quote from a Comcast executive noted why the company is not worried (small service areas, too much equipment). It will take a long time to see how it plays out. However, if it does gain traction as a broadband alternative, the telecommunications industry may experience another drastic change in the landscape.
The Motley Fool made the same point about video earlier this year, suggesting that fixed 5G wireless could be a big deal:
There's still a lot we don't know about Verizon and AT&T's fixed wireless plans, but what's clear is that they intend to take on traditional cable Internet in an entirely new way -- which could give home Internet consumers more choices than ever before.
Tests will continue through at least next year. How they go and precisely what is being tested should be interesting to watch.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.