The move toward 5G networks is moving forward on a consistent basis. Several announcements were recently made. While it is almost certain that the projects announced are valuable, it also should be kept in mind that carriers and their ecosystems want to push the standards process, even ever so slightly, in their direction.
None of the three announcements were earth shattering. Taken together, however, they suggest that the cellular carriers and their ecosystems are executing their individual strategies and closing in on deployments and eventual monetization. Influencing standards development may also be part of the deal.
T-Mobile, in a press release covering a variety of topics, said that it will use new radio equipment from Ericsson to support LTE deployments in the 600 MHz spectrum it controls. The news is that the radios will support 5G when that technology is ready. Thus, the LTE network can become a 5G network without costly “rip and replace” operations.
The context of the announcements is that T-Mobile is taking a different strategy than other carriers by leveraging lower and already well understood spectrum for 5G. T-Mobile started 600 MHz operations in Cheyenne, Wyoming last month. The company says that the network in Scarborough, Maine is now operational and networks in many other areas soon will follow suit.
The second announcement was from AT&T, which said that it will expand 5G trials to Waco, Texas; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and South Bend, Indiana by the end of the year. The carrier has tested already in Austin, Texas. Testing focuses on millimeter waves (mmWave). The carrier seems pleased with the progress, at least publicly. The new tests will involve more participants and a larger area. The second trial in Austin and the new tests involve fixed mobile and mobile applications.
There is also a good deal of action outside of North America. Ericsson is working with SoftBank in Japan, according to Mobile Europe. Under a SoftBank test license, the companies will trial new radio (NR) technology, virtual radio access network (virtual RAN), virtual evolved packet core (virtual EPC) beamforming and Massive Multiple In Multiple Out (Massive MIMO) antennas. Huawei said that it has completed a Massive MIMO trial with China Mobile. Ericsson is working with AT&T on its expanded tests in the United States.
Carrier ecosystems are trying to do two related things simultaneously: Push their technology down the evolutionary path and provide data to standards bodies. Important decisions on 5G are approaching. Standards, of course, are a highly politicized endeavor. Billions of dollars are on the table.
Thus, it is a contentious business. SDxCentral says that even the number of papers on 5G that companies submit to the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is controversial: Qualcomm thinks some companies are submitting more than necessary to forge leadership positions. Others disagree with that assessment.
Clearly, both tests and the papers that emerge are valuable. It is unlikely that testing is any less political than the resulting papers. The natural desire of companies to gain any advantage they can should be kept in mind when considering these announcements.
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 [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.