Two years after partnering with Verizon, few Sacramento neighborhoods have 5G availability
Russell Nichols has the details in the June issue of Comstock’s magazine.
In December, Earl Lum spent the holiday season snooping around Sacramento’s eight city council districts, snapping pictures of city-owned street lights for evidence. The wireless analyst was on a mission to assess the status of Verizon’s 5G Home network, which launched in the capital in October 2018.
He came bearing questions: How many poles had the shoe-boxed sized 5G radios mounted on them? Were these fixed wireless sites only in wealthier neighborhoods? Did they target businesses? It took him three trips to map every pole. Each time, he scouted for two to three days from dawn to dusk. For an official launch of a network like this, Lum believes at least 2,000 sites with about 50 percent service coverage would be respectable. But what he found was some 200 small cells attached to street lights with broadband signals reaching less than 10 percent of Sacramento’s population.
“The network was extremely limited,” says Lum, founder of EJL Wireless Research in Half Moon Bay, who has analyzed wireless and mobile radio access markets for over 20 years. “There was clearly not enough sites to even do what I would call a real launch for a network.”
There are 40,000 city-owned poles in Sacramento with about 9,000 being suitable for wireless development, according to city officials. But Lum argues that those suitable poles only cover the main streets, and the distance of the signals from each site fails to fill the gaps. Another issue he points out is the millimeter wave technology, which is line of sight, meaning trees and rain can disrupt signals.
Two years after the city’s partnership with Verizon was announced, Lum’s findings – published in the report United States 5G Fixed Wireless Access Case Study, Verizon Wireless and the City of Sacramento, CA – paint a sobering picture. The city boasted of being one of the first four test cities for the telecom giant’s 5G network. Officials called the move a major step toward a future of lightning-fast speeds, smart meters and wearable technology, and, down the line, industrial automation and self-driving cars. They called it a “game-changer.” But if the game has any hope of changing, Lum says the city would need as many as 4,000 sites to provide full coverage, an undertaking that could take up to 10 years.
“Everyone did a lot of field trials prior to the launch,” Lum says. “[Verizon wasn’t] going into this whole thing blind. Part of this survey was to do a fact check on the reality.”
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Russell Nicholes captures the struggle that Sacramento is going through to implement 5G. Think about the struggle that your community would go through to implement mmWave 5G with the need to maintain the line of sight connections and the antenna spacing needed to provide full coverage. Does your community have unique street lighting infrastructure that would inhibit the use of standard mini-cell tower installations, such as these in historic downtown Nevada City?
Here is a Chicago Mini-Cell Tower
“Deployment of 5G services using microwave and millimeter wave frequency bands is critical to the success of 5G in the United States. However, the limitations we have uncovered using these frequency bands should cause the industry to take a serious look at the return on investment for these types of 5G networks.”
— Earl Lum Microwave Journal.