Rural America Could be Left Behind in 5G Global Race

“The United States is making choices that will leave rural America behind,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel writes in WIRED.

So far the United States 5G focus has been on mmWave high-band service, which is not a good technology for rural applications.

This means that high-band 5G service is unlikely outside of the most populated urban areas. The sheer volume of antenna facilities needed make this service viable makes it too costly to deploy in rural areas. So if we want to serve everywhere—and not create communities of 5G haves and have-nots—we are going to need a mix of airwaves that provide both coverage and capacity. That means we need mid-band spectrum. For rural America to see competitive 5G in the near future, we cannot count on high-band spectrum to get the job done.

It should be noted the T-Mobile/Sprint strategy is to focus on the low-bands, and AT&T is claiming a multi-band approach, while Verizon is using a high-band mmWave approach.

 

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AT&T National 5G Strategy

Telecompetitor has the details:

AT&T nationwide 5G plans include a multi-pronged strategy. Those plans include leveraging millimeter wave spectrum for dense urban areas. AT&T calls this their 5G+ coverage, which will provide the fastest mobile broadband experience.

This service will be delivered primarily through small cells using a centralized radio access network (CRAN) architecture. CRAN allows multiple (maybe hundreds of) small cells to be controlled from a single centralized hub. AT&T 5G+ is currently available in select locations in 19 cities. It can offer gigabit capable speeds, notes Mair.

“I really like the momentum I’m seeing right now from our build in terms of the CRAN or small cell capabilities,” said Mair in his remarks. “That millimeter wave, basically 200, 300 plus meters radius, so there’s a lot more of those small cells that you need to put in place to provide that capability.”

For broader, more macro coverage, AT&T will use their sub-6 GHz spectrum holdings, with 700 MHz a likely 5G workhorse. This capability will be put on existing AT&T towers, with their FirstNet build helping facilitate the transition to 5G.

Emphasis added

ATT_5G_Lowband_Band_12_1024x1024
AT&T National 5G Strategy

Source: Allnet Insights & Analytics

Continue reading HERE.  The use of low band will be a boon to rural users, as the signals will go further and are less attenuated by foliage.

 

Competition, Competition, Competition

by Russ Steele

One thing that activates the telco and cable providers is competition. How are they going to deal with the competition from SpaceX, OneWeb, Amazon, and other LEO high-speed internet providers? These innovators are circling the legacy communications provider like a hunger coyote looking for a rabbit lunch.

In the past, the telcos use their political muscle to keep the competition under control at every opportunity. They spend millions on lawyers and lobbyist to shape legislation to stifle competition rather than spend their profits on providing superiors service.

For example, in the early days of WiFi, a Texas University was wiring up the campus. Next door to the University was some low-income housing, and the University wanted to share their WiFi with the low-income neighbors. According to the story I heard, AT&T sent 25 lawyers down to the State Legislature to stop this sharing of free WiFi. AT&T abhors competition!

We are going to see a significant upheaval in the internet market when the LEO satellites networks are established and fully functional. Today the phone and cable companies are providing marginal broadband services at a high cost to the consumer. Why, because they can, they are the only provider, with no competition.

There are millions of DSL customers poised to jump once a competitive broadband service is offered. Some communities have pinned their hope on 5G for more reliable service at higher speeds, but that technology rollout is controlled by the telco providers who are not going to provide competing service. On the other hand, they will have little control over the satellite internet service providers, unless they cut backhaul deals that incorporate some competition restrictions.

I can hear the conversation now, “If you sign this 5G backhaul contract, you cannot sell your broadband to our 4G/5G customers.”

The cable companies are losing customers to the cord cutters and streamers. While cutting the video cord, streams still need a broadband connection. In many cases, the cable internet service is the only connection, and it comes at a high price. Why, because the cable companies have no competitive incentive to reduce rates.

In many communities with only telco DSL or an aging cable plant available providing broadband access, LEO broadband will be the first time there will be some competitive service. The question is, how will the telco and cable companies deal with that competition?

They can lower the price for their marginal services, but the customer still has unreliable slow speed internet access, whereas the LEO satellites are offering much higher speeds, and hopefully more reliable service. All the LEO satellite service challenge are still unknowns.

In the end, the superior service will win if the cost is reasonable. Amazon is a significant disruptor in the retail sector, and space-based internet is going to be a substantial disruptor in the telecommunications sector.

How will the telcos respond?  Your thoughts?

Today: FCC 5G Infrastructure Push

— Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) are today bringing back their STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, a measure aimed at speeding up 5G wireless buildout. The proposal drew fierce pushback during the last Congress from local governments that viewed it as federal overreach. Although the two sponsors had suggested they would take those concerns into account, the new version is no different than what they unveiled last summer. “Making 5G technology a reality has been a priority for me since I began serving on the Commerce Committee,” Thune said

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

This has implication for all rural communities, especially those communities trying to preserve their historical charm. Experience has shown that mmWave 5G needs to have a small cell site on every block, see details HERE and HERE.

Chicago_Verizon 5G minitower
Ugly Chicago Mini-Cell Tower

Those providers that are using low band (600-800MHz) 5G will be more welcome in rural communities as fewer cell sites are needed, reducing line of site requirements. The downside is low band 5G cannot provide the mind-blowing speeds that mmWave 5G does. Will rural towns, cities, and neighborhoods get to pick their provider and the technology used to provide 5G under the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, or do they get whoever shows up? Verizon is using a mmWave strategy, AT&T a mixed approach, while T-Mobile/Sprint is planning to use low band and existing 4G frequencies for their 5G services. More decisions will depend on the spectrum the FCC is offering for 5G services, both mobile and fixed.

This is going to be an ugly fight to keep ugly technology out of rural towns and villages. If I were responsible for 5G implementation, I would be working with designers to develop a classic mini-cell enclosure, to hide the ugly electronics and wire bundles.  Your thoughts?

Supervisors Deny 70 Household Critical Infrastructure

Note:  This letter to The Union Editor was submitted on 30 May 2019

Nevada County supervisors oppose new cell tower read the headline!

“Nevada County Supervisor Ed Scofield said he usually supports new cell towers. However, he wasn’t going to approve one at 13083 Wildlife Lane.
Speaking near the end of a Tuesday hearing for a tower, Scofield said the proposed 110-foot AT&T tower would bring broadband access to only some 70 homes.”
In today’s digital world Broadband access has become critical infrastructure, just like water, power and waste management according to the Brookings Institute, California Public Utilities Commission, the Federal Communication Commission and other future assessing organizations.
Would the Supervisors deny 70 households access to water, power, or waste management? No! So why do they deny 70 homes access to more economic opportunity, better education, and healthcare that is available on this critical infrastructure called broadband?
I have invested 1,000 of hours promoting broadband in Nevada County, mapping broadband deficiencies, working with Congress and the FCC to promote federal investment in rural broadband. Now that it has arrived Supervisor Schofield says, “We do not need that” Really, how clueless to the needs of modern digital society can a Supervisor be?
This kind of leadership is destroying the economic potential of a beautiful County. It would help if Nevada County had a more knowledgeable representative.

Buy Local (Including Broadband)

 

An article in Broadband Communities Magazine by Eric Ogle

Ogle’s conclusion:

As corporate service providers continue to shortchange many rural communities on the services they should provie, they also remove tremendous amounts of money from communities. Given the public outcry for buy-local campaigns, why isn’t there a similar outcry for buy-local campaigns focused on local broadband service?

In the example provided, through a sustainable partnership with the local utility, what long-term local economic impact would result if a utility-anchored broadband initiative were able to capture 50 percent – or even a third or a quarter – of the market?

As with many public infrastructure projects, utility-provided broadband is deployed for the common good, and many benefits occur “off the balance sheet” in terms of enhanced economic opportunities and quality-of-life improvements. So instead of wondering how it can afford to offer broadband services, given the money that is lost each year to corporate providers with inferior services, a community should wonder instead how long it can afford not to offer broadband services.

It has been my experience, that AT&T moves much faster to improve broadband services when threatened by competition.

Sacramento 5G Insights

by Russ Steele

Verizon cut a deal with the City of Sacramento to bring 5G to the community using city infrastructure, such as light poles to attach and power 28GHz small cell antennas.   

In December and January, from dawn until dusk for eight days, Earl Lum of EJL Wireless Research drove around Sacramento surveying the Verizon 5G network. In a recent article, lightreading.com shared some of Lum’s insights.

Below are three observations Lum made while surveying what he estimated were 99% of Verizon’s 5GTF cell sites across Sacramento (the analyst is selling a complete report of his work on his website).

1 – Verizon’s 5G Home service covers around 10% of Sacramento.

“It’s pretty sparse,” Lum concluded of the network’s coverage, adding that he counted “several hundred” 5G sites.

This doesn’t come as a total surprise. After all, Verizon’s network is exclusively using the operator’s 28GHz spectrum, which is ideal for carrying huge amounts of data but not for covering large geographic areas. Verizon has said 28GHz signals can travel around 1,000 feet, but Lum said he mostly calculated signals traveling about 500 feet, based on the locations of the 28GHz transmitters and potential customers’ addresses (Verizon, for its part, boasts of a further reach in some cases, as do some other surveys of Verizon’s 5G network).

“It’s not 600MHz,” Lum noted, pointing to the kind of low-band spectrum that T-Mobile plans to use for its 5G deployment. Such low-band spectrum can cover far more geographic territory than millimeter-wave spectrum like 28GHz.

2 – All of Verizon’s 5G transmitters were attached to streetlights.

While this might not seem like a big deal, it kind of is. Lum explained that all of Verizon’s 5GTF transmission radios were attached to the tops of streetlights and not to any other structures, like traffic signals or rooftops, possibly because Verizon only has permission from the city to use streetlights (Verizon inked a public-private partnership with Sacramento in 2017).

This situation reflects the fact that small wireless transmitters — generally referred to as small cells — have been difficult for operators to deploy in part because they typically sit on city-owned infrastructure. And, as anyone who has dealt with local regulators knows, getting a city’s permission to make changes to city-owned stuff is challenging at best. For example, tower company Crown Castle typically allocates a full two years to get local approvals for small cell installations.

Another, and perhaps more important, possible takeaway from Lum’s work is that streetlights probably aren’t the best locations for a 28GHz network that provides mobility services. Lum explained that, to create an efficient grid of coverage for cars, dog walkers and others, operators likely would want to install their equipment on top of traffic signals at intersections, not on streetlights in the middle of a neighborhood.

“You don’t need a site in the middle [of a street, like a streetlight], you just need them on the bookends, pointing at each other,” Lum said. “At some point you’re going to have to go to the corners” for a millimeter-wave mobile network.

3 – Most sites only had one 5G antenna.

Lum said that most of the streetlights with Verizon’s equipment only had one antenna, and none of them had equipment for 4G LTE. Lum explained that this is noteworthy because it likely indicates Verizon is only blasting 5G service from that streetlight toward a specific set of customers.

Why? Well, most modern cellular antennas have a 90-degree or 120-degree field of coverage. Meaning, if you want to cover everything around a tower site, you need to install three or four different antennas, each covering a different part of the circle. Since most of Verizon’s sites only had one antenna, that means the company is blasting its signal toward a specific area or group of buildings, rather than everything around that site.

Lum said he saw a few sites with two antennas, but none with more than that.

Part of the issue, Lum said, may be due to the sheer weight a streetlight can handle. After all, Verizon and the city of Sacramento probably don’t want streetlights falling over because they’re too top-heavy with 5G equipment.

Antenna placement brings up an interesting point.  There are four mobile phone companies, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile which are planning to provide 5G services. All are planning to offer mobile services, some also fixed wireless services.  If an antenna is required every 500-1000 feet for mobile services in the mmWave spectrum, where are the city’s going to find places for all the antennas?  If a light pole cannot handle a full complement of 360-degree antenna coverage due to the weight for one company, how are four companies all going use the strategically located light poles? If as Lum states the ideal antenna location is at intersections, will the stop light standards be strong enough for four companies to install full complement 5G antennas?

A city needs to have at least two 5G providers to provide some pricing competition, can the light standards hold multiple piazza box antenna from at least two providers?  How will the standard hold up in high wind areas?  Those flat antenna can provide significant wind resistance, for an arm only engineering to hold a street light. 

Tower company Crown Castle has made a significant bet on small cells, and has deployed thousands of the gadgets in recent years. During the company’s most recent quarterly earnings conference call with investors, Crown Castle CEO Jay Brown said that the company typically designs its deployments to account for two small cells per mile — but he said in dense urban areas that count can increase to six or ten small cells per mile, or roughly one every 500 feet.

To quote Lum, “you’re talking about a crapload of poles.”

Another insight was the length of time it takes to permit a small cell. One company installing small cell towns expects the process to take two years.

Crown Castle typically allocates a full two years to get local approvals for small cell installations.

Unless the Federal Government takes some action to accelerate local approvals, it will be a long time before some neighborhoods see 5G is they ever see it at all.