Tower Firms Feeling Sting of T-Mobile’s 5G Network Spending Slowdown

Report by SUE MAREK, Special Contributor, writing at Light Reading.

American Tower, SBA Communications, Crown Castle and other tower firms in the US are feeling the pinch from what appears to be a 5G network slowdown by T-Mobile. The operator has denied any deceleration of its 5G network plans, but various reports from tower companies and contractors have indicated the carrier is holding off on new cell sites as it awaits the outcome of its proposed $26 billion purchase of Sprint.

In a new report today from Wall Street research firm Wells Fargo, tower companies said T-Mobile’s deployment of new cell sites has slowed down considerably recently, which is primarily impacting macro cell sites but not small cells. Tower companies said that their T-Mobile contacts are telling them that the reason for the slowdown is because T-Mobile’s Sprint acquisition is still not closed — the companies had hoped to close the transaction this summer but delayed that to the end of this year.

Wireless Estimator first reported of the slowdown in T-Mobile’s 5G network deployment last month, citing several network construction contractors that reported the operator was halting new network equipment purchase orders for the remainder of 2019.

T-Mobile’s slowdown is particularly painful for tower firms and construction companies because, over the past 18 months, T-Mobile has been aggressively expanding its network in the 600MHz spectrum. “The build, coupled with T-Mobile’s regular tower activity supporting its other spectrum bands has created a robust driver of revenue growth for the tower cos,” said the Wells Fargo report.

The full report is HERE.

 

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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.

 

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?

Sprint 5G Network Turned On — More Rural Friendly Spectrum

The Verge has the details on modes and speeds:

By contrast, Sprint is using what it calls “split mode” to allow devices to combine 5G NR and LTE Advanced for faster download speeds and, more importantly, 5G coverage that’s somewhat consistent. Sprint isn’t relying on the same high-frequency millimeter-wave tech as Verizon and AT&T at the moment. Instead, it’s building 5G on top of its mid-band 2.5GHz wireless spectrum. According to Saw, Sprint’s antennas in 5G markets are divided with dedicated LTE and 5G resources. “We are not sharing spectrum. We’re not stealing bandwidth from LTE users, and you don’t see a slowdown in 5G just because LTE customers are using a lot of data.” Saw insists this is something that isn’t possible with millimeter wave alone. “I think we’re the only operator in the US that’s able to launch our 5G network to have the exact same coverage as LTE, right on top of each other.”

But how fast is it? Sprint’s promise is up to five times faster than LTE. “We’re trying to set the right expectations,” said Saw. “You should see more than 100Mbps when you’re driving around.” Sprint drove media around for a short two-mile bus trip to demonstrate mobile speeds. The new LG V50 indeed remained above that 100Mbps mark throughout the test, and it never dropped Sprint’s 5G network during the drive. Peak speeds hit between 500Mbps and 600Mbps when we stopped and were stationary. But Sprint is definitely being conservative in its guidance and reiterating that this is day one and improvements will come early and often.

Full Article is HERE. Emphasis added. Article concludes:

Mid-band 2.5GHz spectrum will make 5G coverage more reliable and steady. And low-band “sub-6” spectrum will be crucial for making sure 5G can strongly reach indoor locations and challenging coverage spots. As you’d expect, he brought up the T-Mobile merger as being essential, since that company possesses a lot of low-band spectrum that would complement Sprint’s own.

The Sprint/T-Mobile low band approach will not produce mind blowing Verizon speeds but will provide enhanced speed over LTE and be more reliable in difficult to reach rural locations.

T-Mobile Home Internet

Telecompetitor.com has the details:

T-Mobile will begin a limited trial of its LTE-based fixed wireless service, dubbed T-Mobile Home Internet, this week, the company said today. The 50 Mbps service will sell for $50 per month without a data cap – although the company states that during congestion, “Home Internet customers may notice speeds lower than other customers due to data prioritization.”

The offering is by invitation only to existing customers in select “rural and underserved” areas, which the carrier did not specify. The company hopes to connect up to 50,000 homes this year.

In a press release, T-Mobile said the new offering was just the beginning of what the company could accomplish if its merger with Sprint is approved. The merger would bring Sprint’s broad mid-band spectrum holdings into the T-Mobile fold, which according to the release, would give the merged company the capability to offer T-Mobile Home with speeds up to 100 Mbps to more than half of U.S. zip codes by 2024, when the company potentially would serve 9.5 million U.S. households.
T-Mobile Home Internet

T-Mobile first began talking about the possibility of using Sprint spectrum to bring broadband to rural areas last June, when the plans came to light in a filing the company made with the FCC. Several months later, T-Mobile increased the number of homes it said it could reach with fixed wireless, and earlier this month the company previewed today’s news when it said it would be announcing something soon about fixed wireless. At that time, the company said it expected to use a mixture of 4G and 5G technology to support fixed wireless service.

The T-Mobile Home Internet news comes at a time when interest in fixed wireless is booming, although just how broadly it will be deployed remains unclear. A large percentage of the rural broadband funding recently awarded through the Connect America Fund auction will go toward fixed wireless projects. And major carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, have been deploying the technology.

Continue reading HERE. [Emphasis added]

 

New T-Mobile: Creating Robust Competition in the 5G Era

There is a technology revolution on the horizon, and it’s called 5G. The race to lead the 5G economy requires a new type of company to drive competition, disrupt the status quo and help ensure America leads the way in this rapidly changing digital era.

The New T-Mobile

The 5G revolution is on the horizon and global tech leadership is at stake. A new kind of company is required to ensure American leadership in 5G and drive competition in this rapidly changing digital era.

[. . .]

Only the New T-Mobile can quickly deliver nationwide 5G to disrupt the status quo, truly accelerate innovation and increase competition in a converging world. As a larger, stronger, better-scaled competitor, the New T-Mobile will deliver lower prices, better service and new disruptive offerings to more consumers across the U.S., while creating thousands of jobs and bringing real wireless choices and mobile broadband competition to rural Americans for the first time.

Emphasis Added. T-Mobile’s 600 MHz 5G is better suited to rural applications than the mmWave choices of AT&T an Verizon.  However, the LEO satellites will also bring some stiff competition for rural broadband customers.  Customers will have a choice slower 5G at 600 Mhz or super fast LEO satellite services.  Price may be the determining factor. 

 

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. 

FCC Wins Battle In Small Cell Litigation?

— The FCC notched a victory Thursday in the court fight over its order pre-empting city and state laws on fees and timelines for 5G equipment installation. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request from several cities, including Seattle and California’s San Jose and Huntington Beach, to halt implementation of the order while the litigation is pending. The court sided with the FCC, which opposed the request, finding that the cities failed to show that there would be “irreparable harm” if the order takes effect in part as planned Jan. 14. Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr, who spearheaded the order, cheered the ruling as “more good news for U.S. leadership on 5G.”

— Win some, lose some: The 10th Circuit, based in Denver, also on Thursday granted a request from the cities to transfer the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California. The FCC, Verizon, Sprint and industry trade groups had opposed the transfer.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

Well, with the transfer to the 9th Circus it will not be long before we are reading about a reversal of this decision. The 9th Circus is the most liberal anti-capitalism court in the Nation. I would give the Cities a win and the 5G Providers a loss. This issue will most likely end up at the Supreme Court.

Will This Technology Save Rural 5G?

T-Mobile, Ericsson and Intel claim to have completed the first 5G data call and video call on 600 MHz spectrum. The calls, which included uplink and downlink communications, were done on a live commercial network and provided a 5G coverage area of more than 1,000 square miles from a single tower. The companies did not say what bandwidth the data call supported.

“5G will power vibrant new use cases that span across network, client and cloud—spurring the convergence of computing and communications that will enable exciting use cases ranging from virtual and augmented reality and gaming, to smart cities, connected cars and intelligent data analytics,” Sandra Rivera, the senior vice president of Intel’s Network Platform Group, said in a press release. “This collaboration with Ericsson and T-Mobile conducted over low-band spectrum and using the Intel® 5G Mobile Trial Platform is a major milestone on the path to enabling the first wave of these types of 5G experiences.”

5G Coverage Area
According to a press release, the goal of the “new” T-Mobile – a company that includes Sprint — is to use the 600 MHz band to deliver “a broad layer of 5G” that will “balance” millimeter wave (mmWave) approaches that have trouble passing through objects and has limited range of less than a square mile. However, the companies also did a three-user triband call over 600 MHz, 28 GHz and 39 GHz band spectrum.

5G is a huge transition for the broadband industry and therefore has ignited significant marketing and technology claims and counter-claims. AT&T and Verizon initially are focusing on mmWave approaches and claim that though it will take longer to deploy, the approach supports higher bandwidth and provides the truer vision of 5G. T-Mobile – which has never said it won’t use mmWave – has placed its bet, initially at least, on the 600 MHz band, which the company notes is ready now and supports a much larger 5G coverage area in comparison with mmWave.

Full Article at Telecompetitor HERE.

 

NYT: 5G Is Coming This Year. Here’s What You Need to Know.

The transition to new fifth-generation cellular networks, known as 5G, will affect how you use smartphones and many other devices. Let’s talk about the essentials.

By Don Clark Dec. 31, 2018

In 2019, a big technology shift will finally begin. It’s a once-in-a-decade upgrade to our wireless systems that will start reaching mobile phone users in a matter of months.

But this is not just about faster smartphones. The transition to new fifth-generation cellular networks — known as 5G for short — will also affect many other kinds of devices, including industrial robots, security cameras, drones and cars that send traffic data to one another. This new era will leap ahead of current wireless technology, known as 4G, by offering mobile internet speeds that will let people download entire movies within seconds and most likely bring big changes to video games, sports and shopping.

Officials in the United States and China see 5G networks as a competitive edge. The faster networks could help spread the use of artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies.

The crucial questions are how consumers will benefit from 5G?  Initially, only users living in densely populated areas will have 5G access via short-range mmWave devices. AT&T and Verizon are focusing on parts and pockets of cities with a point to point services, not mobile cell phone service. They plan to use lower frequencies later that go much farther than the mmWave currently in use, but that will be 2020 or beyond. According to the NYT article, this will be mobile service. In the meantime, T-Mobile and Sprint will be offering lower frequency devices for cellular service, not point to point.

As you read the article, it does not appear that rural users will be getting a 5G services soon. At least not until the lower frequency 5G is available, but only mobile services, no point to point service.

“I wouldn’t buy a 5G phone until it supports 5G in one of the lower-frequency bands,” Mr. Thelander said. “For all operators but Sprint, this means at least late 2019, and more likely 2020.”

It looks like the first rural user investment will have to be a 5G to a WiFi hotspot.

With the line of sight requirements and short-range limitations. 5G is not a rural friendly technology.