Why Flawed Broadband Speed Tests Have Devastating Consequences

If government policy is based on faulty data, everyone loses.

C/Net has the details:

The stakes are high. The FCC uses data it collects to produce reports, such as the Measuring Broadband America and the Broadband Deployment reports, to set policy and determine where to deploy resources to promote broadband adoption. Much of the data the FCC gets to populate these reports is supplied by the broadband and wireless companies themselves, or in the case of the speed test, a third party that also contracts with these companies. The result is information that often paints a rosy picture of wireless and broadband in the US.

Though The Wall Street Journal article singled out the broadband speed test, there have long been complaints that the information collected to show where fixed and mobile broadband service is located is flawed. The issue around flawed mapping data has come to a head in the last several months in Congress, where Republicans and Democrats alike from rural regions of the US have lashed out at the FCC, demanding the issue be fixed.

Some of the problems can be attributed to the methodologies used to collect the data. For instance, in mapping fixed broadband the FCC has been criticized for asking carriers to provide more granular data. But critics also charge that relying on carriers to self-report information can lead to problems. Earlier this month, the FCC found that three major US wireless carriers, Verizon, T-Mobile and US Cellular, had misstated their wireless coverage in several rural areas.

“So we’ve got carriers exaggerating coverage for mobile broadband, flawed methodology producing bad maps for fixed broadband, and unreliable numbers on the speed of broadband. What’s left?” said Gigi Sohn, an advisor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and a distinguished fellow at Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy. “If there is no cop on the beat, the carriers will just make it like they’re doing awesome and no need for any regulation or oversight.”

Continue reading HERE

Money Quote: The FCC is still working on getting a clearer picture of where broadband and wireless service exists today and where it doesn’t.

A speed test has no value if you do not have a broadband connection to test. The FCC can not test broadband if it does not know where it is! The real issue with the FCC map is not just speed it is accuracy.

T-Mobile Rolls Out ‘Foundational Layer’ of 5G Wireless, Launches Two Compatible Devices

 

Details on GeekWire.com

The money quote for rural users:

Critics claim that the marketplace will become less competitive if T-Mobile’s mega-merger with Sprint is allowed to go through. But the companies say that the deal will help them improve wireless service, particularly to rural and underserved communities.

The money quotes for the mmWave technophobes is this is a low-band roll out, with mid-band next. These are are all frequencies currently in use, mmWave does not have much application in rural communities.

FCC Finally Discovers Coverage Maps are Broken

The FCC discovered they can not fix something if they do not know where it is broken. The nation’s broadband maps are truly broken, as any rural cell phone user can attest.

Through the investigation, staff discovered that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile likely overstated each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground performance in many instances. Only 62.3% of staff drive tests achieved at least the minimum download speed predicted by the coverage maps—with U.S. Cellular achieving that speed in only 45.0% of such tests, T-Mobile in 63.2% of tests, and Verizon in 64.3% of tests. Similarly, staff stationary tests showed that each provider achieved sufficient download speeds meeting the minimum cell edge probability in fewer than half of all test locations (20 of 42 locations). In addition, staff was unable to obtain any 4G LTE signal for 38% of drive tests on U.S. Cellular’s network, 21.3% of drive tests on T-Mobile’s network, and 16.2% of drive tests on Verizon’s network, despite each provider reporting coverage in the relevant area.

The Full FCC Staff report is HERE.

 

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.

 

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.