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. 

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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.

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.

RCRC: Rural Broadband Update – No 5G Acceleration

In Verizon’s quarterly earnings call with media and shareholders, the nationwide carrier revealed it does not intend to accelerate the buildout of its 5G network. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently finalized a rule and order that will preempt local government oversight of broadband deployment to promote 5G buildouts but the latest news from Verizon suggests the rule has minimal impact on carriers’ 5G plans. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also claimed the rule would facilitate 5G deployment in rural areas, but the FCC’s lone Democrat, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, said the new rule will do nothing to change “the hard economics of rural deployment.”

The FCC pointed to complaints from Verizon as justification for their controversial rule that preempts local fees and regulations of broadband deployment. The FCC passed the rule over the fierce objection of RCRC and other state and local government groups. The rule is estimated to save nationwide carriers over $2 billion in regulatory fees but it appears these savings will not lead to more broadband deployment.

Source: RCRC The Barbed Wire [Highlight Added]

This is why rural America is not going to see 5G anytime in the near future, the cost is too great for the population density.  If you do not have 4G now, you are not going to see 5G for a long long time, if ever. Rural America needs to join the Community Network movement and take control of their own destiny and not rely on big telco to bring them high-speed internet.

C|NET: In Farm Country, Forget Broadband. You Might Not Have Internet At All

5G is around the corner, yet pockets of America still can’t get basic internet access

C|NET BB

 

 

This is part of CNET’s “Crossing the Broadband Divide” series exploring the challenges of getting internet access to everyone.

[…]

This corner of Iowa, where I grew up, isn’t alone. While US carriers are busy promising super-speedy 5G wireless service, pockets of the country still have slow or even no internet. In many rural areas, there are only one or two providers, and the service available is pricey and spotty. Hospitals, schools and other critical groups don’t have fast-enough internet to function. Federal and state governments have provided billions of dollars to companies to build out speedy fiber networks, but outdated and undetailed maps make it tough to identify areas in need.

[…]

Continue reading HERE.

Many of the problems in this article can be applied to rural California Counties.  It is an ROI issue, which is driven by population density.  You can look at the US Census maps and figure out the probability of getting broadband access. The problem is acerbated when considering 5G service as the cell tower coverage is measured in square yards, rather than square miles.  If you do not have broadband now, the probability of getting 5G anytime soon is very low, if not zero.

Forbes: Five Ways 5G Will Rock Our World

Forbes interviewed a number of 5G experts and technologists to get their insights. Here are five areas where they see 5G making its mark.

1. Cord-Cutting En Masse

2. Distributed AI

3. High-Speed Data Backbone for Autonomous Tech

4. The Doctor Is In—24/7

5. Every Experience Will Be Augmented

Read the details HERE.

If you live in a rural neighbor do not get too excited, as you are last on the list to get 5G.

Analysis: What the Millimeter Wave Auction Bidders List Reveals About Carriers’ Plans for 5G

Three of the nation’s four largest wireless carriers are poised to bid in the upcoming FCC auctions of millimeter wave spectrum, according to a new FCC public notice. Millimeter wave spectrum is expected to support 5G wireless services offering speeds as high as a gigabit per second or more. And although some people have argued that millimeter wave 5G is unlikely to be deployed in rural areas, several small rural carriers also are on the list of potential millimeter wave auction bidders released by the commission.

[. . .]

Rural Carriers

Some people have argued that the short range that millimeter wave spectrum can support makes it unsuitable for deployment in sparsely populated rural areas. Nevertheless, some rural carriers appear on the lists of potential millimeter wave auction bidders.

Several of these are Verizon LTE in Rural America (LRA) partners, suggesting either that those companies may be hoping Verizon will share its 5G technology with them as it has done in the past or simply illustrating that Verizon LRA partners are some of the most successful rural wireless carriers.

It’s also possible that rural carriers are interested in millimeter wave spectrum as a means of extending fixed high-speed broadband wireless into outlying suburban areas of metro markets, in competition with cable and telco landline broadband providers – a strategy that some rural-focused wireless internet service providers including Rise Broadband already have used.

Read the full article HERE.