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5G Fixed Wireless: Many roads….the same destination

08.05.2019 - Els Baert

5G Fixed Wireless: Many roads….the same destination

5G is finally here and dozens of news stories are being published globally every day about the opportunities, possibilities and challenges this new technology brings - rarely has a technology generated as much interest.

Whilst it is great to see so much excitement surrounding 5G – and there is a lot to be excited about – this level of media coverage can also create problems for the industry, especially when 5G is such an incredibly complicated topic.

One of the biggest issues we face in this regard is the media generated belief that 5G is positioned to deliver mind-blowing speeds by using the large bands of spectrum available in the millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum band.

The truth – as we all know – is somewhat different.

Recently a lot has been written about the performance of mmWave, with one high-profile operator comparing its performance very unfavourably to the performance of 600MHz spectrum in a public demonstration of the technology.

We all knew that mmWave would have its challenges and there were no guarantees on the performance of the technology.

With these latest trials, it’s becoming more and more clear for the industry that considering 5G in mmWave alone, won’t be enough to be successful. 5G is much more than that. mmWave is certainly part of the 5G landscape but it is only one part of a much broader suit of spectrum assets that will be used.

The reality of 5G – especially when we are talking about 5G Fixed Wireless deployment – is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are going to be several different deployment mechanisms for operators in the field.

If we look at the much-vaunted but recently much maligned millimetre wave spectrum we can see that there are already operators out there delivering 5G Fixed Wireless with this spectrum – but they are doing it using external antenna and in a topography that suits its usage.

There will doubtless be improvements in millimetre wave usage as we move forward but you can’t change the laws of physics and it will always have its limitations in terms of performance compared to low-range and mid-range spectrum.

That’s why we will see operators operating 5G Fixed Wireless services over a combination of spectrum bands using both the mid-band and mmWave.

The mid-band frequencies have shown that reliable high-speed services can be delivered as they are being deployed in rural areas to connect the even most remote locations. By using this spectrum as a base, operators can guarantee a consistent performance from the technology.

However, these operators can still make very effective usage of mmWave spectrum in certain locations where it’s suitable, this is by no means a zero-sum game.

The mmWave spectrum can be used to top up the speeds offered over the mid-band to allow for peak speeds of the much sought-after gigabits per second.

From a launch perspective we need to see operators delivering reliable and stable 5G Fixed Wireless services into the marketplace in order to build customer confidence in the technology as early as possible.

The best way to ensure this will be to see operators focus their initial 5G Fixed Wireless launches in the mid-range bands.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out over the coming years but as those 5G media stories keep on piling up in your inbox it’s certainly worth remembering that there will be a multitude of ways for operators to get 5G Fixed Wireless off the ground – but the really important thing is the quality of the service, not how it is delivered.

author
Els Baert

Els Baert

Director of Technology Strategy at NetComm