News Feature | August 13, 2019

The Week in 5G: 8/13/2019 — Court Blocks Part of FCC Regulation Cuts, Network Slicing Pits Telcos vs. Cloud Service Providers

By Ed Biller


Except for networks in dense urban areas with developed infrastructure, 5G on lower-spectrum bands will be like "good 4G," Verizon Consumer Group CEO Ronan Dunne told Oppenheimer's annual Technology, Internet & Communications Conference last week. Verizon has built its 5G future primarily on mmWave technologies, which are capable of blazing-fast data speeds at a tradeoff of short range.

"While we can deploy and we will deploy a 5G nationwide (in the United States) offering, the lower down the spectrum tiers you go, the more that will approximate to a good 4G service," Dunne said, according to an ArsTechnica report.

Meanwhile, Sprint and T-Mobile – fresh off regulatory approval of their merger – are touting their dual connectivity rollouts. “Sprint is using what’s called E-UTRAN New Radio–Dual Connectivity, which allows the UE to connect to an LTE base station that acts as a master node and a 5G base station that acts as a secondary node,” states a report by RCR Wireless.

“We are the only ones who in the world at initial launch that are going to launch LTE and 5G simultaneously on the same band and have the dual connectivity path,” said Sprint VP of Product Engineering and Development Ryan Sullivan. “There is less ping-ponging for the device…the handovers are much smoother. You’re able to hold a connection much more elegantly.”

Sprint is using dual connectivity in the 2.5 GHz band, while T-Mobile US’ 5G connects in LTE and mmWave 5G bands.

Still not operating in the U.S.: Huawei. The company is trying to “eliminate reliance on U.S. technologies and partners by adopting local and/or self-made alternatives,” states a VentureBeat report.  To that end, last week, Huawei unveiled HarmonyOS, an operating system intended to power smart, non-phone devices “while the company builds the software and developer infrastructure to use it in phones — if that becomes necessary.”

The effort is part of Huawei’s strategy, detailed by CEO Ren Zhengfei, to reorganize the company in the next three to five years, minimalizing or eliminating its dependence on the U.S. for various aspects of its business.

Speaking of the U.S. and Huawei, a perceived security threat from the Chinese telecom is one of the reasons the U.S. Department of Defense has provided for requesting more money toward 5G research and engineering in 2020 and subsequent years, reports C4ISRNET.

“We’re looking at 5G, which is a Department of Defense initiative that was given to R&E to supervise. We’re ever more convinced, given especially all the news centering around Huawei — who will and won’t buy their hardware, whether we will or won’t — [that] microelectronics [and] assured microelectronics is a key priority,” said Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. “What we’re trying to do in the department with 5G is to make available our, broadly speaking, requirement set, whether it be depots or ports or airfields or autonomous vehicles or so on."

Globally, telcos and cloud service providers are at odds over network slicing, reports ZDNet in an article looking at two principal concerns: “First, how will telecommunications service providers adopting 5G Wireless choose to compete against cloud service providers for applications and data? Second, how will they re-architect their networks to give enterprise customers control over their assets, while at the same time maintaining the security and integrity of their infrastructure?”

"For me, network slicing is a way to enable multi-service support, to extend the number of use cases," said Dr. Simone Redana, head of network and architecture at Nokia Bell Labs, during a panel at the 2019 Brooklyn 5G Summit. "As with every technology, the next step is to understand, what is the business model for that?"

As U.S. giants AT&T, Verizon, and the merged T-Mobile and Sprint entity become able to offer cloud-like services, they will enter into direct competition against tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

Across the pond this week, Ericsson and Vodafone Ireland launched what they claim is the first commercial 5G network in Ireland, covering locations in Cork, Limerick, Dublin, Galway and Waterford.

In regulatory news, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled against part of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s attempts to cut red tape involved with 5G deployment.  The ruling found the regulators erred in trying to exempt 5G cell sites from environmental impact and historic preservation reviews, with the FCC arguing that “5G is so important, cell sites using the technology can bypass environmental and historical preservation reviews,” reports CNN.

Such reviews are meant to "assess the effects of new construction on, among other things, sites of religious and cultural importance to federally recognized Indian Tribes,” and the FCC's order "effectively reduced" those tribes’ role in the decision-making process for new 5G cell sites, CNN reports

The FCC still has regulations forcing cities to approve cell sites on expedited time frames, and aimed at reducing permitting costs, pending before the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The FCC also made headlines in the past week by declaring that cell phones – from your old fliphone to the newest 5G-capable models -- are safe. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has circulated a proposal that “would keep the agency's current safety limits for radio frequency exposure the same as they've been for 23 years,” reports CNET.   

The proposal comes on the heels of more than six years of public input and review and is supported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"The available scientific evidence to date does not support adverse health effects in humans due to exposures at or under the current limits," Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, wrote to the FCC. "No changes to the current standards are warranted at this time."

Meanwhile, in India, 5G won’t become reality for at least another year – possibly two years – according to Akhil Gupta, vice chairman of Bharti Enterprises. Gupta told CNBC that India “is expected to hold trials for installing a next-generation cellular network in the coming months.”

Another factor inhibiting the nation’s 5G rollout is the Indian government’s proposed base price of 4.92 billion rupees ($71 million) per slice of 5G spectrum, up for auction later this year.  As we reported last week, that price is expected to box out smaller telcos and, for companies able to afford a seat at the table, cripple their ability to fund 5G infrastructure.