By Jof Enriquez,
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq
U.S. Cellular knows it does not have to go toe-to-toe with the top carriers in 5G deployment. Instead, it has its sights focused on using low-frequency radio spectra to launch 5G services in rural markets and select cities later this year.
Unlike Verizon and AT&T -- which are using millimeter wave technology to deliver 5G in large cities -- U.S. Cellular intends to utilize relatively lower-band 600MHz, 800MHz, AWS (1700/2100MHz), and PCS (1900MHz) bands to provide 5G service, instead, reported Venture Beat. The wireless carrier, currently the fifth-largest in the United States behind Sprint, plans to acquire 24GHz millimeter wave spectrum, as well, to tap into their rural customer base across 23 states. It's the same approach by Sprint and T-Mobile, which have touted that their proposed merger and combined 5G deployment will boost internet coverage in rural and underserved communities across America.
Meanwhile, their bigger rivals AT&T and Verizon have run into snafus with their much-hyped 5G launches in big cities.
Citing a recent study by OpenSignal and first published by Ars Technica, The Verge reported that AT&T's 5G E (Evolution) Network is no faster than the 4G networks currently run by Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint. AT&T responded to the article by saying that OpenSignal's test of their 5G E Network was "flawed" and "does not accurately represent the 5G Evolution user experience."
Verizon, on the other hand, is apparently reaching fewer customers than expected in its Sacramento 5G launch base due to limited range by its small cells. According to Extreme Tech, Verizon reportedly claims that it can reach homes 1,000 feet away from its small cells, but EJL Wireless Research reported an effective range of only 500 feet. In addition, the same report said that MoffettNathanson claims each Verizon small cell can only reach 25 local addresses, and that only six percent of homes in Sacramento had access to Verizon 5G, with fewer than three percent actually subscribed. This implies that Verizon may need to install more small cells to increase coverage, which could negate the purported cost-advantage of small cells over expensive fiber-to-the-home infrastructure.
This buildout may take years for Verizon to turn 5G into revenue, but a new deal with the National Football League (NFL) could make the payoff come sooner. Verizon just inked a two-year exclusive deal with the NFL to be the league's "official 5G innovation partner" by engaging football fans through 5G-enhanced, live-streamed NFL games, in-stadium video feeds, multi-angle camera positions, and augmented-reality features, according to the agreement. Verizon will also explore the use of 5G to stream ‘volumetric video’, an emerging media format, for the development of new fan experiences and applications, according to Sports Pro.
“If you deliver the right experience for our fans, the revenue will follow,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in an interview with Bloomberg. “To us, it’s more important to create those experiences, use the technology, use the innovation, create those opportunities for fans to engage with our game in different ways.”
In other news, the U.S. International Trade Commission this week is set to make an important decision on a protracted legal battle between Apple and Qualcomm over radio chip patents used in fifth-generation wireless technology. Apple contends that 5G essentially is a race between its current supplier, Intel, and its former supplier, Qualcomm, and awarding patents to Qualcomm will create a monopoly which will make it difficult for Intel to compete against.
“Without current 4G sales to Apple, Intel lacks a viable path forward to compete for coming 5G baseband chipset sales,” Apple told the agency, reported Bloomberg. “Intel is now the only U.S. baseband chipset manufacturer still standing in the face of Qualcomm’s anticompetitive practices.”
On the contrary, Qualcomm says it is facing a lot of competition from Huawei and many foreign competitors in the 5G market.
“Qualcomm is the global leader in 5G development and standard-setting, with Huawei being a close second,” Qualcomm said, according to Bloomberg. “Although Apple purports to urge the Commission to keep a second runner in a two-man race, Apple is really urging the Commission to hobble the American leader in a field crowded with foreign entrants.”
Apple and Qualcomm have each argued before the ITC that ruling one over the other paves the way for China's Huawei to gain an edge in 5G over the U.S.
Despite pressure from the U.S. to ban Huawei, the European Union said this week that it will allow mobile operators in EU member states to decide for themselves on whether or not to use Huawei equipment. Instead of an outright ban, the EU enjoins member states to share findings on 5G cybersecurity risks, according to Tech Radar.
At least one EU state is steering clear of the political fray. Austria's flagship telecoms group A1 just picked long-standing partner Nokia to supply it with 5G equipment, reported KFGO. Earlier this month, A1 spent 64.3 million euros ($72.8 million) for spectrum in the 3.5 Ghz band in Austria's first 5G auction.
Meanwhile, Germany has earlier decided not to block Huawei and the United Kingdom will announced their move next month.
Related, the UK's next auction of 5G licenses covering the 700MHz and 3.6GHz spectrum could be challenged in court by Vodafone UK, which will derail Britain's 5G plans.
"The 700MHz is low-band spectrum and very good for coverage, while 3.6GHz is mid-band and very good for capacity. It is unusual to put those together because they achieve different things," said Scott Petty, Vodafone UK's chief technology officer, according to Light Reading.
Petty reportedly added that Ofcom's auction rules could result in a "very fragmented spectrum situation" and a "two-tier" market where a few operators corner the most important bands.
Mobile networks are paying far more for 5G spectrum at auctions than was predicted, like the one in Italy in 2018 which cost €6.55 billion, and British telcos could spend more than they would have liked in the upcoming spectrum auctions later this year, according to 5G.co.uk. In order to mitigate costs, Vodafone and O2 already agreed to share 5G infrastructure. According to Greensill, as much as $1 trillion will be spent on direct 5G infrastructure globally by 2020, and total deployment cost will exceed $2.7 trillion.
Spending will accelerate when 5G networks are ready and IoT and 5G devices begin to flood the market starting around 2020. This early, though, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) is already tracking 5G devices ranging from the prototype phase to full commercial use. The GSA Analyser for Mobile Broadband Devices (GAMBoD) database records that, as of mid-March 2019, 23 vendors have confirmed 33 different devices. There are seven announced 5G device form factors: (phones, hotspots, indoor CPE, outdoor CPE, modules, Snap-On dongles, adapters and USB terminals), and 5G chipsets from five vendors (Huawei, Intel, Mediatek, Qualcomm and Samsung), reported Virtual Strategy.
In other news, Ericsson and SK Telecom announced that they will collaborate on cloud native 5G core to better manage automation and simplified operations.
“After the successful launch of 5G NSA network, SK Telecom is preparing to migrate towards 5G SA networks to provide the latest and greatest technology and services to its customers,”said Jong-kwan Park, SVP, head of 5GX Labs for SK Telecom, reported RCR Wireless. “This joint collaboration with Ericsson on the next generation 5G SA core and cloud native principles will not only enable us to introduce new services faster while at the same time improve our operational efficiency but also support higher availability through simplified operation.”