America enters 5G race

06 May 2019 | Natalie Bannerman

Cover

“By the end of 2019, the United States will have 92 5G deployments in markets nationwide.” These are the bold claims made by President Donald Trump at a White House event on 5G deployment in April 2019.

It appears as though the US is readying to throw its hat into the 5G ring, where it aims to become the global leader in the mobile technology. According to Trump, secure 5G networks will be key to America’s prosperity and national security.

Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who was also in attendance at the 5G deployment event, echoed Trump’s sentiments – saying that 5G will improve national competitiveness and improve the lives of US citizens.

“The first is national competitiveness. We want the good-paying jobs that develop and deploy 5G technologies — jobs that support some of the folks in this room — to be created here, in America. We want these technologies to give our economy a leg up as we compete against the rest of the world,” he said.

To achieve this rather ambitious goal, the two are incentivising 5G initiatives by freeing up spectrum and through the FCC, introducing a number of new and updated legislation. There are three key components to the Pai’s strategy, known as the 5G FAST Plan: opening up more spectrum to the marketplace, updating infrastructure policy and modernising old infrastructure.

But Jeff Slapp, vice president of cloud and managed services at 365 Data Centers, said that dropping in 5G is not enough. The backhaul also needs investment.

“The backhaul networks also need to be addressed to support the massive amount of data which can be moved via 5G. This means edge data centre providers need to improve their networks in the short term since it will likely involve traversing those networks to reach the final destination,” he said.

In the spectrum space, and off the back of its auction that took place earlier this year, the FCC will auction additional spectrum in the high-band (37GHz, 39GHz, and 47GHz), as well as the mid-band (2.5GHz, 3.5GHz and 3.7-4.2GHz). The FCC will make changes to the low-band (600MHz, 800MHz, and 900MHz) as well as to the unlicenced 6GHz band and above the 95GHz band.

In terms of infrastructure policy, the regulator will accelerate the review process for deployment of small cells, reducing federal regulatory impediments. Additionally, the FCC has also reformed decades-old rules around small cells. The reforms “bans short-sighted municipal roadblocks that have the effect of prohibiting deployment of 5G”.

Speaking to Capacity, Gil Santaliz, CEO of NJFX, has a different view. “Currently, US infrastructure is not ready for 5G since the use of long-haul routes will be a temptation for carriers to use as a low-cost method of getting cheaper fibre to the tower. This will be an issue specifically in non-NFL cities along major roadways,” he said.

“For example, the I-95 corridor already has quality issues because it’s the main corridor to where the hyperscale cloud and private cloud infrastructure exist in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. One option, though, is to look at deploying new cable off the east coast to replace these traditional long-haul north-south routes.”

Other regulations to be modernised under the plans include the Restoring Internet Freedom bill, also known as the net neutrality bill, which seeks to encourage investment and innovation by making the internet open. When the decision was made back in December 2017 to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules by a 3-2 vote across party lines, Netflix, Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, Reddit, the Internet Association and a number of political opponents all took to social media to express their outrage.  

Raul Martynek, CEO of DataBank, said: “The Restoring Internet Freedom order is the cowardly attempt of the current cable and telco-dominated FCC to eliminate the fundamental foundation of the internet enshrined in net neutrality. There is no restoration of freedom. In fact, it’s the exact opposite since under the Restoring Internet Freedom order, ISPs would be able to block, discriminate, manipulate and throttle internet traffic. They would only be required to ‘report’ what they are doing.”

He added: “Make no mistake, the end of net neutrality is the greatest risk to the continued development of the internet as it would place the decision on what users can see and use on the internet to a handful of very powerful companies such as ATT, Verizon, Comcast, Spectrum and T-Mobile.”

There is also the One-Touch Make-Ready legislation, which has been updated in relation to its rules about attaching new network equipment to utility poles in order to reduce cost of 5G backhaul deployment and speed it up. Small cells are a key technologies that often need to be placed on existing infrastructure like utility poles and is imperative to 5G connectivity in increasingly dense urban metro areas.

“Small cells are seen as a valued partner to 5G and will play a critical role in the widespread rollout as they are able to reuse the same frequencies over and over again within the same geographical area while optimising the available spectrum,” said Robert Bianco, vice president of business development at Hylan. “As more telecom companies focus on keeping up with IoT and low-latency demand to accommodate 5G, it’s imperative to recognise the impact the accelerating growth of small cell deployment will have in the 5G network.”

Other changes to legislation include the Speeding the IP Transition order has been revised to make it easier for companies to invest in next-gen networks. The FCC has also updated the Business Data Services order by lifting rate regulation where appropriate and the Supply Chain Integrity bill that prevents public funds from being spent on equipment or services from foreign companies that are judged to be a threat to national security.

But how behind is the US compared with South Korea, which seems to be leading the charge on 5G globally? In December, Korea became the first country to offer more than one commercial 5G network. SKT, LG Uplus and KT all turned on fixed wireless access (FWA) networks based on 3GPP 5G standards at midnight on 1 December 2018, offering the service to business users.

“To be clear, 5G in Korea will be widely deployed by the end of 2020,” commented Martynek. “I would expect the US to be one or two years behind in terms of population coverage – but the US is a much larger and has a less dense geography so that is no surprise or anything to be concerned about.”

At the start of April, South Korea seemed on track to become the first country to offer commercial mobile 5G services when its three operators launched their services. Additionally, SK Telecom confirmed that it has built 34,000 5G base stations in preparation of the mobile technology.

“Your White House has advanced your vision in many ways, from international treaty negotiations to much-needed regulatory reforms. I appreciate all these efforts, and in the same spirit, this FCC will help build a great and lasting legacy of American success on 5G,” said Pai, thanking Trump.

Though the news of the government has been met with mixed responses, it certainly isn’t the first time 5G in the US telco space. At the start of the year, AT&T claimed to have been first in the country with a live 5G network. At the time, the announcement was met with criticism from Verizon and T-Mobile US, both of which accused AT&T of running LTE Advanced, a 4G upgrade, which was being advertised as 5G E.

Despite Pai’s optimism, the consensus from the industry is that Trump’s plans are a little too optimistic and will take a few years before its widely available in the way we anticipate. 

“A lot of what is being called 5G is fixed 5G, which is not a true mobile technology, said Martynek. “5G will start in 2019, accelerate in 2020 and be widely deployed by 2021.”

Slapp echoes this, linking the rate of deployment and adoption of 5G to emerging use cases.

“It is not 5G in and of itself that is interesting, it is the applications at the ‘the edge’ or today’s on-premises, which make the use of 5G interesting. As these new use cases emerge, the demand and therefore the deployments will be accelerated,” he said.

As for Bianco, these proposed plans won’t slow the already large scale investment taking place across the country.

“There is already significant investment in 5G infrastructure and it’s not slowing down,” he explained. “It’s going to be crucial to find ways to build upon and upgrade the 4G infrastructure that is already in place to be ready for the 5G demand. The explosive growth of low-powered radio access points will be pivotal in delivering 5G to pockets of population in remote rural areas.”