In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile, Spectrum

There seems to be growing confusion about “5G” and other next-generation networks. I’ve heard commentary at recent conferences about how this or that platform is relevant for, or part of, 5G. It has seemed forced.

There was “confusion” or “disagreement” about 5G at the recent PTC18 conference as well. There were several now-familiar lines of argument:

  • 5G is hype; there is no business case
  • 5G is about lots of different platforms, not just mobile
  • 5G mostly is about backhaul
  • 5G is part of a larger change in core networking
  • 5G is about internet of things, but most IoT will be fixed
  • 5G is about licensed and unlicensed spectrum

Some of the assertions seem to be reflexive. No existing platform or industry segment wants to be seen as “left out” in the “5G” ecosystem (no matter how one defines the “5G” market).

So one hears a growing amount of criticism of 5G in general (we do not need it; there is no business case) as well as “we also are part of 5G” statements.

It likely does not help that different early movers are talking about different lead use cases, each reflecting firm assets and perceived opportunities. In South Korea, Japan and China, there is more of a focus on ubiquitous mobile 5G.

T-Mobile US also seems to be taking that approach, though also focusing on narrowband use cases for internet of things. AT&T might be leaning more towards automotive apps requiring more bandwidth and active edge communications.

Verizon, with a limited fixed network footprint, is emphasizing fixed 5G applications, since it sees the key upside as the ability to compete with other fixed network service providers out of region.

Charter Communications, like other fixed network service providers, now see advantages, in some use cases, for fixed wireless, even if the traditional platforms have been based on use of cabled access.

“Charter believes fixed wireless access technologies at lower frequencies could be suitable for rural broadband, providing wireline-like broadband connectivity and speeds, and is conducting trials in the 3.5 GHz band,” the company says. “To deliver ubiquitous connectivity to our customers, we will rely increasingly on next generation wireless technologies like 5G,” says Charter.

In other parts of the ecosystem, many now emphasize in-building communications, private mobile networks and enterprise networking applications. In the U.S. market, there is lots of perceived opportunity in the 3.5-GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service, which might allow use of unlicensed or licensed approaches to use of the bandwidth, especially to support in-building mobile access.

Others are focusing on the use of 5-GHz spectrum to run 4G Long Term Evolution apps, or aggregation of 4G and unlicensed 5-GHz spectrum.

One way to look at matters is that the multiple developments–sometimes collectively referred to as “5G,” actually reflect a number of next-generation network deployments that are heterogeneous: there will be many platforms and protocols, including but not limited to 5G.

In that sense, 5G, properly understood, is a “mobile next generation network.” But that is nested within a broader universe of next-generation network use cases–some wide area; some local; soem licensed; some unlicensed; some using both–that use diverse platforms and spectrum.


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