We talk a lot about the 5G race with China, South Korea and Japan. But how are the U.S. carriers faring against each other? AT&T and Verizon threw down the gauntlet for next gen deployment right here in the United States during their third quarter earnings calls.
Verizon’s third quarter was highlighted by installations of its proprietary fixed 5G Home wireless service, and the continued enhancement of the fiber and small cells of its 4G LTE network. Verizon’s fixed wireless service successfully trods upon the turf of cablecos using millimeter wave spectrum to provide in-home Internet at wireline broadband speeds and capacity.
“The initial launch of 5G Home in four markets will lead to a larger rollout in 2019,” said Matthew Ellis, Verizon executive vice president and chief financial officer. “We are gaining valuable insights ahead of the industry that will drive refinements to the customer experience prior to the arrival of global standards-based equipment.”
While 5G is the buzz — the term was used 40 times according to the Seeking Alpha earnings call transcript while LTE was uttered twice — Verizon noted the importance of LTE to the near future. “Our 4G LTE network will continue to be a foundation of our services for many years to come,” Ellis said.
During the quarter, Verizon completed an end-to-end global standards compliant call with a smartphone test device using its network in Minneapolis. “We have said all along that we intend to be first not only in launching the world’s initial 5G commercial product but also the first to deliver true 5G mobility to consumers,” Ellis said.
Ellis said Verizon has been preparing its network for 5G through the deployment of fiber resources, small cells, spectrum and mobile edge computing capabilities. Year-to-date capital spending of $12.0 billion was up from $11.3 billion YTD last year. Capital expenditure for the full year is expected to be between $16.6 billion and $17.0 billion.
“As soon as devices and equipment are available the deployment of our 5G network on the global standard will begin for mobility and residential broadband in the new 5G ultra-wideband era,” Ellis said, “At Verizon, we believe that true 5G requires an ultra-wideband solution, utilizing millimeter wave spectrum to address the full array of use cases that 5G enables.”
In late October, Verizon committed $25 million to build a “technologically advanced wireless network” in the Florida Panhandle as it struggles to recover from Hurricane Michael. 5G technology will be a part of that infrastructure, and Panama City will become one of five announced Verizon 5G cities, joining Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis and Sacramento.
AT&T building on ‘our lead in 5G’
However, AT&T believes it has the lead in 5G, John M. Donovan, CEO AT&T Communications said during the carrier’s Q3 earnings call, and it will be introducing standards-based mobile 5G services in the next few weeks and in parts of a dozen cities by the end of the year. Additionally, the 5G mobile will be deployed in seven more cities in early 2019.
Donovan said the foundation has been put into place by 5G trials that were completed in several cities and the deployment of a fiber network, which will pass 14 million consumers and eight million businesses by mid-2019.
AT&T’s 5G Evolution will be in more than 400 markets by the end of the year with nationwide coverage by mid-2019 and theoretical peak speeds reaching 400 megabits per second. AT&T also plans to launch LTE Licensed Assisted Access in parts of 24 cities by the end of the year, which will be transitioned to 5G and can deliver faster speeds than LTE.
AT&T still plans to use a one-touch tower deployment solution, which combines FirstNet climbs to deploy Band 14 with other spectrum additions, 700 MHz, AWS-3, and WCS on radios that can be upgraded to 5G through a software change.
“We’re climbing towers and adding spectrum all at once. We’re also adding new radio capability, which will enable us to upgrade the tower to 5G, without another tower climb,” Donovan said. “Thanks in part to our FirstNet build, our fallow spectrum is being put into service at a rapid rate. We’re on track to increase the amount of spectrum deployed by nearly 50 percent. This is having a dramatic positive impact on our network.”
So who is leading the “race” to 5G? Joe Madden, Mobile Experts, said comparing AT&T and Verizon is a bit of an apples and oranges situation.
“Verizon is the first to deploy a high-capacity radio network, but the Verizon system does not use the 5G NR format. Instead, Verizon has chosen a proprietary format for fixed wireless access which is not compatible with 5G NR,” Madden said. “AT&T is deploying their first 5G commercial networks later than Verizon, but the AT&T network is compatible with 5G NR. “In my opinion, the AT&T approach is “ahead” of Verizon because they are in a better position to support mobile 5G with their network.
Last February, T-Mobile announced its plan to build out 5G in 30 cities nationwide using its 600 MHz and 28 GHz spectrum by the end of the year. The carrier followed with a multi-year, $3.5 billion contract with Nokia in July to deploy a nationwide network with end-to-end 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR) technology, software and services. In September, another contract was signed for 3GPP-compliant 5G NR equipment with Ericsson, also worth $3.5 billion.
“5G will be amazing, and we can’t even imagine all the cool stuff it will bring, just like with our earlier network innovations. That’s why truly mobile 5G has to be nationwide — period, the end,” said T-Mobile CEO John Legere.
T-Mobile expects to deploy 5G in its low-band 600 MHz spectrum across its existing nationwide macro network. “Nationwide Mobile 5G will require both high-band AND broad low-band coverage, and having unused nationwide 600 MHz spectrum means T-Mobile is in an ideal position to deliver,” T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said.
5G Dual-mode Radios for Sprint, Courtesy of Nokia
Sprint’s Massive MIMO technology is capable of delivering up to 10 times the capacity of current LTE systems and delivering a 5G solution when it deploys the technology next year. This year, Sprint began deploying its Massive MIMO technology in several cities, including Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York where the company plans to launch mobile 5G service starting in the first half of 2019.
Next year, dual-mode radios may usher in the era of 5G wireless communications for Sprint customers. At Mobile World Congress Americas, last Spring, Nokia and Sprint demonstrated a 5G NR connection that used a dual-mode-capable radio and a massive MIMO antenna. The antenna is designed to achieve as much as 3 Gbps peak downlink throughput for a single sector over 5G and LTE simultaneously using Sprint’s radio-frequency (RF) spectrum.
Sprint’s chief technology officer, John Saw, said the company has enough (RF) spectrum to operate LTE and 5G simultaneously on the same radios. Sprint’s extensive spectrum acquisitions at FCC auctions seem to be paying off.
With the help of Axon, a law enforcement technologies company, Verizon and AT&T are working to increase their connectivity solutions for public safety.
Axon integrates wireless technology into a range of products for law enforcement to capture and upload photo and video data into the digital evidence management solution, Evidence.com. Wireless product offerings include body-worn cameras, in-car camera systems and Signal technology that reports events such as a patrol vehicle door opening and light bar activation. Dependable wireless connectivity is crucial for law enforcement to be able to capture and upload evidence.
Verizon today announced that it has plans to launch 5G technology in Houston as part of its four market 5G plan in the second half of 2018. Verizon previously announced Sacramento and Los Angeles.
AT&T announced last week that it is adding Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina; and Oklahoma City to its list of cities where it is building out 5G. These cities will join its previously announced cities of Dallas, Atlanta and Waco, Texas. Before the end of the year six more cities will join the list. But it will not have the features that the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), originally intended for the 5thgeneration of wireless.
The 3GPP, which comprises seven telecom standard groups, uses a calendar-based plan for successive releases designed to provide developers with a stable platform for the implementation of additional features. Originally, the features that comprise the 5G standard were due out at in October 2020 with Release 16. Then the “race to 5G” began on a number of different levels, from government spectrum allocation to carrier marketers.
According to sources, pressure the marketing departments pushed 3GPP to move its deadline for Release 16 back to the end of 2019; and Release 15, which gave us the non-standalone “New Radio” was renamed 5G Phase 1 and Release 16 became 5G Phase 2.
Release 16 will have more features than Release 15, more capacity, a platform for IoT and additional spectrum bands.
All headlines aside, even when Release 16 comes out at the end of next year, it will still take 12 to 18 months to produce product, test it and deploy it in the field. So consumers will not begin to experience full-featured 5G until the late 2020-2021 timeframe.
The two-step process created for 5G actually might be good for towers. Release 15 requires new radios be installed on all the towers, and Release 16 will require another touch on the towers with new antennas. This might explain the pressure from AT&T to lower its costs for amendments to existing towers.
Meanwhile, Back at the LTE Deployment
While 5G has all the cache, the real advancements regarding data speed are coming from the AT&T’s deployment of LTE Advanced technology (AT&T calls it 5G Evolution), which provides theoretical speeds of 400 megabits per second in 140 markets. Additionally, the carrier has launched LTE-LAA in parts of eight markets –– Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; San Jose, California; Tampa, Florida; and Tuscaloosa, Alabama –– bringing it to a total of 15 markets. Using carrier aggregation, LTE-LAA has peak theoretical wireless speeds reaching up to 1 gigabit per second.
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 29 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The City Portland, Oregon is moving forward on its Traffic Sensor Safety Project, which is the first milestone for Smart City PDX, the city’s effort to use data and technology identify inequities and disparities in the city and then strategically apply data and technology to address those challenges.
For the Traffic Sensor Safety Project, the City is installing 200 Current by GE CityIQ sensors, powered by Intel IoT technology, AT&T, Current by GE and Portland General Electric, on three of Portland’s deadliest streets. The sensors will provide around-the-clock counts of vehicles and pedestrians as well as information about vehicle speeds. With this new data, city traffic engineers can improve street safety design and support Portland’s Vision Zero goal of making the streets safe for all users.
The sensor project, which installed new mast arms and the sensors on street light poles on the three corridors, costs $1,012,000. It was funded with general transportation revenue, system development charges and contributions by the project’s private sector collaborators.
The data gathered from the sensors will be collected in the Portland Urban Data Lake (PUDL). Part of the overall Smart City PDX initiative, PUDL will collect, store, combine, and analyze data from a variety of sources including the Traffic Safety Sensor Pilot. The goal of PUDL is to provide a foundation for data-driven decision making, helping the City of Portland to harness the power of data to improve City services.
In addition to improved data insights, the CityIQ open platform is designed to handle future growth using the exact same street lighting infrastructure, so Portland can continue adapting and developing new applications that meet the specific needs of the city and its residents.
Austin Ashe, Smart Cities General Manager for Current by GE, said his company will be working with Portland to extract bicycle data to better understand the bicycle traffic volume and cyclists’ interactions with vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
The safety project is part of Smart City PDX, the City of Portland’s urban data and technology strategy.
With the ruling of U.S. District Judge Richard Leon this week that the U.S. Government failed to meet its burden to prove that the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger would be anticompetitive, the wireless carrier landscape has been forever changed.
The merger will be good for wireless, because it allows AT&T to bundle multiple service is key for its growth going forward, Tim Courtney, VP sales and strategy, Further Enterprise Solutions, told AGL eDigest.
“The cable companies know how to add customers by bundling phone, internet and TV, and wireless companies are going to have to do the same thing,” Courtney said. “Clearly AT&T is in the lead of figuring that out. It is a good thing for the wireless industry for sure.”
John Celentano of Technology Marketing & Sales Consulting was concerned about the concentration of the infrastructure across a range services.
“There is no real counterweight to compete with a combined AT&T/Time Warner,” Celentano said. “Smaller players don’t have the capex and wherewithal to mount a response. Are we reconstituting the Bell System?”
The combined entity will carry $249B of debt, according stats provided in a colorful MoffettNathanson blog, which noted that if AT&T were a country, it would rank 32nd on the list of highest total debt burdens, between Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates. Senior Analyst Craig Moffett adds that the EBITDAs supporting the debt at both companies are shrinking.
“AT&T is now – by far – the world’s largest issuer of investment-grade debt,” according to a research note that Moffett wrote. “But credit metrics like these – nearly 4x leverage against declining revenues and declining EBITDA – would typically be High Yield. AT&T will be under enormous pressure from the credit rating agencies to de- lever.”
Some question how the servicing of this size of a debt load will affect AT&T’s wireless infrastructure capex. “That is the burning question,” said Carrie Ortolano, general counsel, CTI Towers. “Where is AT&T going to get the money for all the infrastructure that needs to be deployed?”
The truth is AT&T will receive success-based payments of $6.5 billion over the next five years to build out the FirstNet network, and it is also using those visits to its existing and new towers to deploy equipment that can be upgraded to 5G with a software upgrade.
No matter how AT&T pays its bills, the additional video content that will be easily accessible to consumers will drive usage of its network, which must continue to be built out, according to Phil Burtner, chief engineer, NB+C Engineering Services. “My daughter currently uses 15 gigs a month and I see that number going up for young people who don’t even have cable TV,” Burtner said.