In spite of all the glorious news of 5G launches, one must be careful not to get too caught up in the hype. There are some disquieting signs that all is not that well in the 5G river city. Not a day goes by when I do not read something about companies, vendors, organizations, governments, etc. having an issue with other companies, vendors, organizations, governments, etc. over 5G-related topics.
I see an accelerated landscape of scrapping between entities. There is always some sparring when the FCC looks to refarm, or generate, spectrum for new or emerging technologies. However, it seems that 5G is bringing about a heightened level of infighting between a diverse group of players, for the same space, across many landscapes.
If one looks at it from a birds-eye view, because of the amount of spectrum that is becoming available for 5G, one would expect a heightened level of interest in positioning. On the other hand, more spectrum means more availability. So, why all the clashing?
I believe that wireless companies, across the board, are a bit jumpy about how this 5G ecosystem is going to play out. There are both economic and technical reasons. Some are a bit removed from the direct infighting over frequencies, such as the T-Mo, Sprint merger. Others are right in the thick of it, such as the confrontation between the incumbents (DoD and satellite players), vs. the potential mobile broadband candidates, in the 3.7-3.9 GHz band.
There is sparring among carriers as well. C Spire’s attacks on T-Mo’s rural 5G plan, for example. C Spire is calling T-Mo’s plans nebulous and implausible, referring to their fixed wireless initiative. C Spire is a, largely, rural carrier and does not think that T-Mo can deliver 5G service to thinly populated area around the country.
Moreover, it is not just about spectrum. There are personal issues on a global scale, the likes of which we have never seen before – the Huawei vs. Trump conflict.
Moving on, there are legal issues around technology. Apple and Qualcomm are duking it out over Qualcomm’s patents. Qualcomm is claiming Apple is using patented Qualcomm hardware and not paying the appropriate royalties. In addition, this is not just a small issue here in the United States. Legal battles between the two are happening in Germany and China, as well.
On the autonomous vehicle scene, carriers, a while back, sensing a cash cow and looking for another way of capitalizing on 5G, introduced cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X). It was designed to compete with the IEEE’s dedicated short-range communications (DSRC/IEEE 802.11p), which was slated to become the de-facto V2X platform.
There are arguments over which one is superior. Proponents of C-V2X claim, unlike DSRC, it is more compatible with the upcoming 5G mobile communications technology, which will require much faster performance than existing 4G systems. However, DSRC is undergoing a number of enhancements that will make it, also, highly compatible with 5G. I believe both are viable for V2X ecosystems.
In the 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands, there is resistance from public safety, and carriers, to opening up some of this spectrum for unlicensed usage. Primary arguments are interference in fixed wireless applications such as wireless backhaul. For example, AT&T argues that unlicensed users could interfere with critical licensed uses in the 6 GHz band. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), based on the history of interference in the 5 GHz band, suggests unlicensed sharing in the 6 GHz band is not sound spectrum policy. There are many others, similar – too numerous to mention here.
Last, there are competitive obstacles. The Sprint/T-Mo merger vs, the DoJ and Congress, for example. There are questions around how such a merger will affect both competition and frequency ownership/utilization.
These example only scratch the surface of the many challenges and vectors of 5G. I have not even mentioned the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX), smart “X”, mmWave, and the like.
If one listens to just the surface chatter, 5G is both the greatest thing since sliced bread and it is going to pop up like daisies in springtime in 2019. Truth is, it is barely out of the gate. There are so many challenges in its path, some of which will directly affect is deployment, others that will blindside it as it evolves.
None of this is going to change the grand scheme of 5G but it will affect the track. In some cases, slow it down, in other cases redirect it. Some cases will change deployment strategy others will alter technology. Some will change the legal landscape; some will have an effect on spectrum. The road to 5G, like any evolving technology, will ebb and flow. In the end, it will have undergone several metamorphoses and emerge a different animal that it started out as.