The C band is good spectrum but will it play in Peoria? How about western Kansas? Several speakers on the FierceWireless Keynote Panel: New Frontiers for 5G spoke about the role mid-band spectrum will play in rural wireless networks, during last week’s Mobile Carrier Show, produced by the Competitive Communications Association.
The spectrum layer cake – high-, mid- and low- band – is important for 5G in the less populated areas, as well as the cities, according to Mike Irizarry, chief technology officer, US Cellular,
“You need to have a fair amount of depth in low-band spectrum, that amount of depth in mid-band spectrum and a good amount of depth in high-band spectrum to meet all the myriad use cases that are contemplated in 5G,” Irizarry said. “I don’t think you can focus on any one band, if your intent is to provide service across the gamut of use cases.”
US Cellular is currently seeing asymmetric traffic on its network of 8:1, downlink to uplink. 5G will allow it to decouple the uplink from the downlink. So, carrier routes the heavier trafficked downlink across the high band and uses the low band to carrier the uplink.
Mid-band spectrum will not prompt the deployment of additional cell sites to densify the network, according to Irizarry. Instead, the carrier will layer in mid-band spectrum over existing cell sites.
“What’s exciting about 5G and really different from 4G is that it is a unifying technology which allows you to take the different bands and seamlessly create a pipe to the customer,” Irizarry said. “We’ve not had that capability before.”
Mid-band spectrum allows a carrier to exploit multiple input/multiple output (MIMO) technology, which increases both its capacity and gain, Irizarry said. As a result, the carrier is able to offload traffic from the low-band spectrum.
“The reality is it will never propagate as far as low-band spectrum and it will not penetrate buildings, more effectively than low-band spectrum,” Irizarry said. “But, if you view the spectrum assets as a portfolio that is unified by 5G, what it allows you to do is offload traffic from the low-band spectrum that they can be used to provide more resources to serve people in building.”
Nex-Tech has been active in acquiring mid-band spectrum, according to Nathan Sutter, Kansas-based Nex-Tech. Contrary to what you might believe, he said the spectrum is important to the regional, tier three wireless carrier.
“We’ve bought mid-band spectrum specifically for the surgical deployment areas where it’s needed,” Sutter said. “I’m of the opinion that mid-band spectrum is the currency on which 5G will be printed. If you don’t have the depth of mid-band spectrum, you won’t be able to find provide a meaningfully differentiated experience to your customers, and they need that, no matter where they live.”
In particular, Nex-Tech is developing its mid-band spectrum strategy to provide coverage for in-building special events and precision agriculture.
“The mid-band spectrum in my network isn’t going to reach out and touch more than several kilometers,” Sutter said. “There may be rural areas where you do need to densify or put in a small cell to serve a small area. It’s something that we’re actually really excited about.”
T-Mobile is upgrading 1,000 towers a week with mid-band spectrum and it expects to have nationwide coverage by the end of the year, according to Ulf Ewaldsson, chief network officer, T-Mobile. The carrier wants to maintain its user experience from coast-to-coast, he said.
“So we’re, we’re spending a lot of money and a lot of effort to upgrade our network,” Ewaldsson said. we look at this as a nationwide coverage story; we believe that mobility is expected by users. The user experience that we can provide on mid-band combined with low-band is outstanding; it’s more than 10 times better than what you get on an LTE.”
T-Mobile is trying to build out a 2.5 GHz band network that will maintain the high speeds required by new applications as users travel in between cities.
“How do we make the best possible customer experience? How do we avoid drops?” Ewaldsson said. “The devices are changing the way they operate on the network. Applications are changing. Everything that’s going on with the devices will get adjusted to higher and higher speeds.”