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Tag Archives: Iain Gillott

The Current State of the 5G Hype Cycle

By Iain Gillott, contributing editor

Good things come to those who wait, and the wait may be a little longer than the hype about 5G wireless communications would have you believe.

Every new generation of mobile technology comes with its own hype and over-promises — that is simply the nature of the industry. Back in the 2G wireless communications days, the industry was battling over which was best: GSM or CDMA. Millions, and maybe billions, of dollars went into marketing the two technologies, with vendors in distinct camps.

Then along came 3G wireless communications. (Actually, this was the initial generation to be labeled with a G — 2G and 1G were retrospective). A battle ensued between UMTS and CDMA2000/EVDO, and the same pattern followed: Each side promised peak performance, efficient deployment and cost benefits for mobile operators. Proponents of each technology family argued that the other was not real 3G. And devices in this era were mainly flip phones, Blackberries (remember those?) and, at the very end, the Apple iPhone.

4G wireless communications saw the first standardization among the mobile operators with the selection of Long Term Evolution (LTE) modulation of the radio wave that carries the wireless signal. The debates started again as to whether LTE was real 4G and whether another technology, such as WiMAX, should have been selected. But the world went to LTE and ensured that the Long Term Evolution moniker was jokingly referred to as Long Term Employment. The introduction of LTE coincided with the growth of the shiny glass block smartphone designs, and the two grew together — LTE needed smartphones to realize the benefits from data speeds, and the new smartphones needed LTE to make the applications useful and valuable. As smartphone use grew, so did mobile data demand, which resulted in higher network investment for the mobile operators.

Now we get to 5G wireless communications and again, the industry is promising the world: broadband data service closer to a fiber experience; ultra-low latency; lower operating costs; home broadband services; millimeter-wave devices; IoT support on a massive scale; a thinner, richer and better looking you. You get the idea.

In its haste to get to 5G as fast as possible, the initial 5G standard was split into two parts: Release 15 New Radio (NR) to define the radio component and Release 16 to define the 5G Core. To get the entire set of 5G capabilities (broadband mobile data and low latency), you need both the radio component and the 5G core piece. Rel. 15 was finalized in June 2018, and although the 5G Core has been defined, Rel. 16 will not be frozen until the fourth quarter of 2019 or the start of 2020.

And of course, operators have been rushing to be first to launch 5G. Verizon Wireless has launched its nonstandard 5G fixed wireless service in a few markets. Meanwhile, AT&T Mobility promised initial 5G mobile service before the end of 2018.

So, where are we, really, with 5G today? What can consumers really expect? And how close are we to offering a real 5G service?

1. The Verizon Fixed Wireless service is nonstandard, and anyone who buys this today will get new customer premises equipment (CPE) as Verizon moves the initial builds to 5G NR. Why did the company not wait? Because it wanted to be first.

2. The Verizon 5G Home service is available in highly limited areas. Do a search and read some of the Reddit posts — they are enlightening. There are consumers who live on the same street in the initial launch markets, and people at one end of the street can get the service while people at the other end cannot. The initial coverage is highly limited, probably because of No. 1 above.

3. The vendors continue to work on standards (they are always working on the next version), but they have found some 23 problems with the June Rel. 15 freeze that are not backward compatible. In other words, there are problems that need addressing that may mean that devices using the June 2018 freeze will need to have firmware updates or be replaced (to be determined). How did this occur? Simply in the rush to get the 5G NR standard approved, a few things slipped through.

4. So now the question for the initial 5G NR mobile operators is, do they launch with the June 2018 freeze version and risk having to replace devices? Or do they wait a few months or a quarter and miss launching in 2018?

5. Consumers need 5G devices to buy so they can use the new services. AT&T will launch mobile 5G with a puck and not a smartphone or tablet. 5G smartphones will not come until the first part of 2019, with more mainstream devices launching later in 2019. The Intel 5G chipset, which promises great performance, will be available in the second half of 2019, with the first devices using it in 2020. This means that, unless there is a shift in the silicon provider, Apple will not have a 5G iPhone until 2020.

6. The 5G core is needed for low-latency services and a range of 5G capabilities. The major operators are now talking with vendors about the 5G core for deployment starting late 2020. Although this sounds a long way off, remember it is really only 13 or 15 months away — and this is equivalent to next week in network terms. But this does mean that many 5G features and capabilities will not be here until late 2020 or 2021.

7. So for 2019, the talk will be about 5G launches and introductions, but the reality will be more Gigabit LTE devices (with impressive speeds), slowly increasing coverage for the fixed wireless options and 5G devices coming later in the year — for some.

The industry has overreached and overpromised this time. Consumers are generally aware of 5G and may expect to buy services and devices soon. So, while LTE continues to go from strength to strength (Gigabit LTE, for example), 5G needs time. It is a big job to deploy a new network technology, and it really cannot be rushed. We are most likely to look back in half a decade or so and conclude that the initial 5G launch was a bust and we should have been more patient. And those operators that rushed to be first may realize that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

5G will not die. 5G will succeed, but it is going to take time and patience. Good things come to those who wait.

Iain Gillott is the founder and president of iGR, a market strategy consultancy focused on the wireless and mobile communications industry. The company researches and analyzes the effect new wireless and mobile technologies will have on the industry, on vendors’ competitive positioning and on its clients’ strategic business plans. Visit  www.igr-inc.com.

This article originally ran in the March 2019 issue of AGL Magazine.

iGR Estimates Costs for Fixed Wireless Deployments

iGR’s market study, “U.S. Fixed Wireless Deployment Cost Estimate: Finding the Niches,” provides a cost model that builds on several assumptions regarding feasibility and costs to estimate how much it might cost to deploy mid-band-based and mmWave-based services, using a Massive MIMO antenna system.  The market study also provides a detailed discussion on fixed wireless, the mid-band and mmWave spectrum being used in the U.S., FWA deployment options, MIMO, as well as the significance of 3GPP-compliant versus non-3GPP-compliant FWA systems.

“Both mid-band spectrum and mmWave spectrum will likely be used for the first 5G fixed wireless broadband implementations,” said Iain Gillott, president and founder of iGR. “Therefore, our cost model estimates how much it might cost to deploy FWA services to U.S. households and businesses in both of these spectrums.  Our model also looks at the deployment cost for different population densities and distances from downtown.”

Fixed wireless is one of several options for providing broadband internet access to the home and small business. The fixed wireless access market has heated up over the last 18 months. According to iGR, there are two reasons for this:

  • Rapid progress on 5G standards defined as 3GPP Release 15 (Rel-15) and the subsequent releases which will deliver additional 5G features and functions.
  • Need for spectrum which is driven both by ever-increasing mobile data demand but also the capabilities of 5G which will eventually deliver mobile networks capable of 1 Gbps throughput and millisecond latencies.

According to the market study, two broad spectrum categories will likely see the first “5G” fixed wireless broadband implementations:

  • Mid-band: the spectrum bands between 2.3 GHz and approximately 6 GHz
  • mmWave: examples of the millimeter wave bands include: 24 GHz, 28 GHz, 29 GHz, 31 GHz, 39 GHz, 60 GHz and 70 GHz.

The report can be purchased and downloaded directly from iGR’s website at www.iGR-inc.com.


Why 5G Densification Starts Now

By Iain Gillott, contributing editor

In order to deliver more bandwidth to each user, 5G architectures depend on using more radio-frequency spectrum and more cell densification. The use of more cells in a given area means that more users can be supported than with 4G networks. This is why most 5G discussions include the subjects of densification and the need for many more small cells.

In in the United States at present, this poses a problem. Deploying small cells has continued to prove problematic, mainly because of zoning and planning issues. With multiple jurisdictions to deal with, mobile operators and others trying to deploy small cells have run into multiple roadblocks. Although some potential fixes at state and federal levels are in the works, problems persist.

This is not to suggest that no small cells are being deployed; they are, as our research numbers and forecasts show. The problem is that there are not enough small cells to support the densification needs of 5G. Although estimates vary, depending on who you talk to, iGR estimates that 5G will eventually need about 10 times as many outdoor small cells as have been currently built. Think hundreds of thousands, not tens of thousands.

At present, it is taking about two years (sometimes less, but that is a good average) to obtain permission to build small cells. The actual build takes a few days. So unless things change quickly and the time to get permission to build reduces significantly, if mobile operators want a significant number of 5G small cells in 2019 and 2020, the process needs to start now.
Conversations with mobile operators have revealed their belief that, assuming the current LTE small cells can be upgraded without additional zoning permission, there are sufficient LTE small cells at present to support the initial 5G deployments. The problem comes after this initial inventory is exhausted and greenfield 5G small cells are required.

Could the problems with zoning small cells delay or significantly affect 5G network builds? Yes, they could. But probably not until late 2020 or 2021, depending on the jurisdiction. Some cities and towns are allowing operators to build small cells, and these locations will therefore probably benefit from 5G sooner. But those cities that block small cells will, as a result, have to wait to derive the full benefit from 5G.

Iain Gillott is the founder and president of iGR, a market strategy consultancy focused on the wireless and mobile communications industry. The company researches and analyzes the effect new wireless and mobile technologies will have on the industry, on vendors’ competitive positioning and on its clients’ strategic business plans. Visit www.igr-inc.com.

This article ran in the February issue of AGL Magazine.

The Importance of Multi-access Edge Computing in a 5G World

By Iain Gillott

Multi-access edge computing (MEC) servers runs virtualized software on general-purpose computing hardware in edge nodes that can emulate parts of the core network, serve as reliable caching units, run virtualized applications from any number of an operator’s developer partners or a combination of these steps.


Mobile operators are preparing their networks for 5G. Part of that process includes moving to software-defined networking and network functions virtualization. Multi-access edge computing (MEC) and Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center (CORD) are two subsets of the overall shift away from the traditional network architecture to one that looks more like a data center.

Multi-access edge computing emerged on the wireless industry stage several years ago. It has the potential to be as disruptive a technology as anything that is being discussed today. In fact, MEC is quite likely to help realize the promise of 5G.

Simply put, MEC marries a radio with a data center-like hardware architecture. Today, that radio is LTE, but it could also be Wi-Fi, 5G New Radio or some combination of them all. The hardware component is a secure, virtualized platform that network owners can open up to third parties — content providers and application developers, for example. In so doing, the network owner allows content to be placed at the edge; that is, close to the end consumer of that content. That content can be anything — streaming video, augmented reality, location-based services, connected vehicle and internet of things applications.

By putting content and applications at the edge, the network owner can achieve operational and cost efficiencies while introducing new services, reducing network latency and, ultimately, improving the end consumer’s quality of experience.

iGR, my market strategy consultancy focused on the wireless and mobile communications industry, believes that operators will primarily deploy MEC to improve the function and efficiency of their networks — caching and local breakout, for example. Those same MEC units can be used as platforms on which other businesses could host and deliver their content and thus generate new revenue for the operators.

Defining 5G

Although MEC does not require a 5G network to be deployed, 5G is likely to need MEC, along with other virtualization solutions such as network functions virtualization and software defined networking.

That begs the question: What is 5G? According to the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance, “5G is an end-to-end ecosystem to enable a fully mobile and connected society. It empowers value creation toward customers and partners, through existing and emerging use cases delivered with consistent experience and enabled by sustainable business models.”

More specifically, the following points appear to represent the consensus view of what a 5G network should eventually be able to achieve:

·      1–10 Gbps connections to end points in the field (i.e., not theoretical maximum per-cell throughput, but actual end user speeds).

·      1 millisecond end-to-end round trip delay (latency).

With respect to mobile communications, cellular networks’ MEC has more to add in the realm of latency — reducing it — than it does in the case of raw throughput.

What is network latency?

Improving the latency of a network decreases the amount of time an end user has to wait for a response. Put another way, latency is the time the network takes to actually process the request. Each component in the network adds a little latency — the more hops there are in a network, the greater the latency.

Figure 1. How latency adds up. Source: iGR, 2017

Figure 1 illustrates how latency adds up per element introduced into the mobile operator’s network. Note that the total one-way latency caused by the network is approximately 35 milliseconds — a round trip is 70 milliseconds. This does not include time for any application processing that may be required at the data center. If the consumer is accessing a piece of data in particular that is in higher demand, the total latency may be longer.

Clearly, reducing LTE network latency from an approximate average of 70 milliseconds to 1 millisecond would require a massive amount of expense and effort — especially considering that the average fiber network’s latency is just shy of 20 milliseconds.

iGR believes that the 1-millisecond latency target for 5G only applies to the latency on Layer 1 and Layer 2 of the given mobile operator’s network. Once the subscriber steps a virtual foot off the mobile operator’s network into the public internet, latency could spike dramatically and for reasons completely outside of the mobile operator’s control.

This may argue, then, for applications and services that demand extremely low latencies to be tightly integrated into the mobile operator’s network. It may also argue for new architectures such as MEC, which can put both processing power and content closer to the end user.

What Is Multi-access Edge Computing?

MEC is led by an Industry Specification Group (ISG) within the European Telecommunications Standards Institute that has been set up by Huawei, IBM, Intel, Nokia Networks, NTT Docomo and Vodafone. Since late 2014 when the formation of the MEC ISG was announced, more than 50 companies have joined the effort to create an open standard for mobile edge computing. The MEC ISG has been generating considerable interest in the market, and participation in the effort continues to grow.

In short, MEC provides cloud-computing capabilities and an IT service environment at the edge of the mobile network — or any network. Each of these MEC servers can be placed where small cells would be likely to be placed or at other locations — central offices and head-ends, for example.

Each of the MEC servers runs virtualized software on general-purpose computing hardware that is contained in a secure form factor. These edge nodes can emulate parts of the core network, serve as reliable caching units, run virtualized applications from any number of an operator’s developer partners or a combination of these steps. Each MEC also provides low latency, high bandwidth and real-time access to radio network information.

Figure 2: Reduced latency with apps/content server at the network edge.

All of these capabilities are either built into the hardware of the base station itself or into a box that is collocated with, and connected to, the base station. As Figure 2 shows, by moving the content and apps server closer to the edge of the network, latency is reduced considerably. Applying other techniques, together with MEC, will allow mobile operators to further reduce latency and get much closer to the goals of 5G.

Iain Gillott is the founder and president of iGR, a market strategy consultancy focused on the wireless and mobile communications industry. The company researches and analyzes the effect new wireless and mobile technologies will have on the industry, on vendors’ competitive positioning and on its clients’ strategic business plans. Visit www.igr-inc.com.


Mobile Data to Reach 76M TB per Month Globally in 2021: iGR

Mobile consumers’ increasing use of mobile video and cloud applications will drive growth

February 2, 2017 — The amount of data flowing over the world’s mobile network is increasing exponentially.  iGR estimates that in 2016, approximately eight million terabytes (TB) of mobile data traffic flowed over the world’s mobile data networks per month. And by 2021, the expected first year of commercial 5G network deployments, iGR forecasts mobile data traffic will increase to 76 million TB per month.

Many factors will contribute to the growing amount of mobile data worldwide, including reasonably priced data-centric smartphones and the trend toward consuming content stored in the cloud, especially video.  Continued network rollouts, such as 3G expansion in developing markets and upgrades to LTE, LTE-Advanced and eventually 5G in developed markets, will also contribute to the total amount of data traffic.

iGR believes that the consumption of mobile data will grow aggressively over the forecast period in both developing markets and more mature markets.  Commercial 5G networks based on the IMT-2020 standard are expected to be deployed in 2021 in several developed regions of the world, and this next step in the evolution of mobile networks will only increase the amount of data consumers use.

iGR’s new market study, Global Mobile Data Forecast, 2016 – 2021: Still Growing and No Signs of Slowing, forecasts the mobile data traffic from 2016 to 2021 at the global level, as well as for the following regions: North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Japan.  For each region, iGR forecasts the number of connections, the amount of data usage per type of connection per month, and the total amount of mobile data traffic per month.

The following key questions are addressed in the new research study:

What are the drivers of mobile data traffic?
What are some of the limiting factors on the amount of mobile data traffic?
What is mobile data usage today in all regions of the world and at what rate is mobile data usage expected to grow over the forecast period?
For each region, how much mobile data traffic is used by an average mobile connection?
For each region, how much mobile data traffic is used by each quartile?
What levels of mobile data usage of some of the major mobile operators in each region experiencing and what initiatives are they using to meet the demand?
The information in this market study will be valuable for:

Mobile operators
Device OEMs
Mobile infrastructure and equipment OEMs
Content providers and distributors
Financial analysts and investors
The new market study can be purchased and downloaded directly from iGR’s website.  Alternatively, contact Iain Gillott at (512) 263-5682 or email for additional details on this study.