28 GHz is the most popular band of millimetre wave high-frequency spectrum. It was generally little used in the U.S. but now Verizon plans to pass 30 million homes in the first phase of the buildout. Europe chose 26 GHz because satellites were using 28 GHz. There is little gear available other than for 26-30 GHz. Verizon controls 800 MHz of the band in the U.S.

39 GHz, some AT&T controlled, requires 50% more antennas than 28 GHz and is not as popular. AT&T cutbacks in mmWave mean 39 GHz mostly will be on the shelf for years.

60 GHz, shared in the U.S., was developed by Intel as WiGig but didn't find a market. CCS, Facebook, Qualcomm, and others are reviving it, especially for backhaul. The FCC has allocated 14 GHz. With enough very small antennas, performance looks good.

Other bands above 15 GHz lack equipment or supporters, so are years away. The U.S. FCC is about to auction 24 GHz.

Low and mid-band

3.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz is the emerging new band, with enough available spectrum for several companies to expect the ideal 100 MHz.

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henningFCC Chief Technologist Henning Schulzrine startled the engineers at a high level 5G wireless event by predicting a complete turnaround in spectrum policy and licensing.

Instead of "licensing" monopoly use of spectrum, "All new spectrum would be shared." That corresponds to the opinions of nearly all impartial top engineers, but of course is heresy to lobbyists in the EU and U.S.

Shared spectrum is better, but I fear Henning is being optimistic about what the politicians will do.

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Marty Cooper

Lowell was more polite, of course. Verizon didn't buy any spectrum in the last auction despite prices that were down by 50-60%. "We simply don’t need it," explains Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer. Lowell McAdam told Morgan, "When you look at the spectrum and the cost of small cells versus the cost of spectrum in the old AWS auction sort of environment, it was clear to us that building the fiber infrastructure to densify via small cells was better than the alternative of a buying spectrum." CFO Matt Ellis explained to Craig Moffett, "Spectrum is one way that we can add that capacity, but it's not the only way," 

Technology allows adding relatively inexpensive capacity within existing spectrum faster than demand is growing. Verizon estimates the cost per bit is going down 40%/year; Telus estimates 55%. Verizon's capex has been flat to down but they now are offering new unlimited plans. McAdam expects capex to stay flat for the next decade, despite one of the largest 5G mmWave builds in the world.

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It's currently used for military radar but NTIA is looking to make it available. The work around CBRS is proving that sharing spectrum can work, even if the military is an interested party. Before using the band, you would have to check with a database to see whether it isn't reserved. 

The classic example is naval shipboard radars. A user in Iowa is unlikely to cause interference. Research in the 3550 CBRS band finds most of the U.S. is not in use. It would be natural to simply expand CBRS down another 100 MHz. 

The primary source is a blog by David Redl at NTIA, below.

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White space 16 megabits 200These may be the first customers getting more than 10 megabits reported anywhere. Michael Davies and Richard Yu of 6Harmonics in Ottawa have sent me test data showing customers with a connection phy rate of 16-18 megabits, as well as convincing details from other deployments doing better than that. I thank Boston Consulting Group for pushing me to go beyond published reports and get these new results. The fuzzy photo below shows eight users connected to a base station using a single 6 MHz channel. They have deployments in California and North Carolina using two channels for nearly double the speed. High speed uplink is included.

They are ready with a three channel unit for even higher speeds. Yu has been working on multiple antenna systems (MIMO) for almost 20 years. I'm sure he can achieve even better throughput using more antennas. They seem to be so busy actually building the equipment they haven't had time to get the latest results up on their web site. CEO Yu, off the record, shared remarkable predictions for what they will offer within a year. 

 

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Nicola Palmer 200 "We have sufficient spectrum holdings below 1 GHz," says Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer. "We have strong spectrum holdings in the 700, 850, 1900 megahertz (MHz)/PCS, AWS 1 and 3 spectrum bands. So why didn’t we bid on the 600 MHz spectrum? We simply don’t need it."

Verizon has 40 MHz of fallow spectrum ready for 4G, enough to move from two bands of 20 MHz to four bands and roughly double capacity. Palmer points out 3G traffic is dwindling rapidly, allowing VZ to refarm 3G spectrum.
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Malladi 2003.5, 3.7 GHz 1800. 2100. 2300. maybe even 700 can work just like LAA. Qualcomm, Verizon, and AT&T testing convincingly shows that commercial quality broadband can be delivered today over unlicensed spectrum. The telcos are targeting the Wi-Fi bands and possibly 3.5-4.2 GHz.

The same technology can be used to recover spectrum in licensed bands like 1800 & 2100, Especially in rural areas, massive amounts of licensed spectrum lie fallow. It would be enough, for example, to deliver a true gigabit of rural broadband.

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dave askOn Oct 1, Verizon will turn on the first $20B 5G mmWave network, soon offering a gigabit or close to 30M homes. The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while keeping capex at around 15%.

The Koreans, Chinese, and almost all Europeans are not doing mmWave in favor of mid-band "5G," with 4G-like performance. Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 4X to 10X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year. I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

The predicted massive small cell builds are a pipe dream for vendors for at least five years. Verizon expects to reach a quarter of the U.S. without adding additional small cells. 

In the works: Enrique Blanco and Telefonica's possible mmWave disruption of Germany; Believe it or don't: 5G is cheap because 65% of most cities can be covered by upgrading existing cells; Verizon is ripping out and replacing 200,000 pieces of gear expecting to save half. 

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 5G Why Verizon thinks differently and what to do about it is a new report I wrote for STL Partners and their clients.

STL Partners, a British consulting outfit I respect, commissioned me to ask why. That report is now out. If you're a client, download it here. If not, and corporate priced research is interesting to you, ask me to introduce you to one of the principals.

It was fascinating work because the answers aren't obvious. Lowell McAdam's company is spending $20B to cover 30M+ homes in the first stage. The progress in low & mid-band, both "4G" and "5G," has been remarkable. In most territories, millimeter wave will not be necessary to meet expected demand.

McAdam sees a little further. mmWave has 3-4X the capacity of low and mid-band. He sees an enormous marketing advantage: unlimited services, even less congestion, reputation as the best network. Verizon testing found mmWave rate/reach was twice what had been estimated. All prior cost estimates need revision.

My take: even if mmWave doesn't fit in your current budget, telcos should expand trials and training to be ready as things change. The new cost estimates may be low enough to change your mind.