Navigating the latest 5G news and updates is a challenge because the announcements differ depending on the source. Carriers and device manufacturers want to call out that they are forging ahead and pretend as if 5G networks are already ubiquitous. But the process of rolling out these very node-intensive networks across major cities is an enormous undertaking, and 5G devices must be developed and tested on these developing networks in multiple markets to achieve full viability across the commercial and industrial IoT.
The reality of what 5G news is actionable and whether the latest information affects your business and planning depends on several factors, including your location, industry and use case. For example, consumer smartphones will be on a much faster trajectory than the commercial and industrial IoT. Additionally, 4G LTE will be viable for many years to come and will support many use cases that would be much more expensive to deploy in 5G today, if in fact the bandwidth and performance of 5G is even appropriate. For many applications it will be "overkill."
We are here to help you make sense of what's happening across the 5G landscape, and how to prepare for the future. Make sure you subscribe to the Digi blog, as we regularly provide sensible, easy-to-understand information on the progress of 5G and what it will mean to you and your organization in the years to come.
5G Deployment News
2019 was a big year towards making the 5th generation of wireless connectivity a reality. At an unprecedented speed, over 40 carriers have turned on their 5G networks across the world. For comparison, 4G LTE had only 4 networks turned on within the first year. This is quite remarkable.
Here were some of the key milestones:
- The most recent additions in the U.S. were AT&T and T-Mobile in the US, launching their 5G "Sub-6" networks. Sub-6 refers to the 6 Gigahertz (or lower) spectrum, which provides wide coverage, but not the blazing capacity and speed that will eventually be a major advantage of 5G. The latter will take longer and require massive infrastructure investments by carriers to deploy 5G in the mmWave spectrum.
- On Friday, December 6, wireless network operator T-Mobile turned on the first nationwide 5G network in their 600 MHz band, reaching more than 200 million people in the US. They also began offering the first two 5G-capable phones at their stores. T-Mobile claims a 20% performance improvement of their 5G Sub-6 network compared to 4G LTE.
- On Friday, December 12, wireless network operator AT&T turned on their 5G Sub-6 network in 10 markets for consumers, provided that they also buy the only phone that currently supports this: the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G.
- Verizon achieved their goal of providing initial 5G Ultra Wideband (aka 5G mmWave) service in 30 cities in the U.S. Coverage is still very limited; coverage maps are available here.
- Other carriers have begun limited rollouts of 5G, and will expand in 2020 and beyond.
4G/5G Facts & Projections, and What They Mean for 2G/3G
Here are some of the most notable 4G/5G facts and projections, based on the Ericsson Mobility Report from November 2019:
- 4G LTE mobile phone subscriptions have finally surpassed 2G/3G in 2019
- 4G LTE for IoT continues to grow and will become the dominant technology for IoT in 2021, surpassing 2G/3G
- 5G for IoT will start to ramp in 2021/2022, when the 3GPP Release 17 standard will be completed and new 5G IoT chipsets based on this standard become available
4G to 5G Migration Planning
The excitement around 5G, with its unprecedented speed and low latency, makes a lot of people want to adopt it as soon as possible. It’s less a matter of jumping on the bandwagon than getting a jump on the competition. Still others recall their experience (and surprise) during the shutdown of the 2G and 3G networks and want to be sure they are not caught unprepared.
Fortunately, as 5G is phased in over the next several years, 4G LTE will stay securely in place. In fact, 4G LTE is expected to be in service until at least 2030, and possibly much longer, thanks to a new technology called Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), that will allow 4G and 5G networks to share the same bands, allowing a faster rollout of 5G and longevity for 4G LTE.
With that in mind, companies who are eager to take advantage of the capabilities of 5G need not wait for it to become cheaper or more broadly distributed. Instead, companies can start modernizing with 4G LTE technology to validate applications and business models. Then, they can refine and expand when 5G becomes more widely available. Connect with 4G LTE, accelerate with 5G.
If you’re wondering why the older “Gs” have to be phased out at all, the reason is simply a matter of finite spectrum. As new generations of cellular technology come online, network operators need to shut off the older technology in order to reuse and re-purpose the spectrum. Because the new generations are more efficient, more data can be transmitted over the same bandwidth of spectrum faster.
eSIM Technology Offers More Choice for Consumers
Mobile carriers love their customers. So much so, that it is challenging for customers to switch to a different carrier. The obstacle lies in the SIM card, which is unique to every carrier and is installed in every cellular device. However, the industry is now in the process of switching from fixed, unchangeable SIM cards to a flexible technology called eSIM, which allows SIM cards to be re-programmed remotely, thus enabling consumers to switch carriers much more easily.
The Anti-Trust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice Department is partially to thank for this new flexibility, having just gained the agreement of the GSMA, a global trade group of mobile network operators, to modify certain eSIM rules to make it easier for consumers to switch carriers. This development is especially important as 5G technology becomes more widespread.
World Radio Conference Keeps 5G Moving Ahead
The successful rollout of 5G or any other wireless technology depends to a great degree on agreements hashed out by standard-setting organizations and government regulators around the world. And those folks have been very busy. Here are some highlights from the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019, held by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) last fall in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Visit the ITU website to learn more about the Conference.
- Significant new spectrum for “millimeter wave” or “mmWave,” an extremely high frequency bandwidth (from 1.9 GHz to 17.25 GHz), was identified for use in 5G applications.
- Progress was made on the development of 5G over satellites for remote locations, using High-Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) and High Altitude IMT base stations (HIBS).
- New railway Radiocommunication Systems between Train and Trackside (RSTT) was approved.
- A new standard was approved for general use in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), which are real-time traffic management systems being implemented in cities around the world to optimize traffic flow and improve safety.
Digi is actively deploying Intelligent Transportation Systems in cities throughout the U.S. Contact us for a consultation on how a cellular communications solution can support your city planning. These solutions support smart city infrastructure, emergency vehicle routing, smart traffic systems and connected vehicle developments.
AT&T’s FirstNet System Hits 1 Million Connections
The past year has shown dramatic growth for AT&T’s FirstNet system, the nationwide wireless network that delivers priority voice, text and data communications for police, fire and other first responders. Here are just a few of the milestones reached in 2019:
- More than 1 million FirstNet connections have been installed in the nation’s traffic infrastructure.
- More than 75 FirstNet Ready™ devices, have been approved, including the FirstNet Ready™ Digi WR54 cellular router.
- Coverage for Band 14, the high-quality 700 MHz spectrum set aside by the FCC specifically for first responders and critical infrastructure, is ahead of schedule.
Initially designed exclusively to support public safety entities, FirstNet has been extended to critical infrastructure such as the power grid and water systems.
Private LTE and CBRS Updates
CBRS stands for Citizens Broadband Radio Service. It is not to be confused with Citizens’ Band (CB) radio, which is primarily used by long-haul truckers (and inspired a novelty song that hit #1 on the pop charts back in 1975). CBRS operates on LTE band B48 in the 3.5 Gigahertz (GHz) spectrum, while CB operates in the 27 Megahertz (MHz) spectrum band in the U.S.
CBRS allows managed service providers, municipalities, businesses and carriers to leverage private LTE connectivity even in areas that do not receive public cellular coverage. This flexibility combined with more security, control, capacity and a higher quality of service will see private LTE networks deployed in every type of setting utilizing IoT, from oil and gas fields to warehouses and factories to rural areas and big cities.
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved CBRS for initial commercial deployment (ICD) in November, and full approval is expected by end of 2019.
Digi Keeps You in the Loop
Stay tuned to the Digi blog for updates on the progress of 5G and the connected future.