FCC Clears the way for 5G Cellular Services

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Colin here.

The FCC has cleared the way for 5G Cellular Services using frequencies of 25 GHz and higher. (See: http://www.fiercewireless.com/story/eye-5g-fcc-approves-rules-speed-small-cell-and-das-deployments/2014-10-17)

If you would like to see a decent slideshow that discusses an American vision of 5g, here is a very good presentation.

Let me bring a little bit of reality back to the 5G speculation…

Korea is on a totally separate 5G track from the rest of the world. They are pursuing WiMax2 based technology. WiMax is a dead standard. Worldwide, carriers are phasing out their WiMax in favor of LTE. The last major US holdout was Sprint/Clearwire and Sprint is shutting down the WiMax network within a year. WiMax doesn’t integrate well with LTE and so it is utterly improbable that WiMax2 will have any appeal outside of Korea.

In the US, 5G is starting to shape up to be 25+ GHz frequencies. It’s important to understand that there are no technical standards, nor even any formal definition of what 5G is at this point. We’re at least 6 years and perhaps a decade away from 5G. It’s still in the study-group stage. If you use LTE as a model, it will take years for any new 5G standard to be rolled out even after the standard is formalized and proven. And, if you use AT&T as an example it could take decades (Just joking, AT&T.)

In the US, 5G will likely be in the 25GHz spectrum. It is very, very essential that you understand what 25GHz spectrum is all about, because it is a very different creature from what we are used it. It has these attributes:

  • It is line-of-sight only. It cannot penetrate anything. Heck, it’s questionable if it can even penetrate glass. If you cannot see the tower you are guaranteed to have no signal.
  • It is very short distance. At low power the range is very short.
  • It has the potential for incredible speed and bandwidth. Some estimates are for 500x and greater speed improvements. (This is the sexy bullet point.)
  • It is extraordinarily complicated. You perhaps know about MIMO antennas on WiFi where there can be two or six antennas. 5G looks like it will require 100 or more MIMO antennas. One proposal calls for more than 10,000 antennas per cell site. (No kidding!)
  • Allocating consistent worldwide frequencies for globetrotters seems unlikely. The ITU Worlds Radio Council is a lethargic organization that last coughed up an allocation hairball in 2007. They have allocated nothing since. They are considering discussing 5G sometime in 2018 or 2019. Worse, vested interests (including the military) are applying pressure to not do any spectrum allocations in the higher frequencies.

So what does this all mean for 5G?

It means that 5G is a long way off.

Colin Berkshire