5G is Coming! 5G is Coming?

by Colin Berkshire

I may be wrong on this one, but so far I don’t think so. Nobody has yet explained why I am not wrong.

5G is heralded as the next wave of cellular. Everybody is waiting for 5G service on their cell phone, in the hopes that we will finally have enough bandwidth to watch a You-Tube video while eating our lunch.

I have disagreed with this from the start, and I am sticking with my prognosis for the time being.

From what I understand, 5G uses very high frequencies that do not penetrate. They don’t penetrate elevators. They do not penetrate walls. They barely penetrate trees and glass. And, they have a relatively short range, often measured in hundreds of feet and not thousands of feet.

Given this limitation I ask what 5G is good for. What is it good for?

The one situation that seems to make sense for 5G is last-mile internet. A small internet antenna on a home (or in a window) could provide high speed internet to homes and businesses.

I think 5G poses a real threat to Comcast.

A telephone company could install a 5G tower in a neighborhood and could provide high speed internet to a hundred or so homes. The tower could be small, and could be mounted on a telephone pole. Then, fiber from he pole could backhaul the traffic to a switch.

Basically, this is the same architecture that Cable-TV companies use, except that there is no coax running into the homes. So the last ¼ mile of coax is eliminated. And, since that is the most expensive part of the outside plant to build, it is a competitive advantage.

A smart local telephone company that owns right-of-was can use 5G to become a viable competitor to Comcast without having to install cable for the last mile. Here is how it could be possible:

The smart telephone company runs a fiber cable down their existing twisted pair cable route using their existing right-of-way. Along the route they mount 5G “towers” to telephone poles. These act like nodes in a Cable-TV system like Comcast uses. So the smart telephone company can now serve all of the homes along the streets without the hugely costly problem of getting into the homes. (Digging a trench to get into a home costs $1,000 or so.) Suddenly, a smart telephone company can serve homes at a lower overall cost than a cable-TV company.

If I were that smart telephone company I would install plant down the roads aggressively, using 5G pole-towers to get into the homes. Then, I would forget about twisted pairs and my central offices. Eventually (in 5 years) I would abandon the twisted pair plant and shut down my central offices, just like BT is doing.

As for 5G serving regular cellular users? Not so much. Remember, it doesn’t penetrate. So it isn’t all that useful. It could be good for adding capacity along interstate highways. It could be good for serving e menu such as a stadium. But I don’t see 5G as being all that useful except to offload traffic from LTE/4G towers in dense-user areas.

Perhaps I’m wrong. But that is my take on 5G.