Competing visions of 5G and millimetre wave

May 03, 2018 // By Mark Barrett
It’s apparent to us from speaking with multiple customers that 5G very definitely means different things in each country. At the extreme end of the spectrum, we’ve spoken to some that classify 5G simply as anything related to mmWave technologies, even if it’s Wi-Gig. Elsewhere, the opposite is true, with big splits already emerging.

This split can be best seen in the US, where AT&T and Verizon are both about to start running trials of 5G fixed wireless access systems using the 28 GHz band in 2 to 11 cities respectively across the country, versus T-Mobile, which is launching a 5G network based on the 600 MHz band, but rolling it out nationwide.

Here in Europe, and particularly in the UK, many of the customers we’re speaking with are working to a different schedule to the US. In Europe, the emphasis for operators is in reinforcing existing 4G networks. This can be witnessed through EE winning the recent bid to provide the UK’s emergency service network. As a direct consequence of this, the company is mandated to improve coverage and quality of service (4G) right across the country. 5G is therefore seen by some as being simply more 4G coverage and this will consume operator budgets in Europe, so mmWave 5G will likely roll out between 3 and 5 years later than in the US.

That said, if the reason for rolling out 5G is to deliver fast broadband, 4G already delivers that. However, the latency (40ms +) and the quality of service is an issue. Last year saw a UK government report into the country’s networks. Akamai has already shown that the UK has the fastest data networks in Europe, but the government report elaborated on this to show that coverage is, to quote the author, Lord Adonis, “frankly appalling... our 4G network is worse than Romania and Albania, Panama and Peru."

More specifically, the transport network is one that had been particularly neglected: "Our roads and railways can feel like digital deserts and even our city centres are plagued by not spots where connectivity is impossible. That isn’t just frustrating, it is increasingly holding British business back as more and more of our economy requires a connected workforce."

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