5G is a big letdown and took a “back seat” at CES 2022; U.S. national spectrum policy in the works

It’s Not Just You: 5G Is a Big Letdown,” is the title of a Wall Street Journal on-line article published today (January 11, 2023).  Author Joanna Stern writes:

I turned off Verizon’s red down pointing triangle 5G on my iPhone—and barely noticed a difference. The 4G LTE performance and coverage felt just about the same.

Three years since the U.S. cellular carriers lit up their next-generation networks and promised to change the game, the game hasn’t changed. And if you’re among the millions of Americans who recently upgraded, you probably already know that. In 2022, 61% of U.S. cellular customers accessed 5G networks, according to Global Wireless Solutions, a network testing and research company.

On Verizon’s Ultra Wideband network, I got 500 Mbps down. But I didn’t notice a difference when streaming Netflix, watching TikTok, loading websites or sending messages. You don’t need a fire hose to extinguish a candle.

Where you might see a difference is during commuting hours and other times of heavy congestion, Chetan Sharma, a telecom-industry analyst, told me. A Verizon spokesman said that 5G’s higher data capacity helps at concerts, sporting events and other crowded areas where everyone is trying to download or upload photos or videos.

“As cars, smart home standards, and so many screens took center stage at this year’s [CES] show, 5G took a back seat,” concludes  a Verge article titled, “Where was 5G at CES?” “After years of hype, 5G was seemingly a no-show at CES 2023.”  The Verge article continues knocking 5G (and for good reason):

For starters, we’re all sick of hearing about it. And CES has a unique way of rallying around a technology one year and then leaving it for dead the next.

And there was always a time limit on 5G’s newsworthiness — at a certain point, when it becomes the prevailing wireless technology, it’s not going to be “5G the new thing;” it’ll just be “the internet you use when you’re not on Wi-Fi.”

More than any of the above, the time has passed where wireless CEOs feel they need to sell 5G to the general public (and, of course, their shareholders). It’s not a niche new service anymore; it’s the default option (in the U.S. at least). Basically every new phone sold on their shelves is 5G compatible, and mid-band 5G finally exists on all major carriers in large parts of the US. The next time you walk into a wireless store to buy a new phone or sign up for a new service, you’ll have a very hard time leaving without a 5G device and plan, regardless of whether you really wanted them.

So now we have 5G phones in our hands, 5G networks are here, and… not much has changed. Maybe web pages load a little faster — hardly robot surgery. What gives? The thing is, rolling out 5G is a long ongoing process. The hype made it seem like all the good stuff was just around the corner, but truthfully, it was (and still is) years and years away.

So yes, you may have a 5G icon on your phone, but the most transformative aspects of 5G are supposedly still in the works. That’s a tough message to sell in a flashy keynote, especially when everyone in the room has access to the technology you’re talking about.

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The IEEE Techblog in general, and this author in particular, have been pounding the table for years that 5G would be a colossal tech train wreck for these reasons:

1.  3GPP Release 16 URLLC in the RAN spec and performance testing have not been completed.  Hence the URLLC in 3GPP Release 15 and ITU M.2150 recommendation do not meet the critically important URLLC ITU M.2410 performance requirements for ultra high reliability or ultra low latency. Here is the latest status of URLLC in the RAN in the 3GPP Release 16 specification as of 6 January 2023:

–Physical Layer Enhancements for NR Ultra-Reliable and Low Latency Communication (URLLC) NR_L1enh_URLLC 1 Rel-16 R1 6/15/2018 12/22/2022 96% complete RP-19158

–UE Conformance Test Aspects – Physical Layer Enhancements for NR URLLC NR_L1enh_URLLC-UEConTest 2 Rel-16 R5 12/14/2020 12/22/2022 90% complete RP-202566 RP-221485

2.  There is no implementation standard for 5G SA Core network– only 3GPP reference architecture specs which list alternative implementation schemes, most of which are “cloud native.”  That resulted in a lot of telco confusion that delayed the roll out of 5G SA networks such that most 5G deployed today is NSA which uses 4G LTE core network and functions.  Dell’Oro Group’s Dave Bolan wrote in a white paper:

The 5G Core is the key to monetizing the 5G SA network bringing MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) into the modern cloud era, allowing the MNO to (1) offer new services quickly with Cloud-Native Network Functions, (2) add Network Slices on demand for mobile private networks, and (3) address latency-sensitive applications with MEC. These new opportunities cannot be addressed by 4G or 5G NSA networks, and the sooner an MNO embraces 5G SA networking, the closer it will be to reaping new revenue streams.

3.  ALL of the 3GPP defined 5G functions and features, require 5G SA Core network.  Those 5G functions include 5G security, network slicing, and automation/virtualization.  MEC also needs a 5G SA Core network to work efficiently with a 5G RAN.  There are relatively few 5G SA Core networks deployed and for those that are, there are few of the highly touted 5G functions available, e.g. T-Mobile is a case in point.

4.  There is no standard for roaming between 5G networks, especially not when there are different versions of 5G SA core networks- each requiring a different software download for 5G endpoint devices.  Hence, 5G is not truly mobile in the sense of portability.  5G is probably best used for FWA or local M2M/IoT communications where there are no roaming requirements.

5.  There is no standard for 5G Frequency Arrangements (ITU M.1036 revision 6) which are critically important for all the mmWave frequencies specified at WRC 19 for 5G, but frequency arrangements not yet agreed upon by ITU-R WP 5D.

6.  5G base station and endpoint device power consumption is very high, especially for the mmWave frequencies which deliver the fastest 5G speeds.

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5G in India:

Mike Dano of Light Reading writes that the U.S. is working on a national spectrum policy, presumably for 5G (and later) 6G.

The White House is working through the NTIA to develop a national spectrum strategy that would cover 5G, 6G and other spectrum users.

According to FierceWireless, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) chief Alan Davidson said that work would continue throughout this year.  Speaking at last week’s CES conference in Las Vegas, Davidson reminded the audience that the NTIA manages federal spectrum use and serves as the President’s advisor on spectrum policy.  That  means that the NTIA works together with the FCC to manage spectrum when a federal user is involved. From a practical perspective, the Department of Defense has historically held a lot of valuable spectrum for national security use, making the DoD an incumbent user in many spectrum bands.

 

Spectrum auction

The NTIA manages federal spectrum use and serves as the President’s advisor on spectrum policy. (Image Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

In 2023 NTIA will be working with federal agency partners to develop a national spectrum strategy, which will provide a long-term plan to meet both commercial and federal spectrum needs.

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Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said they’re taking stock of the agency’s spectrum usage in order to potentially release some for commercial uses, according to SpaceNews.  “It is an ongoing challenge.  We expect to have to fight for maintenance of spectrum. But at the same time, we realize we’re not going to win every fight,” said Steve Volz, NOAA Satellite and Information Service assistant administrator on January 11th at the American Meteorological Society meeting.

Spectrum for 5G and 6G is a critical national policy topic:

“Continuing to meet increasing consumer demand and expectations, ensure continued growth of the US economy, bridge the digital divide, and facilitate global leadership on next-generation technologies requires sufficient spectrum resources,” wrote the CTIA, the US wireless industry’s main trade association. “Accordingly, it is imperative that the commission continually replenish its pipeline of spectrum allocated for commercial mobile and fixed broadband services.”

“America needs a national strategy to make sure there is enough spectrum to build out 5G networks and not fall behind China,” wrote Mike Rogers, a former Congressional representative from Michigan who authored a report critical of China’s Huawei, in The Hill.

Joel Thayer, of the Digital Progress Institute, agreed. “If we cannot get our act together and follow an all-of-the-above spectrum strategy, we cede the race to 5G and even 6G to China. Full stop,” he wrote in The Hill.

Such arguments strongly echo the “race to 5G” rhetoric that was ubiquitous in policy circles in the early days of 5G.

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References:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/its-not-just-you-5g-is-a-big-letdown-11673441300

https://www.theverge.com/2023/1/7/23541118/5g-ces-2023-qualcomm-iot-wireless

https://www.lightreading.com/6g/amid-5g-gloom-wireless-industry-starts-rallying-for-6g-spectrum/d/d-id/782663?

https://www.fiercewireless.com/wireless/ntia-develop-national-spectrum-strategy-2023

NOAA takes stock of spectrum amid ongoing challenges

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