First, I want to comment on the FCC’s recent decision to roll out a $9 billion fund for rural 5G connectivity. This fund will replace the $4.5 billion Mobility fund phase II that was designed to expand 4G LTE service to cover underserved areas. Shortly after this announcement, members of the House of Representatives applauded the move, as did the CTIA and others. Does this mean LTE is dead in rural areas? Does it mean the FCC is about to write a check to T-Mobile for $9 billion to help it deploy its 600-MHz 5G network to rural America that it promised in an effort to gain approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger? Or, as I suspect, does it simply mean 5G is the newest member of the technology club?
In the meantime, FirstNet (Built with AT&T) and smaller network carriers, most of which are members of the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) as are T-Mobile and Sprint, continue to build out LTE in rural areas. A number of CCA members are currently deploying LTE and some are under contract with FirstNet to add LTE and Band 14 to serve rural first responders as required in the law that created FirstNet. Do those who have apparently turned their back on LTE understand that while 5G is the new kid on the block, it is also a continuation of the evolution of cellular communications that began in the United States in 1971 with what we now call “1G,” which morphed over time into 2G, then 3G (two flavors), then LTE, with 5G now added to the mix?
I say added to the mix because there are areas in the United States where 5G makes sense and areas where another technology or group of technologies should be considered. I am hopeful the FCC saying LTE is dead in rural America and anointing 5G does not impede the efforts of those working to expand broadband into rural areas by using any one or a combination of available technologies. For example, fiber and microwave for backhaul, perhaps integrated access and backhaul in a few years, or fiber to a central point and then LTE or even 5G where it fits. Then, if needed, WiFi and perhaps WiFi 6 to bring the coverage indoors. We need all these tools to be available and I have not even mentioned the communications tools being used by Wireless Internet Service Providers (ISPs), of which there are many.
5G is an important addition to our communications resources but it is not the be-all, end-all method for providing broadband services. Remember that we will also see more than 14,000 little Low-Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites flying over rural America, some of which I am sure will be 5G, but again, I am not convinced all of them will fly (so the speak). The real issue at this point is what, exactly, does the FCC, Congress, and the CTIA among others think 5G is or why it should be pronounced the “winner” at such an early state? Is it truly a technology that will see gigabyte speeds everywhere regardless of the portion of spectrum it uses or how much bandwidth is available? I and many other experts do not believe so. 5G provides gigabyte speeds in certain portions of spectrum when there is sufficient bandwidth in that portion of spectrum to support it.
If 5G is used to replace LTE in the same bands and with the same amount of spectrum, it will, we are told, be faster than LTE but we don’t know how much faster. It appears those not experienced in radio communications believe 5G equates to gigabit speeds no matter what spectrum is used or how much spectrum is allocated. The reality of the day is that gigabit speeds require a great deal of spectrum and while spectrum in the higher bands provides for more capacity, the distance 5G can travel is reduced. This is why the industry is rolling out small cells. In order to achieve the truly amazing 5G speeds, it must be in a higher portion of spectrum where coverage per cell site is much less that of today’s LTE macro cell sites.
Not to pick on T-Mobile, I recently noticed two things. First, T-Mobile is one of several network operators named by the FCC as having faux coverage and faux coverage statements. Next is its 600-MHz website touting 600-MHz 5G as follows:
“5G is now available in your area. Our nationwide 5G network covers more people and places than anyone else. No 5G signal goes farther or is more reliable.”
In other statements, T-Mobile claims it is spending $30 billion to improve networks (as are many others), it has 25,000 new towers (really?), it has hired 3,000 new engineers, and it has added one million miles of LTE coverage (why if 5G is the future?). The site goes on to praise 5G and the 600-MHz band because the signal travels further, but nowhere can I find specified data speeds it will offer on its new, nationwide 5G system.
Let’s look across the Internet world and stop at a few sites. The Google keywords used were “5G data speeds.” Stop one is Intel’s site and its statement is that 5G is faster than 4G but without providing actual comparisons. One of the most interesting websites( Digital Trends) describes 5G speeds this way: “5G speeds will range from 50Mbits/second to over a gigabit, mid-band [below 6 GB] will usually deliver between 100 and 400 MBS and low-band will be slower.” The best set of definitions I ran across was the how-to geek.com site. They first explain how wireless works, and this should be understood by anyone who has the ability to impact what spectrum is used for what application, and then break down 5G by spectrum and capacity.
“Before we get too deep into low-band, mid-band, and millimeter wave, we need to understand how wireless data transmission works. Otherwise, we’ll have trouble wrapping our heads around the differences between these three spectrums.
Radio waves and microwaves are invisible to the naked eye, but they look and behave like waves in a pool of water. As a wave’s frequency increases, the distance between each wave (the wavelength) gets shorter. Your phone measures wavelength to identify frequencies and to “hear” the data that a frequency is trying to transmit.
But a stable, unchanging frequency can’t “talk” to your phone. It needs to be modulated by subtly increasing and decreasing the frequency rate. Your phone observes these tiny modulations by measuring changes in wavelength and then translates those measurements into data.
If it helps, think of this as binary and Morse code combined. If you’re trying to transmit Morse code with a flashlight, you can’t just leave the flashlight on. You have to “modulate” it in a way that can be interpreted as language.”
After this definition of how things work in the wireless world, they go on to explain the differences in where within the radio spectrum 5G will be deployed, how much spectrum in each portion of the specified spectrum will be used, and the projected data speeds of each of these spectrum segments. The website starts with Millimeter Wave and calls it Fast, New, and Short-Range. This is 5G that operates in a portion of radio spectrum at 24 GHz and above, which until very recently was not considered usable for broadband commercialization. For comparison, WiFi operates at 2.4 GHz or 5.9 GHz, much lower in the spectrum. What I find most interesting in their description is the following:
“Think of the millimeter wave spectrum like a laser beam: it’s precise and dense, but it’s only capable of covering a small area. Plus, it can’t handle much interference. Even a minor obstacle, like the roof of your car or a raincloud, can obstruct millimeter wave transmission.
Again, this is why adaptive beam switching is so crucial. In a perfect world, your 5G-ready phone will always be connected to a millimeter wave spectrum. But this ideal world would need a ton of millimeter wave towers to compensate for millimeter wave’s shoddy coverage. Carriers might never shell out the money to install millimeter wave towers on every street corner, so adaptive beam switching ensures your phone doesn’t hiccup every time it jumps from a millimeter wave connection to a mid-band connection.”
Today, 5G systems are being deployed in the 24 and 28-GHz bands but more bands will be coming online soon including the 37, 39, and 47-GHz bands that will offer the highest speeds but will be even more limited in range. Next they discuss Mid-Band or sub 6-GHz spectrum and dub it “Decent speed and Coverage.” The mid-band includes spectrum in the 1 to 6-GHZ portion of spectrum and today that equates to 2.5, 3.5, and 3.7 to 4.2 GHz. for the most part, this spectrum is already licensed for broadband except for 2.5-GHz, which has been licensed for educational broadcasts. More recently, some 2.5-GHz spectrum has been leased to Sprint to expand the 2.5-GHz portion of its broadband network.
Finally, the site looks at “low band,” or spectrum below 1 GHz, which they refer to as “slower spectrum for remote areas.” Note that T-Mobile is deploying 5G in the 600-MHz band. As 5G is developed and becomes more widespread, existing LTE networks on 700 and 800-MHz will probably be converted to 5G. This happened in the 800-MHz band, which is the oldest cellular band in the United States and where 1G, 2G, 3G, and now 4G LTE were established. The 700-MHz band was not auctioned for cellular service until 4G. This band is currently used for LTE except for the Land Mobile Radio (LMR) spectrum that is used for public safety Push-To-Talk (PTT) voice and is adjacent to the public-safety broadband spectrum.
You will notice that none of the articles quoted provide data speeds even in relative terms. I resisted the websites run by commercial networks that list speeds since these speeds have not yet been proven. You might recall that before LTE became our mainstream broadband technology, the lab and beta test results being bandied about produced speeds a lot higher than the speeds consumers eventually saw in the field. I believe this will hold true for 5G as well. You may also recall that LTE speed has improved over time through combining bands (spectrum aggregation) and improvements to the technology. The rule of thumb is that early results exaggerate data speeds and capacities, systems in service settle at realistic speeds and, over time, speeds become faster as more capacity is added through deployment of new cell sites.
While 5G is the next evolution of wireless broadband and it is real, 6G is already in the pipeline. There is the promise of unbelievable 5G data speeds into the gigabits, but that won’t come to every portion of spectrum put into service for 5G. We have not yet come to a final decision about spectrum slicing, which would mean a single slice of 5G spectrum would be usable within a single small cell and by multiple network operators to provide both improved speeds and capacity.
The final reason I believe 5G is a good next move for wireless broadband is that it can work well with LTE and the new WiFi 6 for better broadband experiences. Even so, where 5G speeds are highest in the millimeter wave spectrum above 25 GHz, each cell covers only a very small area so the number of potential users within that cell is much smaller. In contrast, a T-Mobile 5G macro site covers a much larger area and enables more customers to be running 5G at any given time but at much lower data speeds. Typically, data rates decrease as the number of users increases within a cell sector. Using broadband services, those nearer the center of the cell site capture more, faster bandwidth while those on the edge might have much lower speeds. Will 5G become pervasive over time? Probably. Is this the right time for the FCC, Congress, and the CTIA to declare 5G the winner for rural broadband? No, it is not. Consider the farmers who were cited in the FCC announcement as wanting much faster wireless broadband.
Today, a typical farm is made up of many acres that must be covered with some form of wireless broadband so farmers can use broadband to wirelessly control and monitor their farm equipment, irrigation systems, and much more. If you say 5G is the answer, in many cases you must run fiber to a single cell site or a series of small-cell sites to cover one farm. Even though LTE is sometimes slower, along with other technologies it can cover multiple farms as well as rural towns and more. I am sure T-Mobile will say its 5G 600-MHz system will cover more farms with faster speeds, but like those who live in Missouri, the “show me state,” I say “show me!”
The last point I want to make is if FirstNet is pushed to 5G for rural coverage too soon the result will be poor coverage and rural public-safety agencies that already have budget issues will have to replace their FirstNet devices. LTE must remain a priority for rural America along with the ability to make use of 5G, WiFi, fiber, and other technologies that fit into given situations. Broadband is not one-size-fits all and it won’t be for a very long time. There are instances where rural broadband funding can and is being used to augment FirstNet in rural areas. If all federal grant providers follow the FCC lead, it will only cause severe delays in covering rural areas not only for citizens but for public safety as well.
Back to Location
Since I wrote my two articles about locations services, one for the Advocate and one for Mission Critical Communications, I have had a number of conversations with and emails from people within the public-safety community. Most took me to task, and after discussions I realized I had not presented all of the current status information and the goal of the public-safety community as a whole. Virtually every major public-safety organization believes the ultimate goal of location services is to be able to provide a location to the floor and the door of a 9-1-1 caller. I have to agree with that premise for 9-1-1 calls and I failed to indicate that while the FCC approved the three-meter height location, it is not the end of the quest. Indeed, in March of 2018, the President signed into law the Ray Baum’s Act of 2018 that included the following wording:
“SEC. 506. ACCURACY OF DISPATCHABLE LOCATION FOR 9–1–1 CALLS.
(a) PROCEEDING REQUIRED.—Not later than 18 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Commission shall conclude a proceeding to consider adopting rules to ensure that the dispatchable location is conveyed with a 9–1–1 call, regardless of the technological platform used and including with calls from multi-line telephone systems (as defined in section 6502 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (47U.S.C. 1471)).
(b) RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER PROCEEDINGS.—In conducting the proceeding required by subsection (a), the Commission may consider information and conclusions from other Commission proceedings regarding the accuracy of the dispatchable location for a 9–1–1 call, but nothing in this section shall be construed to require the Commission to reconsider any information or conclusion from a proceeding regarding the accuracy of the dispatchable location for a 9–1–1 call in which the Commission has adopted rules or issued an order before the date of the enactment of this Act.
(c) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:
(1) 9–1–1 CALL.—The term ‘‘9–1–1 call’’ means a voice call that is placed, or a message that is sent by other means of communication, to a public safety answering point (as defined in section 222 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 222)) for the purpose of requesting emergency services.
(2) DISPATCHABLE LOCATION.—The term ‘‘dispatchable location’’ means the street address of the calling party, and additional information such as room number, floor number, or similar information necessary to adequately identify the location of the calling party.”
I have been assured that efforts to reach this goal are ongoing and I agree with this definition. However, if this is for incoming 9-1-1 calls, I am left to wonder how first responders inside a building searching for people or animals are to make their exact location known if they, themselves, are in trouble. I am sure public-safety organizations and vendors are working on this part. The location issue is complex because it involves the FCC for rulemaking, network operators to implement the rules, and vendors building the phones that may have to include new technology. All are working to ensure that those reporting incidents can be found quickly. The last piece of the puzzle, which is also of crucial importance, is how to track the exact location of our first responders who are inside buildings.
FirstNet The Authority
It was interesting to read the various recaps of the FirstNet Authority board of directors meeting but I was left questioning two things. First, from what I have been led to believe, the federal office of personnel management had approved a candidate for the CEO spot for FirstNet, which by law is an Independent Authority within the NTIA. Even so, there were no announcements forthcoming either before or during the board meeting. I did, however, read an announcement that Lisa Casias, a veteran of the US Commerce Department (Commerce), the parent department of the NTIA, was hired as the Deputy CEO and her background seems to indicate her expertise is on the financial side of things.
This announcement by itself would have sparked my desire to learn more, but coupled with the fact that a new CEO was not announced, I am really curious about what is going on, especially after reading emails from the public-safety community’s apparent “Deep Throat.” I was one of the people singled out to receive emails from this person who is obviously using a fake email identity. Even though I have to question whether this is real or if the person knows of what he or she speaks, this Deep Throat did forecast that NTIA/Commerce was about to start installing their “own people” into the FirstNet Authority. Another email after the Casias appointment predicted there would be more such appointments and the goal is to make FirstNet funds collected by the Authority, which belong to public safety by law, available for other uses.
If this is true and NTIA/Commerce has ideas of interfering with the independence of the FirstNet Authority, I would mention to them that they probably don’t want to go down that road after something that rightfully belongs to public safety and is earmarked to enhance communications services for the public-safety community. It will be interesting to watch what happens next to see if our own “Deep Throat” knows more or not. Either way, we need to know what NTIA and Commerce’s intentions are when it comes to the public-safety community and FirstNet Authority.
This week’s Advocate is a long one. I enjoy being able to write this feature without an editor confining me to only 800 or 1,000 words. These Advocates are whatever they turn out to be. I know from emails I receive that some of you read all of them and some read only sections you are interested in. I know not every issue will be of interest to every reader as I strive to provide content that is relevant.
Those who subscribe to the Advocate receive emails containing the first three or four paragraphs followed by attached news articles identified by DiscoveryPatterns.com that are reviewed and selected by me for inclusion. While we are in the process of updating the list of words to be screened, I’d like to tell you about mistakes we have made in the past. One was to search on “5G” which resulted in many more stories to sort through. Another was to search on “ProSe,” the off-network LTE standard 3GPP is working on (which is nowhere close to what public safety needs). Unfortunately, it also means searching “prose” and all articles that include “prose” in the title are showing up.
In a recent email I received in response to a news item, a reader wrote:
“Andy & team,
It’s not every day I learn about a neighboring county’s (Greene, VA) radio project from a nationally distributed newsletter. I read it here before I even saw it in the local paper.
Thanks again for everything you do!”
I know at least one reader looks at the news. If there are subjects you would like to see included, send me a few keywords. I will not include the many reports on the growth of this portion or that segment of a market. These are highly-priced reports and I don’t want to promote them. Which brings me to a final point. Because I include a news item in my list does not mean I am endorsing the company, vendor, or product. It simply means I think it might be of interest.
With that I will sign off for another week. There will be one more Advocate before the end of the year and then no more until January. Next week I will attempt to recap what I think has been a great year for public-safety communications.
Until next week…
Andrew M. Seybold
©2019, Andrew Seybold, Inc.