Millimeter Wave: What’s Goin’ On

Verizon has the only substantial mmWave network on the planet. They may have already covered 5% of the US, but most is not yet turned on. The company refuses to release any figures other than 30 million passed one day, about a quarter of the US. The majority of Verizon’s “5G” will be low or midband, which will cover about 40% of the US next summer.*

At Verizon, business areas and some neighborhoods will get mmWave, the good stuff designed for a gig or so. The rest will get low and mid-band, details pending CBRS and C-Band auctions. It will mostly be 70%-90% slower. Guess which neighborhoods will get the slow stuff.

KT was one of the early pioneers in mmWave, supported by Samsung research. Jerry Pi at Samsung was one of the first in 5G mmWave research and Samsung the first to put a large team of engineers to work building actual equipment. KT nows talks vaguely of sometime in the future, probably highly limited for the next several years.

NTT DOCOMO has similar plans. CTO Seizo Onoe has been involved in mmWave since the beginning. For now, DOCOMO is only talking about limited trials for several years. It may try for a splash at Olympic venues. Telefonica Deutsche had plans but seem to have set them aside.

Few are building mmWave. Most telcos believe they have more capacity than they can sell until the middle of the decade or later

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Fiber: What’s Goin’ On

Telcos are adding fiber at a rapid pace. It makes money. AT&T’s CFO John Stephens explains that the fiber delivers three sources of revenue.

Fiber works. I can use it three times. I can use it for my consumers. I can use it for my business customers. And I can use it for my wireless backhaul.

CEO Hans Vestberg of Verizon used almost exactly the same comments to explain the 1.400 miles of fiber it is building every month.

Orange/FT, Telefonica Spain, Bell Canada, and Telus cover more than half their territory with fiber and continue to add more. Orange has 8 million more homes set to pass.

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Facts, not Hype

Typical real-world latency is 30 ms, no better than good 4G. Verizon
Edge networks cut latency to 10-20 ms in 4G or 5G

Fiber latency is usually lower. Telus

Low-band “5G” today is no faster than 4G 6 independent tests

Mid-band 5G’s speed is 100-300 Mbps, similar to good 4G in the same spectrum. 6 independent tests

mmWave capacity is typically 3X mid-band but is <5% of 5G

5G NB-IoT is almost the same as 4G, unless 50,000+ local connections.

Wi-Fi is 90+% of IoT, not cellular.

3/4ths of 5G users are in China and Korea.

80% of Korea is covered. Swisscom and Etisalat Abu Dhabi are similar. I know no other countries more than 20% covered. I don’t count low-band at 4G speeds.


Virtual reality makes most people nauseous at 20 ms and some at 10 ms

Connected cars work fine at 4G speeds and latency. Only remote driving needs lower.

Autonomous cars do not require 5G. Ford

Almost all remote surgery will be over fiber, not 5G unless surgeons operate from the beach.


5G does not cost more than 4G. Telco capex is flat to down Verizon, Orange/FT, NTT DOCOMO, AT&T

More than 65% can be covered by 5G from existing cells. (Smart build) Only mmWave needs many small cells.

Factories and industrial Internet almost always work about the same in 4G as in 5G


There is no evidence that faster wireless speeds have a major effect on employment or the economy.
Why would watching more TV improve the economy?

Spectrum usually has minimal effect on deployment although it (modestly) lowers telco costs
Major exception: Big chunks at 2.5 or 3.5 GHz ideal for Massive MIMO 4G or 5G

Competition inspired AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile US to roll out faster.
Inspiring or ordering one carrier to build 5G will normally force others to respond

All these are based on multiple sources. Ask.

5G Phones: 2019 China $470-700 2020 West: $400-? 2020 China $300

Update Jan 10: Xiaomi is now shipping the US$285 Redmi K30 5G, months before that price was expected. Previously: Nine companies are competing in a 5G market that has room for 4 or 5. In 2020, the difference in 5G and 4G manufacturing costs will fall to US$15-35 per phone. 150 million 5G subscribers in China will drive economies of scale in 2020. See the chart of 5G phone prices at

Result: 5G phone prices are plummetting. That will continue and is central to any analysis of the 5G future.

Some implications:

There is a tipping point where the price difference is so modest, 5G is the right choice for anyone able to spend a few hundred dollars for a phone. 5G will cover half of China in 2020, much of Europe and the US 2021-2022.

If I were spending US$400 or more for a phone, I would buy a 5G model not likely to become obsolete soon, if prices had come down in my country. In China in 2020, most willing to pay $300 will go 5G. China Mobile is confident 150M of the ~400M phones sold in China in 2020 will be 5G.

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5G Phones Will Keep Getting Cheaper

In 2020, the difference in 5G and 4G manufacturing costs will fall to US$15-35 per phone. Xiaomi in January is offering a decent 5G phone for $285. The 4G version is only $55 less.

Huawei and Samsung, who make their own parts and have enormous volume, will have an advantage. Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo believe their prices must be especially aggressive or they will lose market share.

As the price goes down, more people will choose 5G over 4G phones. In the fall of 2019, a third of Korean sales have been 5G phones, as the carriers are using subsidies to bring down the price. LG Uplus has been particularly aggressive, seizing what it considers a “once-in-a-decade” opportunity to gain share with 5G.

Although the first 5G phones cost about US$1,000, by October prices were down to $536 (Oppo) and $570 (Vivo). In January, Xiaomi will sell 5G for $285.Prices will continue to fall after that, although the $50-150 phones are still a while off.

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Early data on coverage

Few companies outside of China and Korea have released data. Here’s what I have for now. This will fill in.

CountryCompanyCoverage (M)Coverage %Radio countSubscribers (M)
KoreaAll3570%?80,0003.8
ChinaChina Mobile4040,0004
ChinaChina Telecom60, shared30,0003
ChinaChina Unicom60, shared30,0003
USVerizon
USSprint165%
UKBT/EE
SwitzerlandSwisscom90% yearend 2019

10M China 5G Users: Everything is Changed – see update

One week after the official launch, CM, CT, and CU have 10,000,000 5G users. 150,000,000 is a plausible estimate for 2020. 5G is here.

** Important update: Actually, the initial 10M were reservations, not users. The government figure is only 3M phones shipped in October. It appears the supply of phones will catch up quickly, but that’s unproven. **

People want to buy, undoubtedly true in the rest of the world as well. Huawei’s Weibo Mall is selling thousands of phones every minute. We need another month of data for certainty, but it looks likely China will reach 100M by summer 2020.

The phone price, mostly US$515 to $700, is $30-100 more than similar 4G phones. The difference in manufacturing cost is $30-45.

4G phones in China will be obsolete in a year or two. Most phones at $400 & above will be 5G. More expensive phones like Huawei’s top models are also selling rapidly. At these prices, you’d be foolish not to buy 5G phones if you purchasing a mid or high-end phone.

What did the Chinese telcos do?

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China 5G: 5M Early Oct 50M soon

In two days at the beginning of October, five million Chinese registered for 5G. Most or all will soon be activated. I have confirming data points. By the end of 2019, I’m confident at least 12M will sign up and more likely 20M or so.

50M will be reached in the first half of 2019, as phone prices drop to under US$300. Most Chinese estimates for 2020 are 150-200M, far more than the rest of the world combined.

The highest estimate I know in the West for worldwide 5G in 2020 is 160M; most are lower. I’m about to stick my neck out and go with the Chinese estimates. The only caveat is production limits at TSMC, which manufactures most of the chips for 5G phones.

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Population by regions for 5G analysis

After 5 months, there is enough data for a (very rough) starting point for estimating 5G subscribers. In Korea, market leaders SK and KT both are confident 10% of Koreans will have 5G by the end of 2019 and 30% by the end of 2020.

I can not predict subscribers with any accuracy, although I believe I’ve done more research than most who issue predictions.

I’ve created this table (below) of the population of 13 regions and how many people represent 5%, 10%, 20%, 30%, and 50%. I’ve then put a year when the subscribers in each region might reach each percentage, based on the very limited data available.

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