5G can’t fix America’s broadband problems

Originally Appearing in The Verge (https://www.theverge.com/)
Author: Karl Bode February 6 2019

Don’t expect the new generation of wireless tech to replace fiber, no matter what AT&T says

Speaking on the company’s earnings call last week, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said he sees fifth-generation wireless (5G) becoming a “fixed broadband replacement product” within the next three to five years, providing consumers with faster speeds than most existing cable and DSL connections.

AT&T’s marketing department insists that the public will see “unforeseen innovation” as these networks come online. Both AT&T and Verizon have spent several years portraying 5G as an almost utopian solution to the slow speeds and sporadic availability of traditional broadband, heralding 5G as an essential cornerstone of the smart cities of tomorrow.

If 5G really could stand in for broadband, it would be filling a serious gap in American internet access. Federal Communications Commission data shows that fiber broadband remains unavailable for the majority of Americans, and there’s virtually no broadband competition at faster speeds. Both Verizon and AT&T have been repeatedly criticized (and occasionally sued) for promising fiber they don’t deliver, something often obscured by the government’s failure to adequately map broadband availability.

But experts say there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the hype surrounding 5G, especially given these same companies’ long history of unfulfilled broadband promises. While 5G will most definitely provide faster, lower-latency networks, it shouldn’t be seen as a magical cure-all for the numerous problems that plague the US broadband sector, they argue.
Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have argued in government filings that 5G hype overshadows these same companies’ long-standing failures to deploy real fiber broadband to rural and less affluent urban markets (despite billions in tax breaks, subsidies, and regulatory favors), and 5G shouldn’t be seen as synonymous with the fast, reliable fiber connections these same companies should have deployed years ago.

“Absolutely no way is wireless service ever going to be competitive with high-speed wireline services,” Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the EFF, told The Verge. “The fastest speeds the industry is boasting about for the future of wireless has already been surpassed by fiber to the home years ago.”

Rural carriers have long accused companies like AT&T and Verizon of overstating 4G availability, and researchers have shown that early 5G availability is already being aggressively overstated by carrier marketing departments. History suggests that consumers should believe carrier promises of ubiquitous 5G availability only once they’ve actually seen it.

Meanwhile, most 5G marketing and press coverage tends to omit the biggest reason why 5G isn’t likely to be a perfect replacement for fixed-line broadband: price.

US consumers already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for 4G LTE access, and so far, 5G is no better. AT&T’s initial foray into 5G is not only barely available at $500 for a hot spot and $70 for just 15 gigabytes of usage (plus access fees just to connect to the network), but it’s also certainly no fixed-line replacement, especially as 4K gaming and next-generation game streaming go mainstream.

The shift to 5G also won’t address one of the biggest — but largely overlooked — reasons for high wireless prices in the United States. Large ISPs enjoy a de facto monopoly over the business data services (BDS) market, which adds a huge cost to providing wireless service. This “special access” market connects everything from cell towers to ATMs to the larger internet, and FCC data indicates that in 73 percent of geographical areas, this market is dominated by just one ISP (usually AT&T, Verizon, or CenturyLink).

Smaller cellular carriers have complained for years that incumbents use this monopoly power to charge egregious rates to connect their towers to the internet backbone, putting them at a competitive disadvantage and driving up rates for carriers and consumers alike.

Incompas, a trade group representing these smaller carriers, told The Verge that 5G isn’t likely to change this dynamic. “The incumbents have already raised prices on business customers via BDS lines,” the group said, “and allowing them to burn the bridge to broadband would leave millions of customers with higher bills, slower speeds and without a 5G future.”

Other experts argue that your wireless connection may soon come packed with arbitrary restrictions that have never been a problem on wireline connections. The EFF, for example, told The Verge that industry attacks on net neutrality and FCC authority open the door to all manner of aggressive pricing and network restrictions that will not only drive up your monthly bill, but profoundly change the way we use the internet for the worse.

Verizon, for example, already charges its unlimited data customers notably more money just to view content in full HD. Sprint has similarly toyed with charging users additional money to avoid the throttling of games, video, and music. And both AT&T and Verizon have explored using arbitrary usage caps and overage fees to unfairly hamstring streaming competitors.
“If the carriers adopt aggressive zero-rating plans in the 5G market as a means to charge ever higher prices, it will directly stifle the promise of faster wireless service and allow them to engage in anti-competitive practices against alternatives on the Internet,” Falcon said.

None of this is to say that 5G won’t be a generally good thing when it finally arrives at scale, something that’s not expected to happen until 2020 or later.
Early trials have resulted in speeds as high as 1.7 Gbps in the labs, and the virtualization technology accompanying the standard will make wireless networks more resilient and easier to manage. The lower latency 5G provides will make mobile network-reliant technologies simply function better. There’s no debate that 5G is a modest but important evolution.

But if there’s anything to be taken from the telecom industry’s long history of unfulfilled promises, caveats, head fakes, and outright falsehoods, it’s that sector promises should always be taken with several grains of salt. Those waiting for 5G to magically fix the worst aspects of a troubled US broadband sector — particularly, high prices — probably shouldn’t hold their breath.

Wi-Fi 6 enters steep growth phase far outpacing 5G, says IDC

Originally Appearing in Wi-Fi Now, Author: Claus Hetting (Wi-Fi NOW Chairman & CEO), May 30, 2019

The commercialisation of Wi-Fi 6 is entering a phase of steep growth and will reach more than 4.5 billion chipset shipments in 2023, said IDC Research Director Phil Solis at Wi-Fi NOW USA earlier this month. In comparison the number of 5G systems shipped will be only a few hundred million during the same period. Wi-Fi 6 chipset revenues will also exceed those of 5G, Solis said.

How will the new Wi-Fi 6 standard fare during the next few years? According to Phil Solis, Research Director at IDC, Wi-Fi 6 will replace legacy Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) systems at a record pace, completely superseding Wi-Fi 5 by 2023. “Wi-Fi 6 is the most flexible Wi-Fi standard ever, spanning from simpler, low-cost chips to more complex, high-end solutions,” Phil Solis said.

Phil Solis revealed fresh Wi-Fi market data at this year’s Wi-Fi NOW USA conference and expo in Washington DC earlier this month. Solis also said the overall Wi-Fi chipset market is expected to continue on a growth trajectory of 5-7% a year while Wi-Fi 6 proceeds to chew big bites out of the legacy Wi-Fi 5 market. The Wi-Fi 6 replacement of 802.11n will proceed more slowly, he said.

Wi-Fi 6 is of course already widely recognised as a big market opportunity. But what may come as a surprise to many is that Wi-Fi 6 chipset revenues are expected to exceed even 5G chipset revenues towards 2023, Solis said. Meanwhile IDC projects that system shipments for all cellular technologies will exhibit a growth rate of close to zero during the next four years.

Phil Solis also said another new Wi-Fi standard – presumably (but unofficially) to be named Wi-Fi 7 – will enter the markets at around 2023. Wi-Fi 7 will support the use of any spectrum from zero to 7 GHz, include full duplex transmit & receive, expand channel sizes, and introduce massive MIMO.

Wi-Fi chipset shipment forecast by IDC towards 2023.

Six Steps to a Successful Smart Building IoT Device Deployment

Originally Appearing in Connected Magazine, Author: Urvashi Verma, May 9, 2019

The Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics are rapidly transforming the commercial real estate industry. Advancements in IoT technology are enabling an unprecedented level of device connectivity.

Today, everything from our smartphones, HVAC and lighting systems, appliances, elevators, and access control are linked together using IoT to create truly intelligent buildings. By 2022, more than $82 billion will be spent on IoT-based sensors and devices designed for industrial, retail and office buildings, according to Memoori research firm.

As IoT technology plays an increasingly significant role in the commercial real estate sector, building owners and landlords will need to consider adopting these technologies if they want to remain competitive with peers.

However, with the plethora of options available today, vetting these technologies can be confusing. Here are the top five things that property managers should to do prepare their buildings for IoT technology-enabled smart building devices and sensors.

1. Outsource to an expert.
Hire the most experienced, well-recommended contractor, consultant, integrator or IoT vendor to guide you through this process.

2. Double down on optical fiber infrastructure.
The performance of any device or building system depends on the underlying network of optical fiber. A robust optical fiber backbone enables all the systems installed in the building — including cellular, Wi-Fi and networks of wireless systems, IoT devices and sensors — to communicate and operate efficiently.

Ample optical fiber and CAT6 cabling are the two most important requirements to ensure that your building is truly future proof. In response to the increasing demand for smart building devices and sensors, more developers of smart buildings are doubling the availability of optical fiber.

Developers of Miami’s Panorama Tower, the tallest building on the East Coast south of Manhattan, has tripled their optical fiber cabling and installed separate fiber networks to the tower’s security and building automation systems to manage anticipated demand for smart building devices and sensors in the future.

Without ample fiber, it’s impossible to future proof your property to meet the future demand from occupants and smart building devices for speed, data transmission and capacity.

3. Assess your existing building systems.
It’s essential to assess your building’s existing HVAC, lighting, security, fire control, building automation, plumbing, and in-building cellular systems to identify which ones need to be updated first. Determine which areas are most dated and will yield the greatest tenant satisfaction while giving you the highest return on investment. It’s important to consider how IoT technology can add to the experience of your customers, both tenants and occupants.

4. Create a comprehensive smart building automation plan.
Building owners who want to adopt smart building technology should make a comprehensive plan which includes both their short-term outcomes and long-term goals, according to Darlene Pope, Global Head of Smart Buildings and Digital Workplace Experience at WeWork. While it may not be feasible to implement the entire project at one time, it is important to lay out all your objectives and goals.

Having a plan to ensure what you are putting in today will work within the long-term, and knowing where you want to be three to five years down the line will help you better vet solutions, Pope says.

It’s also important to make sure that your internal IT team and key stakeholders from human resources, finance, facilities management, leasing/sales, and other departments are a part of the planning process from day one and remain actively involved in the vetting process for solutions. It’s through their feedback that you will be able to better understand the kinds of solutions which will work best for both your tenants and your building.

5. Look for IoT platforms that demonstrate real value.
As the number of The Internet of Things (IoT) platforms continues to multiply, it’s important to think about how you are going to get and use the data from these platforms and applications. Make sure that your IoT platforms are fully configurable with a software platform architecture that can simultaneously and asynchronously act on any type of information from any device, storage, or streaming source.

It’s useless to put in an IoT smart building solution if you can’t pull or process the data in real-time. It’s also important to ensure that the platforms can easily integrate with other systems if needed so you can add on other solutions and applications as needed over time. One thing to keep in mind is whether the platform uses a connectivity solution which offers a path towards migration to 5G. If not, it may not be the best choice for your building in the long-run.

6. Experiment with one system at a time.
It’s best to start small and install one system at a time. Start with one large conference room or auditorium, install sensors for activation of lights in the parking garage, or update your HVAC systems. Once you have deployed a few small-scale solutions, you will be able to determine the return on investment and you will also have feedback from occupants and tenant regarding the technology. This way, if you need to tweak a solution or add something, you can do so without having to completely rip and replace everything, saving both money and time.

Wi-Fi Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon

By Drew Fitzgerald
Originally appearing in The Wall Street Journal, Issue 3/4/2019.

"New wireless technology boasts faster download speeds than early 5G."

Cellphone companies can’t quit Wi-Fi just yet, though not for lack of trying. Cheap and unburdened by regulations governing mobile-phone service, Wi-Fi networks have grown from a coffee-shop perk to near ubiquity. There will be more than 549 million global public and cable-company-run hot spots by 2022, contributing to a technology that accounts for more than half of all internet traffic, according to equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc.

At the same time, telecom executives say that fifth-generation cellular technology could drive more data and revenue onto their networks. One of 5G’s top selling points is its ability to more cheaply link swarms of machines to cellphone networks.

Ronan Dunne, head of Verizon Communications Inc.’s new consumer-focused unit, said many customers should be able to get rid of Wi-Fi at home once 5G is rolled out and new technologies spread its signal throughout homes.

“A lot of homes now, you switch off your Wi-Fi because your actual LTE signal is better,” he added, referring to the current generation of wireless networks.

Wireless hot-spot makers are working to fight that perception. Wi-Fi Alliance, a trade group for device makers, recently introduced Wi-Fi 6 as the industry designation for the next Wi-Fi generation. The group said the new technology, also known as 802.11ax, will make the latest hot spots’ improvements in speed and reliability easier for consumers to recognize.

Wi-Fi 6 boasts faster peak download speeds – a maximum 9.6 gigabits per second is quick enough to download a high-definition movie in a few seconds and several times faster than what early 5G specifications will offer. But device makers stress that the upgrade’s biggest benefit will come from the way new hot spots juggle clusters of cellphones, laptops and smart home gadgets that use the network at once.

“Wi-Fi and cellular technologies have been and will continue to be strong complements to each other,” Alliance marketing executive Kevin Robinson said, but “Wi-Fi is going to be that workhorse. No other technology can deliver the affordable performance in the home.”

A completely cellular-connected world would also be years away because manufacturers would need to replace almost all the internet-connected machines on the market. A cellular chip adds to the cost of any piece of electronics from a $1,000 tablet to a low-cost Amazon Echo, and most internet-capable gadgets don’t have one. By contrast, there are more than 30 billion Wi-Fi-capable devices in the wild, according to Wi-Fi alliance.

In the middle are electronics makers like Cisco, Broadcom Inc. and Qualcomm Inc., which also supply cellphone carriers with electronics and software. No company is likely to declare an early winner in the tug of war between the dueling connection types.

“I think the jury’s still out,” Chuck Robbins, Cisco’s chief executive, said. Hot spots are so common, he added, that it makes sense to buy a device like a Wi-Fi-only computer tablet that isn’t likely to travel where a signal can’t be found.

Sarah Krouse contributed to this article.

Wifi 6 White Papers

Cisco and Wi-Fi Alliance White Papers on WI-FI 6 (IEEE 802.11 ax)

Wi-Fi® is the world’s most popular wireless technology, supporting more users and devices, and carrying more traffic than all other wireless technologies. Today, nearly all mobile devices and most indoor environments have Wi-Fi connectivity. The adoption of Wi-Fi is quickly expanding to innovative electronic devices, Internet of Things (IoT), augmented and virtual reality, smart cities and vehicles.

Two white papers have recently been published by Cisco and Wi-Fi Alliance on Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11 ax standard) being the future of connectivity. Both papers expand on the key benefits of Wi-Fi 6:

  • Higher data rates
  • Increase in overall network capacity
  • Improved performance in dense and congested environments
  • Improved power efficiency
  • Unlicensed spectrum operation
  • Ease of use
  • Backward compatibility with traditional access points and 802.11 a/n/ac

The Cisco white paper provides a technology overview of Wi-Fi 6, its feature set, and explains why Wi-Fi 6 is fast, robust, and deterministic through improved resource allocation and device scheduling mechanisms. The paper also presents the first Wi-Fi 6 performance test results:

  • Wi-Fi 6 outperforms Wi-Fi5 with more than a 60% increase in range in low data rates, reaching past 250 feet from the AP.
  • In Wi-Fi 6, the relative throughput will be 2-3 times higher with four or more devices connected to an AP in the uplink direction. In the downlink direction, there is a 10% to 40% increase in throughput.

The Wi-Fi Alliance less technical white paper explores the broad range of next generation connectivity scenarios. The paper describes advanced use cases supported by Wi-Fi 6 such as augmented reality, virtual reality, Ultra high-definition video, Internet of Things, multiparty gaming and other immersive scenarios. The paper expands on Wi-Fi 6 key inherent strengths: reliability, security, interoperability whilst delivering greater capacity, faster speeds and lower latency. These strengths will allow Wi-Fi 6 to address many important and next generation use cases. The paper also describes Wi-Fi’s complementary role with 5G, and explains the economic and societal benefits of Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi Alliance says Wi-Fi 6 will be complimentary to 5G and will carry the bulk of the world’s data traffic as 5G is deployed. Finally, the paper discusses significant spectrum efficiency gains of Wi-Fi 6 and its ability to share spectrum with other technologies in unlicensed bands.

The two papers can be found here:

CISCO white paper: IEEE 802.11ax: The Sixth Generation of WI-FI

Wi-Fi Alliance White paper: Next generation Wi-Fi: The future of connectivity

Further reading:

Cisco & Wi-Fi Alliance White Papers: The future of connectivity is here
by Claus Hetting, December 29, 2018

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