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Connected Homes November 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Update on Wireless Broadband Services

Why is this topic significant?

Emerging technologies might eventually enable fixed-wireless services to become cost-effective substitutes for cable, DSL, and fiber services.

Description

Researchers have shown that radio waves can follow the path of an overhead power line. The wire itself does not conduct substantial amounts of data but rather serves in a role similar to that of a waveguide, helping to propagate radio signals in the space surrounding the wire. The waves launch from and land on proximate antennas, not on the wires. AT&T, Corridor Systems, Schneider Electric, and Sprint are among the organizations that have investigated the phenomenon and obtained relevant patents.

In 2015, AT&T obtained one such patent for use of high-frequency microwaves and millimeter waves—spectrum that today is mostly fallow. Patent illustrations depict antennas mounted on utility poles. AT&T indicated it applied to patent "low-cost plastic antennas" having "no direct electrical connection to the power line"; and that its technology suite will enable delivery of "multi-gigabit" data rates "to any home or handheld device." AT&T has conducted tests at its outdoor facilities and plans to conduct field trials in 2017.

Major telecommunications equipment makers Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia are quite active in promoting LTE-based technologies for fixed-wireless applications, in many cases for regions that lack cable, DSL, and fiber infrastructure. Also, some households use a fixed-site cellular modem in a new or existing mobile-service plan. For some years, Verizon has offered 4G (LTE) services that include professionally installed (with outdoor antenna) or self-installed (with indoor antenna) hardware options. Various start-ups and small companies also hope to deploy fixed-LTE or proprietary fixed-wireless services.

In addition, Nokia is developing fixed-wireless applications of 5G technologies (such technologies will be standardized in 2020, but prestandard radios and other gear could start to appear in 2018; and various networks might embody some 5G technology concepts even sooner). In partnerships with Nokia, Verizon and US Cellular have tested early-stage 5G technology concepts for fixed-wireless purposes. According to recent remarks by Verizon's CEO and CFO, the company's promises of early "5G" deployments in 2017 refer to planned fixed services, not mobile services.

Implications

In today's fixed-wireless residential services, economics and physics conspire to yield price—performance characteristics that are commonly inferior to those of cable, DSL, and fiber services. But 5G technologies could eventually become first-class means for delivering fixed-broadband services, even in urban areas. Stakeholders have aggressive performance goals for 5G technologies, including support for gigabit-per-second wireless downloads. AT&T seems likely to propose its powerline-assisted technology as a 5G standard, assuming it can demonstrate the technology's effectiveness.

Impacts/Disruptions

Whether 5G services will cost-effectively compete against DSL and cable services in cities and suburbs remains to be seen. Unlike the spectrum that is currently in use for mobile services, frequency bands above about 6 GHz are abundantly available. But communications in such bands tends to rely on some combination of closely spaced antennas, highly directional antennas, high-power transmissions, or all of the above. Imaginably, AT&T might acquire sufficient power via the powerlines even with "no direct electrical connection" by using an indirect means, namely magnetic induction. But even AT&T's demonstration video shows antennas mounted on each utility pole in a transmission line, one pole after another. Large-scale efforts to deploy antennas at every pole could be arduous; and some communities may not welcome the antennas.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Network-equipment manufacturing; broadband-access services, streaming services; telecommuting, home security, Internet of Things

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Considerations for Connected Multidwelling Units

By David Strachan-Olson
Strachan-Olson is a research analyst with Strategic Business Insights

Why is this topic significant?

Cultural shifts and the global trend of urbanization will result in an increased number of individuals living in urban areas in multidwelling units. Such demographic shifts will affect the commercial development of products and services marketed to connected residents.

Description

According to a recent United Nations (UN) report on global trends of urbanization (World Urbanization Prospects), more than 54% of the world's population resides in urban areas, with a projected 66% of the world's population to be living in urban areas by 2050. Significant populations already live in cities with very high urban density including Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul, New York City, London, and Paris. Large urban growth will result in many individuals residing in multidwelling units (MDUs), which include apartments, condominiums, town houses, and public housing. Stakeholders will need to make additional considerations when designing products and services for MDU residents, who have different constraints and possibilities compared with residents of single-family homes.

Implications

  • Wireless networks. If each household in an MDU uses its own wireless network, all may experience wireless interference and reduced performance. Wireless devices that utilize all available channels (including 5-GHz bands) and automatically chose the least-crowded channel can help alleviate interference problems. Residents might prefer to use wired connections for stationary devices including video-streaming boxes, desktop computers, and video-game consoles. Community-centered MDUs might encourage residents to use a common wireless network provided by the owner. Such an approach can help reduce interference.
  • Energy. Most MDU residents cannot install solar panels, and so some energy companies offer services that provide renewable-only electricity. For rental units, the MDU's owner often purchases energy-intensive appliances including HVAC systems, water heaters, and laundry machines. In cases where residents pay energy bills, MDU owners may be less inclined to purchase expensive energy-efficient appliances because those owners will not recoup the savings from reduced energy use.
  • Home automation. MDU owners, not residents, will likely choose whether to equip the dwellings with connected appliances. In dwellings not so equipped, renters must generally accomplish automation through add-on solutions including wireless electrical plugs, add-on connected door locks, and smart LED bulbs.
  • Transportation. MDUs may have limited resident parking, which will likely cause residents to seek transportation alternatives including public transportation, hired-car services, bike sharing, and car sharing. Provided parking spaces typically do not have electric vehicle charging capabilities, which could dissuade residents from purchasing electric vehicles.

Impacts/Disruptions

In addition to MDU construction in developed countries, developing countries including China, India, and Brazil already have very dense cities utilizing MDUs. It is unlikely that such cities will undergo a process of suburbanization because in many cases the land around the city has already been developed. As the middle class in such markets emerges, stakeholders will have the opportunity to develop products and services that meet the needs of these connected MDU residents.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 15 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Broadband-access services, Internet of Things, home automation, smart cities, wireless networks, energy appliances, MDU real estate

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: