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Mobile Communications May 2017 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Fixed-Wireless and 5G Developments

Why is this topic significant?

Marketers are using the term 5G to describe fixed-wireless broadband connections that mobile-communications services are likely to make available during 2017. Regardless of whether the connections really make use of 5G technologies, mobile services may find synergies with fixed services.

Description

During February 2017, Verizon announced it would initiate "5G" fixed wireless services in 11 US cities this year. According to Samsung (one of Verizon's infrastructure suppliers for the new service) and infrastructure operator Arqiva, a similar service will start up in London, England. Apparently, the London network and the Verizon networks in the United States will rely on frequencies near 28 GHz, a band that is now largely unused.

AT&T is also starting up and testing fixed wireless services, some with and some without a 5G label. AT&T initiated a fixed-wireless "5G" trial at an Intel facility in Austin, Texas, in 2016, and plans to use frequencies near 38 GHz (another band that currently sees little use) to conduct a residential trial in that city during 2017.

The CTO of T-Mobile US has criticized the rationale for Verizon's fixed-wireless plans, and the CEO of T-Mobile US has ridiculed AT&T's use of the term 5G. Nevertheless, T-Mobile "isn't ruling out an eventual fixed wireless service at some point in the future," according to FierceWireless.

Elsewhere, regional needs tie the name 5G to fixed-broadband technologies. Ericsson recently conducted a "5G" demonstration in Thailand and raised hopes that the technology will improve availability of fixed-broadband services in rural areas. And various efforts in Europe seek to develop applications of 5G technologies that would be relevant within factories and hospitals.

During 2016, Google acquired Webpass, which provides broadband services to multidwelling units in seven metropolitan areas of the United States, delivering data at rates up to 1 Gbit/s. The company reportedly makes extensive use of millimeter-wave frequencies; if it chose, it could probably market itself as a "pre-5G" service. Google has run into competitive obstacles with its Google Fiber endeavor, but the company evidently believes it might use wireless technologies to achieve its goals. Other companies developing millimeter-wave technologies for fixed-wireless uses include Facebook, Siklu Communication, Starry, and Phazr.

Implications

Major expansion of fixed-wireless infrastructure might make sense for mobile communications services, with or without the name 5G. Existing mobile services could leverage nationwide infrastructure already in place to serve new fixed-wireless customers and upsell their current cellular-service customers. Increased use of the fixed-line networks might also relieve stresses on overburdened cellular networks. Because large services and their suppliers assume 5G will be a key enabler of the IoT, including fixed things, they see fixed-wireless broadband services to homes and businesses as natural applications of 5G, and they are working together to harmonize standards and reduce costs for the 5G equipment and software needed to eventually realize these visions.

Impacts/Disruptions

If current advocates for fixed-wireless services are correct in their business judgment, US markets for fixed-broadband services will become much more competitive. Services with extensive mobile-communications footprints may prove to be the ones most ready to drive that competition. But infrastructure is expensive. If the financial community is not convinced that fixed-wireless makes sense, capital will not be available to build the infrastructure. In that event, plans of AT&T, Google, and Verizon alike would be in vain.

Scale of Impact

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

Time of Impact

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

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Communications services, communication equipment, small-office home-office (SOHO) goods

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications

Why is this topic significant?

US regulators are proposing to require vehicle-to-vehicle-communications capabilities in future cars. Meanwhile, two competing V2V development efforts are on a collision course, and cybersecurity risks threaten to vandalize both developments.

Description

During January 2017, the US road-safety regulator proposed to require manufacturers to phase in vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications capabilities for all new passenger cars and lightweight trucks sold in the United States over a six-year period. The proposal received strong support from transportation and safety officials and very mixed support from carmakers. General Motors favored the proposal, with relatively modest caveats that several other organizations also expressed, namely a need for a longer phase-in period, clearer testing and evaluation criteria, and more certainty about government commitment to establishing and operating requisite cybersecurity infrastructure. Tesla strongly opposed the proposal and even criticized the underlying concept of V2V communications; the company thinks V2V's cybersecurity vulnerabilities could make car occupants less safe and that the proposed privacy assurances are inadequate, potentially making it possible for unauthorized adversaries to track a person. A comment from Fiat Chrysler also expressed strong reservations about the potential for malicious tracking.

The regulator proposes that mandatory V2V radios comply with dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), which relies on IEEE 802.11p; the technologies resemble Wi-Fi but have proved performance at highway speeds. Some highway toll-tag systems implement DSRC. But at present, 5G developers are busy inventing a new suite of radio technologies—cellular V2X, meaning vehicle to anything. Developers affiliated with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) intend for cellular V2X radios to enable the ability to connect directly to other vehicles, pedestrians, and infrastructure even when no base station is available and no SIM card is installed, as well as to connect to networks and cloud services by using cellular base stations. Obviously, cellular V2X is unproved; Qualcomm's response to regulators inventoried a number of trials of the technology that are in preparation. The 5G Automotive Association, whose members include Audi AG, BMW AG, Daimler AG, and the Ford Motor Company, asked regulators to consider cellular V2V in greater detail "before moving forward with this proceeding."

Implications

The comments reflect very diverse views about whether regulators ought to require V2V communications, and if so, what V2V technologies ought to prevail. However, even advocates of one or another V2V technology expressed concerns or confusion about precisely how stakeholders will ensure that criminals and mischief-makers can neither cause harm by sending spurious messages nor use V2V technology to track people. Several commenters criticized DSRC technology's approach to security and privacy. As for how cellular V2V technology would address these risks, little public information is available.

Impacts/Disruptions

A mandate for V2V technology in new cars would trigger a number of disruptions. Costs of new vehicles could rise by hundreds of dollars initially, though those additional costs could fall to as low as $20 eventually, as electronics manufacturers achieve economies of scale. If Tesla's warnings about cybersecurity are correct, a mandate would lead to a rise in incidence of spying on drivers and possibly even collisions caused by criminals and mischief-makers. And a mandate to include DSRC technology in new cars would be, at a minimum, a setback for leading mobile communications services' efforts to play important roles in real-time vehicle operations. Mandatory DSRC would add to the challenges that these services and their suppliers face in realizing new opportunities.

Scale of Impact

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

Time of Impact

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

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Communications services, communications equipment suppliers, automotive manufacturers, municipalities, public safety agencies

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: