5g

Qualcomm announces the Snapdragon 855 and its new under-display fingerprint sensor

Posted by | 5g, artificial intelligence, Gadgets, gigabit, hardware, Mobile, Qualcomm, snapdragon, system on a chip | No Comments

This week, Qualcomm is hosting press and analysts on Maui for its annual Snapdragon Summit. Sadly, we’re not there, but a couple of weeks ago, Qualcomm gave us a preview of the news. There’ll be three days of news and the company decided to start with a focus on 5G, as well as a preview of its new Snapdragon 855 mobile platform. In addition, the company announced its new ultrasonic fingerprint solution for sensors that can sit under the display.

It’ll probably still be a while before there’ll be a 5G tower in your neighborhood, but after years of buzz, it’s fair to say that we’re now getting to the point where 5G is becoming real. Indeed, AT&T and Verizon are showing off live 5G networks on Maui this week. Qualcomm described its event as the “coming out party for 5G,” though I’m sure we’ll hear from plenty of other players who will claim the same in the coming months.

In the short term, what’s maybe more interesting is that Qualcomm also announced its new flagship 855 mobile platform today. While the company didn’t release all of the details yet, it stressed that the 855 is “the world’s first commercial mobile platform supporting multi-gigabit 5G.”

The 855 also features a new multi-core AI engine that promises up to 3x better AI performance compared to its previous mobile platform, as well as specialized computer vision silicon for enhanced computational photography (think something akin to Google’s Night Light) and video capture.

The company also briefly noted that the new platform has been optimized for gaming. The product name for this is “Snapdragon Elite Gaming,” but details remain sparse. Qualcomm also continues to bet on AR (or “extended reality” as the company brands it).

The last piece of news is likely the most interesting here. Fingerprint sensors are now standard, even on mid-market phones. With its new 3D Sonic Sensors, Qualcomm promises an enhanced ultrasonic fingerprint solution that can sit under the display. In part, this is a rebranding of Qualcomm’s existing under-display sensor, but there’s some new technology here, too. The promise here is that the scanner will work, even if the display is very dirty or if the user installs a screen protector. Chances are, we’ll see quite a few new flagship phones in the next few months (Mobile World Congress is coming up quickly, after all) that will feature these new fingerprint scanners.

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AT&T says it’s getting that 5G Samsung phone, too

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, Mobile, Samsung | No Comments

Samsung announced yesterday that it’s set to bring a 5G phone to market in the first half of next year, name-checking Verizon in the promise. This morning, however, AT&T was quick to note that it will also be getting its hand on the still-unnamed handset in the first half of 2019.

The carrier issued a next-day press release which, like Verizon’s, is less focused on information about the handset than self-congratulatory statements about the two companies involved. AT&T promises “unforeseen possibilities for the tech,” while pledging to “bring the best in technology and innovation to our customers.”

The company’s also quick to note that the untitled Samsung isn’t its first planned 5G device. That title belongs to a mobile hotspot the company announced back in October. The company hasn’t offered up a release date on that one, but the first half of 2019 seems like a pretty safe bet for that product, too.

As noted yesterday, companies like OnePlus and Motorola have already promised to release 5G handsets at some point next year. Apple, on the other hand, isn’t expected to go 5G with the iPhone until 2020.

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The iPhone is reportedly getting 5G in 2020

Posted by | 5g, Apple, iPhone, Mobile | No Comments

The first 5G phones are set to start arriving next year. Motorola plans to bring next-gen connectivity via a Mod for the Z3, and companies like LG and OnePlus have promised to deliver the tech baked into handsets at some point in 2019. iPhone users, on the other hand, may have to wait a bit longer.

The technology is, of course, an inevitability for Apple (along with everyone else, really), so it’s just a question of when. A new report from Fast Company (via the Verge) puts the timing around a year and half out.

The “source with knowledge of Apple’s plans” put the 5G iPhone’s arrival at some point in 2020, with Intel supplying the tech this time out. Apparently Apple and Intel are going through a bit of a rough patch of late, courtesy of heat/battery issues with the 8060 5G modem. Of course, things aren’t rough enough for the company to hit up Qualcomm again.

Given the on-going battle between the two companies, that’s probably a bridge too far. Instead, Apple’s holding out for Intel’s 8161 chip. 5G presents a solid opportunity for Intel to regain some of the substantial ground it ceded to Qualcomm in the mobile market the last time out.

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White House belatedly begins planning for 5G with memo asking for policy recommendations

Posted by | 5g, FCC, Government, Mobile, TC | No Comments

The White House has issued a memorandum outlining the need for a new national wireless connectivity strategy; the document doesn’t really establish anything new, but does request lots of reports on how things are going. Strangely, what it proposes sounds a lot like what the FCC already does.

The memorandum, heralded by a separate post announcing that “America Will Win the Global Race to 5G,” is not exactly a statement of policy, though it does put a few things out there. It’s actually more of a request for information on which to base a future policy — apparently one that will win us a global race that began years ago.

In fact, the U.S. has been pursuing a broad 5G policy for quite a while now, and under President Obama we were the first country to allocate spectrum to the nascent standard. But since then progress has stalled and we have been overtaken by the likes of South Korea and Spain in policy steps like spectrum auctions.

After some talk about the “insatiable demand” for wireless spectrum and the economic importance of wireless communications, the memo gets to business. Reports are requested within 180 days from various Executive branch departments and agencies on “their anticipated future spectrum requirements,” as well as reviews of their current spectrum usage.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy is asked to report in the same time period on how emerging tech (smart homes and grids, for instance) could affect spectrum demand, and how research and development spending should be guided to improve spectrum access.

Another report from the Secretary of Commerce will explain “existing efforts and planned near- to mid-term spectrum repurposing initiatives.”

Then, 270 days from today the various entities involved here, including the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC, will deliver a “long-term National Spectrum Strategy” that hits a number of targets:

  • Increase spectrum access, security and transparency
  • Create flexible spectrum management models, including standards, incentives and enforcement mechanisms
  • “Develop advanced technologies” to improve spectrum access and sharing
  • Improve the global competitiveness of U.S. “terrestrial and space-related industries” (which seems to encompass all of them)

It’s not exactly ambitious; the terms are vague enough that one would expect any new legislation or rules to accomplish or accommodate these things. One would hardly want a spectrum policy that decreased access and transparency. In fact, the previous administration issued spectrum memos much like these, years ago.

Meanwhile, this fresh start may frustrate those in government who are already doing this work. The FCC has been pursuing 5G and new spectrum policy for years, and it’s been a particular focus of Chairman Ajit Pai. He proposed a bunch of rules months ago, and just yesterday there was a proposal to bring Wi-Fi up to a more compatible and future-proof state.

It’s entirely possible that the agency may have to justify and re-propose things it’s already doing, or see those actions and rules questioned or altered by committees over the next year. From what I heard this whole effort from the White House was pursued without much participation from the FCC. I’ve contacted the Chairman’s office for details (he’s out of the country presently and had no prepared statement, which may give you an idea of his level of involvement).

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was not enthusiastic about the memo.

“We are ripping up what came before and starting with a new wireless policy sometime late next year. But the world isn’t going to wait for us,” she said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Other nations are moving ahead with strategies they are implementing now while we’re headed to study hall — and in the interim we’re slapping big tariffs on the most essential elements of 5G networks. If you stand back and survey what is happening, you see that we’re not expediting our 5G wireless leadership, we’re making choices that slow us down.”

Whether this new effort will yield worthwhile results, we’ll know in 270 days. Until then the authorities already attempting to make the U.S. the leader in 5G will continue doing what they’re doing.

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U.S. lawmakers warn Canada to keep Huawei out of its 5G plans

Posted by | 5g, Canada, China, huawei, Justin Trudeau, Marco Rubio, mark warner, Mobile, mobile network, TC, U.S. government, United States, zte | No Comments

In a letter addressed to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio make a very public case that Canada should leave Chinese tech and telecom giant Huawei out of its plans to build a next-generation mobile network.

“While Canada has strong telecommunication security safeguards in place, we have serious concerns that such safeguards are inadequate given what the United States and other allies know about Huawei,” the letter states. The senators warn Canada to “reconsider Huawei’s inclusion in any aspect of Canada’s 5G development, introduction, and maintenance.”

The outcry comes after the head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security dismissed security concerns regarding Huawei in comments last month. The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is Canada’s designated federal agency tasked with cybersecurity.

Next generation 5G networks already pose a number of unique security challenges. Lawmakers caution that by allowing companies linked to the Chinese government to build 5G infrastructure, the U.S. and its close allies (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.) would be inviting the fox to guard the henhouse.

As part of the Defense Authorization Act, passed in August, the U.S. government signed off on a law that forbids domestic agencies from using services or hardware made by Huawei and ZTE. A week later, Australia moved to block Huawei and ZTE from its own 5G buildout.

Due to the open nature of intelligence sharing between the U.S. and its closest allies, the Canadian government would be able to obtain knowledge of any specific threats that substantiate the U.S. posture toward the Chinese company. “We urge your government to seek additional information from the U.S. intelligence community,” the letter implores.

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FCC cracks the whip on 5G deployment against protests of local governments

Posted by | 5g, FCC, Government, infrastructure, Mobile | No Comments

The FCC is pushing for speedy deployment of 5G networks nationwide with an order adopted today that streamlines what it perceives as a patchwork of obstacles, needless costs and contradictory regulations at the state level. But local governments say the federal agency is taking things too far.

5G networks will consist of thousands of wireless installations, smaller and more numerous than cell towers. This means that wireless companies can’t use existing facilities, for all of it at least, and will have to apply for access to lots of new buildings, utility poles and so on. It’s a lot of red tape, which of course impedes deployment.

To address this, the agency this morning voted 3 to 1 along party lines to adopt the order (PDF) entitled “Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment.” What it essentially does is exert FCC authority over state wireless regulators and subject them to a set of new rules superseding their own.

First the order aims to literally speed up deployment by standardizing new, shorter “shot clocks” for local governments to respond to applications. They’ll have 90 days for new locations and 60 days for existing ones — consistent with many existing municipal time frames but now to be enforced as a wider standard. This could be good, as the longer time limits were designed for consideration of larger, more expensive equipment.

On the other hand, some cities argue, it’s just not enough time — especially considering the increased volume they’ll be expected to process.

Cathy Murillo, mayor of Santa Barbara, writes in a submitted comment:

The proposed ‘shot clocks’ would unfairly and unreasonably reduce the time needed for proper application review in regard to safety, aesthetics, and other considerations. By cutting short the necessary review period, the proposals effectively shift oversight authority from the community and our elected officials to for-profit corporations for wireless equipment installations that can have significant health, safety, and aesthetic impacts when those companies have little, if any, interest to respect these concerns.

Next, and even less popular, is the FCC’s take on fees for applications and right-of-way paperwork. These fees currently vary widely, because as you might guess it is far more complicated and expensive — often by an order of magnitude or more — to approve and process an application for (not to mention install and maintain) an antenna on 5th Avenue in Manhattan than it is in outer Queens. These are, to a certain extent anyway, natural cost differences.

The order limits these fees to “a reasonable approximation of their costs for processing,” which the FCC estimated at about $500 for one application for up to five installations or facilities, $100 for additional facilities, and $270 per facility per year, all-inclusive.

For some places, to be sure, that may be perfectly reasonable. But as Catherine Pugh, mayor of Baltimore, put it in a letter (PDF) to the FCC protesting the proposed rules, it sure isn’t for her city:

An annual fee of $270 per attachment, as established in the above document, is unconscionable when the facility may yield profits, in some cases, many times that much in a given month. The public has invested and installed these assets [i.e. utility poles and other public infrastructure], not the industry. The industry does not own these assets; the public does. Under these circumstances, it is entirely reasonable that the public should be able to charge what it believes to be a fair price.

There’s no doubt that excessive fees can curtail deployment and it would be praiseworthy of the FCC to tackle that. But the governments they are hemming in don’t seem to appreciate being told what is reasonable and what isn’t.

“It comes down to this: three unelected officials on this dais are telling state and local leaders all across the country what they can and cannot do in their own backyards,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement presented at the vote. “This is extraordinary federal overreach.”

New York City’s commissioner of information technology told Bloomberg that his office is “shocked” by the order, calling it “an unnecessary and unauthorized gift to the telecommunications industry and its lobbyists.”

The new rules may undermine deployment deals that already exist or are under development. After all, if you were a wireless company, would you still commit to paying $2,000 per facility when the feds just gave you a coupon for 80 percent off? And if you were a city looking at a budget shortfall of millions because of this, wouldn’t you look for a way around it?

Chairman Ajit Pai argued in a statement that “When you raise the cost of deploying wireless infrastructure, it is those who live in areas where the investment case is the most marginal—rural areas or lower-income urban areas—who are most at risk of losing out.”

But the basic market economics of this don’t seem to work out. Big cities cost more and are more profitable; rural areas cost less and are less profitable. Under the new rules, big cities and rural areas will cost the same, but the former will be even more profitable. Where would you focus your investments?

The FCC also unwisely attempts to take on the aesthetic considerations of installations. Cities have their own requirements for wireless infrastructure, such as how it’s painted, where it can be located and what size it can be when in this or that location. But the FCC seems (as it does so often these days) to want to accommodate the needs of wireless providers rather than the public.

Wireless companies complain that the rules are overly restrictive or subjective, and differ too greatly from one place to another. Municipalities contend that the restrictions are justified and, at any rate, their prerogative to design and enforce.

“Given these differing perspectives and the significant impact of aesthetic requirements on the ability to deploy infrastructure and provide service, we provide guidance on whether and in what circumstances aesthetic requirements violate the [Communications] Act,” the FCC’s order reads. In other words, wireless industry gripes about having to paint their antennas or not hang giant microwave arrays in parks are being federally codified.

“We conclude that aesthetics requirements are not preempted if they are (1) reasonable, (2) no more burdensome than those applied to other types of infrastructure deployments, and (3) published in advance,” the order continues. Does that sound kind of vague to you? Whether a city’s aesthetic requirement is “reasonable” is hardly the jurisdiction of a communications regulator.

For instance, Hudson, Ohio city manager Jane Howington writes in a comment on the order that the city has 40-foot limits on pole heights, to which the industry has already agreed, but which would be increased to 50 under the revisions proposed in the rule. Why should a federal authority be involved in something so clearly under local jurisdiction and expertise?

This isn’t just an annoyance. As with the net neutrality ruling, legal threats from states can present serious delays and costs.

“Every major state and municipal organization has expressed concern about how Washington is seeking to assert national control over local infrastructure choices and stripping local elected officials and the citizens they represent of a voice in the process,” said Rosenworcel. “I do not believe the law permits Washington to run roughshod over state and local authority like this and I worry the litigation that follows will only slow our 5G future.”

She also points out that the predicted cost savings of $2 billion — by telecoms, not the public — may be theorized to spur further wireless deployment, but there is no requirement for companies to use it for that, and in fact no company has said it will.

In other words, there’s every reason to believe that this order will sow discord among state and federal regulators, letting wireless companies save money and sticking cities with the bill. There’s certainly a need to harmonize regulations and incentivize wireless investment (especially outside city centers), but this doesn’t appear to be the way to go about it.

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Ericsson and T-Mobile ink $3.5 billion deal for 5G

Posted by | 5g, Ericsson, Mobile, T-Mobile, TC | No Comments
New 5G networks are coming and big companies are spending big bucks to roll them out.

Ericsson is going to be providing T-Mobile with its latest 5G new radio hardware and 3GPP for a cool $3.5 billion.

As it moves from LTE Advanced networks to 5G, T-Mobile said it will use the Ericsson portfolio of products to expand its existing LTE capacity while readying the network for the 5G jump.

Included in the deal are Ericsson’s digital services like dynamic orchestration, business support systems and Ericsson cloud core, which will be used to help T-Mobile roll out 5G services to its customers.

“We have recently decided to increase our investments in the US to be closer to our leading customers and better support them with their accelerated 5G deployments; thereby bringing 5G to life for consumers and enterprises across the country,” Niklas Heuveldop, the president and head of Ericsson North America, said in a statement. “This agreement marks a major milestone for both companies. We are excited about our partnership with T-Mobile, supporting them to strengthen, expand and speed up the deployment of their nationwide 5G network.”

As Mobile World Congress Americas gears up there will be several of these announcements coming down the pike. Already Nokia and Sprint announced they’d be unveiling a demonstration of 5G new radio connections and the Nokia Massive MIMO (multiple input multiple output) technology.

New 5G networking technology promises to deliver high speeds and high-reliability, energy-efficient service in areas of high-device density with extremely low latency.

The partnership with Ericsson means that T-Mobile’s already installed base of Ericsson Radio System radios will be able to run 5G NR with a remote software installation.

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Apple’s 5G iPhone conundrum

Posted by | 5g, Apple, Apple Hardware Event 2018, Asia, China, Mobile, Qualcomm | No Comments

Wednesday is Apple’s big product release day, where analysts expect the company to release the next edition of the iPhone. While the usual upgrades to the screen, CPU, and storage are expected as always, one major lingering question is how the company is going to handle 5G, the next-generation telecommunications standard.

The conventional wisdom among analysts is that Apple will ignore 5G in 2018 and 2019 just as it took extra time to rollout 3G and 4G chipsets in its phones. A typical example of this analysis comes from Chris Smith at BGR, who says that “We already saw what Apple did when 4G LTE came out. The company waited for carriers actually to offer decent coverage before launching the first 4G iPhone. That was the iPhone 5, by the way, which launched more than a year after the first Android-based LTE phones came out.”

I’m not nearly as convinced. There are many reasons for Apple to ignore the tech this year, which I will get to in a moment, but one major factor could drive an earlier discussion of 5G than expected: Apple’s growth markets, particularly in China.

China is becoming one of Apple’s most important markets for its smartphones, and particularly for its flagship iPhone X. Its greater China revenue in the third quarter of this year was $9.6 billion, and its operating income from the region was just shy of Europe’s. More importantly, greater China is just slightly behind the Americas as the fastest-growing region for Apple’s sales.

That makes 5G a particularly challenging issue for the company. China has made 5G leadership a critical pillar of its industrial strategy, and many analysts believe the country will set the pace for 5G rollouts globally. Furthermore, Chinese consumers are deeply interested in buying premium products and experiences, and adoption for 5G is expected to be strong and rapid.

With the technical specifications around the 5G standard complete, companies are racing to build the chipsets and deploy the infrastructure necessary to enable this new standard in smartphones and other devices. Early networks are expected to be deployed in 2019, and chipset maker Qualcomm has publicly unveiled more than a dozen handset manufacturers who are partnering with it on 5G. For instance, Vivo, a Chinese smartphone manufacturer, announced today that it was developing its first “pre-commercial 5G smartphones” for launch next year.

The speed and timing of the 5G rollout is awkward for Apple, which has traditionally timed its iPhone events for September. It almost certainly will make no announcements this week, but its next iPhone launch would likely be September 2019 — giving Chinese handset manufacturers with early 5G devices nearly exclusive access to the local market for the first three quarters of next year.

Apple would find itself falling behind its competitors in a fast-moving and critical growth market. While the company has built a brand in the country with devoted fans, its place in the market is not nearly as secure as in the U.S., particularly as the trade war between the two nations reaches a fevered pitch.

There’s no doubt that the challenges for Apple to include the technology are immense. First is the patent licensing cost, which Jeremy Horwitz at VentureBeat put at roughly $21 per device, up from around $9 for 4G. Second, the leading American company in 5G is believed to be Qualcomm, which Apple has been fighting in a long-running patent war, to the point that the company has been actively trying to remove Qualcomm equipment from its phones. Apple’s name was notably absent from Qualcomm’s 5G partner list.

While some early chip designs are available, they are hardly ready for primetime, and certainly not for a flagship phone like the iPhone X. Nor do I expect that Apple will imply on Wednesday that the company will support 5G in future releases and dampen enthusiasm for its newly-released devices. No one wants to be told that next year’s devices are going to be better than one released just minutes ago.

Instead, I expect Apple will use smoke signals to clearly demonstrate that it intends to remain at the cutting edge of 5G deployment. That could include joining certain industry trade groups, testing the technology in a more public fashion, and potentially releasing a roadmap next year, say at its Worldwide Developers Conference, which is traditionally held in June and thus earlier in the year than its September iPhone events.

What would be concerning though is if we get to the end of 2018 and into 2019 with nary a peep from the company about its plans for the technology. Given its commitment to China, as well as its leading position within the smartphone market, the company has to engage on the technologies around 5G in a public manner in order to prevent a loss in its competitive position.

Ultimately, much will depend on China Mobile and other telcos in China as well as around the world on how fast they can deploy 5G infrastructure (sadly, it looks increasingly like the U.S. faces a bumpy road in that direction). Beyond gold iPhone rumors, 5G may well be the first time that China drives the company’s product roadmaps, and it should be wary of finding itself on the defensive.

more iPhone Event 2018 coverage

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How backups, backups, backups protect NYC’s cellular infrastructure

Posted by | 5g, edge computing, infrastructure, Mobile, reliability, Verizon | No Comments

The infrastructure that underpins our lives is not something we ever want to think about. Nothing good has come from suddenly needing to wonder “where does my water come from?” or “how does electricity connect into my home?” That pondering gets even more intense when we talk about cellular infrastructure, where a single dropped call or a choppy YouTube video can cause an expletive-laden tirade.

Recently, I visited Verizon’s cellular switch for the New York City metro area (disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Oath, and Oath is part of Verizon). It’s a completely nondescript building in a nondescript suburb north of the city, so nondescript that it took Verizon’s representative about 15 minutes of circling around just to find it (frankly, the best security through obscurity I have seen in some time).

This switch, along with its sister, powers all cellular service in New York City, including three million voice or voice over LTE (VoLTE) calls and 708 million data connections a day. High-reliability and redundancy is a must for the facility, where dropping even one in 100,000 connections would create more than 7,000 angry customers a day. As Christine Williams, the senior operations manager who oversees the facility, explained, “It doesn’t matter what percentage of dropped calls you have if you are that person.”

As we walked through the server rows that processed those hundreds of millions of connections, I was surprised by just how little digital equipment was actually in the switch itself. “Software-defined networking” has taken full hold here, according to Michele White, who is Verizon’s Executive Director for Network Assurance in the U.S. northeast. As the team has replaced older equipment, the actual physical footprint has continued to downsize, even today. All of New York City’s traffic is run from a handful of feet of server racks.

The key to network assurance is two-fold. First is multiple levels of redundancy at every level of the infrastructure. Inside the switch, independent server racks can take over from other servers that fail, providing redundancy at the machine level. If the air conditioning — which is critical for machine performance — were to fail, mobile AC units can be deployed to pick up the burden.

All equipment in the building is serviced by DC power, and in the event of an external power loss, two diesel generators connected to a large fuel storage tank will take over. The facility is also equipped with battery backups that can sustain the facility for eight hours if the generators themselves don’t function appropriately.

Diesel generators can sustain power to the switch in the event of an external power outage

At a higher level, the switch and its sister share all New York City cellular traffic, but either one could handle the full load if necessary. In short, the goal of the switch’s design is to ensure that that no matter how small or large a problem it might experience, there is an instant backup ready to go to keep those cellular connections alive.

The other half of network assurance is centralization, something that I was surprised to hear in this supposed era of decentralization. Cellular sites in an urban area like New York are often placed on buildings, as anyone looking at roof lines can see from the street. Given those locations, it can be hard to provide backup generators and other failover infrastructure, and servicing them can also be challenging. With centralization, increasingly only the antenna is located at the site, with almost all other operations handled in central control offices and switches where Verizon has greater control of the environment.

Even with intense focus on redundancy, natural disasters can overwhelm even the best laid plans. The telecom company has an additional layer of redundancy with its mobile units, which are placed in a “barnyard” owing to the names of the equipment stored there. There are GOATs (generator on a truck), and COWs (cell on wheels), and BATs (bi-directional amplifier on a truck). These units get deployed to areas of the network that either are experiencing unusually strong demand (think the U.S. Open or a presidential inauguration) or where a natural disaster has stuck (like Hurricane Harvey).

A barnyard filled with animal-named mobile cell infrastructure, including COWs, COLTs, HORSEs, and others

That said, both White and Williams noted that mobile cell deployment is much rarer than people would guess. One reason is that cell sites are increasingly being installed with Remote Electrical Tilt, which allows nearby cell sites to adjust their antennas so as to provide some signal to an area formerly covered by an out-of-commission cell. That process I was told is increasingly automated, allowing the network to essentially self-heal itself in emergencies.

The other reason their deployment is rare is that network assurance already has to handle a remarkable amount of surging traffic throughout the normal ebb and flow of a dense urban city. “Rush hour in Times Square is pretty heavy,” noted Williams. Even something as heavy as a parade through Midtown Manhattan won’t typically exceed the network’s surge capacity.

One other redundancy that Verizon has been exploring is using drones to provide more adaptive coverage. The company has been testing “femto-cell” drone aircraft designed by American Aerospace Technologies that can provide one square mile of coverage for about sixteen hours. A drone capability could be particularly useful in cases like hurricanes, where roads are often littered with debris, making it hard for network engineers to deploy ground-based mobile cells.

I asked about 5G, which I have been covering more heavily this year as telecom deployments pick up. Given the current design of 5G, White and Williams didn’t expect too much change to happen at the switch level, where most of the core technology was likely to remain unchanged.

The trend that is changing things though is edge computing, which is in vogue due to the need for computing to be located closer to users to power applications like virtual reality and autonomous cars. That’s critical, because 50 milliseconds of extra latency could be the difference between an autonomous car hitting another vehicle or a new support pylon and swerving out of the way just in time.

Edge computing in many ways is decentralizing, and therefore there is a tension with the increasingly centralized nature of mobile communications infrastructure. Switches like this one are getting outfitted with edge technology, and more installations are expected in the coming years. 5G and edge are also deeply connected at the antenna level, and that will likely affect cell deployments far more than the switch infrastructure itself.

Edge, internet of things, 5G — all will increase the quantity and scale of the connections flowing through these networks. In the future, a cellular outage may not just inconvenience that YouTube user, but could also prevent an automobile from successfully navigating to a hospital during a natural disaster. It takes backups, backups, and backups to prevent us from ever having to ask, “where does that signal come from?”

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The 5G wireless revolution will come, if your city council doesn’t block it first

Posted by | 5g, CTIA, huawei, Mobile | No Comments

The excitement around 5G is palpable at the Brooklyn 5G Summit this week, and for good reason. Once the province of academic engineers, there is increasingly a consensus emerging among technology leaders that millimeter-wave technology is ready for prime time.

Yet there remain large barriers to a successful rollout, particularly at the local government level. Those challenges could prevent the U.S. from aggressively competing with other nations like China, which are investing massive resources to lead this next generation of wireless technology.

The Summit, now in its fifth year and organized by New York University’s Wireless Center, Nokia and IEEE, is designed to showcase New York’s technology leadership in the space. New York has been at the forefront of wireless for many years, with the first mobile phone call taking place in Midtown Manhattan.

That was 45 years ago though. This month, New York learned that it had been selected as one of two initial sites for a 5G testbed by the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation in concert with a consortium of wireless companies.

Through a program called COSMOS, researchers will deploy a total of 249 large, medium and mostly small cell nodes to West Harlem (including Columbia University’s Morningside Heights main campus) in order to investigate the performance of 5G in an urban setting. New York was awarded an initial grant of $3.6 million to execute the initiative.

This sort of testbed model is quite progressive in the wireless industry. While the notion of a minimum viable product and constant test feedback is a hallmark of software startups, that mentality has not been translated well into the wireless world. The hope for this testbed is that as new equipment is invented in the coming years, the West Harlem network can be continuously upgraded, serving as a model for potential deployments onto operators’ networks across the country.

It’s also critical because the network architecture of wireless is expected to change drastically in the years ahead. More computing will be done at the “edge” in order to reduce network latency and power the internet of things. In order to handle that traffic, new machine learning algorithms are going to have to be deployed that can actively manage traffic and ensure that applications have reliable performance. A realistic testbed provides key training data and analytics that can improve those algorithms and ultimately deliver better services to customers.

The good news is that the U.S. has conceived and launched this test program. The bad news is that we may still be too slow to win the competition for this generation of wireless tech.

The wireless industry’s trade association, the CTIA, has declared the rollout of 5G a “race” between the United States and the Asian nations of China, Korea and Japan. The U.S. widely won the competition for 4G technologies, but the rise of Huawei as a dominant force in the wireless equipment space means that competition for technological leadership has never been more keen.

The White House and the federal government have made a 5G rollout a national security priority, but getting 5G wireless into the hands of consumers is likely to be stymied by opposition from local city councils and mayors around the issue of site access.

In order to provide reliable cell service, operators need to deploy cell sites near consumers. While they don’t need direct line of sight for the spectrum used in 4G, buildings and other objects can interfere with signals, making it critical to have a dense mesh of sites in urban environments.

Concerns about cancer, historical preservation and fees for renting space have slowed the expansion of wireless services to communities across the country. Permits for erecting a new cell site can easily take a year or more.

In the 4G world, that was somewhat manageable, since the network architecture was built with large cell sites as the core of the network. With 5G though, technologists are pushing for greater decentralization through deployment of microcells that would be closer to street-level, improving quality of service while lowering power requirements. The fear is that if permits continue to take so long for every new site, the burden of that process could kill 5G in the United States.

The FCC is investigating how to reduce the burden of siting requirements, and one option is to exempt from review the kinds of small cells that are at the heart of 5G. That plan though has faced significant pushback from environmental and historical preservation activists, who don’t want the federal government overruling local government decisions on wireless rollouts.

One attendee of the Summit this morning joked that “It takes 18 months to review a permit, and one hour to install” a small cell. Others noted that it takes just a few short weeks to deploy cell sites in South Korea and China, one reason those countries are in many ways leading the race for 5G.

As with any summit, there were buzzwords galore, but the reality is that the U.S. has an incredible opportunity to win this critical space. But we will need to fight in jurisdictions across the country if we ever want to see this technology actually arrive in our hands.

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