Verizon’s 5G mmWave has issues and that’s the case with the high-band frequency for any operator. The ultimate question remains, can the ultimate 5G performer even sustain with unbearable expenses and the limitations it carries?
The high-band or aka mmWave offers the highest amount of data transmission on the fifth-generation cellular network albeit at short distances. Its coverage could go as low as 1 mile or below. Adding to it, the expenses for its architecture, and vulnerability to physical obstruction, 5G mmWave could be a fatal investment for any operator including Verizon.
Verizon is the frontrunner of mmWave 5G in the US and calls its high-band 5G, Ultra-Wideband. The operator has said it has already deployed 14,000 mmWave small cells this year. The telco’s CEO Hans Vestberg has even claimed that 5% of Verizon’s urban area traffic would be on the mmWave band by the end of 2021.
The operator also claims that 20% of its customer traffic has been on its mmWave footprint in the third quarter of 2021.
Verizon is no doubt ahead of its peers in terms of the high band 5G. Moffett Nathanson analysts have even declared that Verizon’s mmWave 5G “currently accounts for just one-half of 1% of the time 5G users are connected.”
But despite a rosy outlook on the high-band 5G, thy hype doesn’t correlate with its efficacy.
EJL Wireless Research Founder Observes
EJL Wireless Research founder Earl Lum has offered some uninspiring insights into Verizon’s 5G mmWave. And he shared his perception of Verizon’s expensive mmWave 5G with SDxCentral.
His conclusions come following his trip to Sand Diego, where Verizon has set up its show steal 5G mmWave at large. But his report is not inspiring.
Lum made an exhaustive observation of Verizon’s mmWave small cells comprising coverage and efficiency and only sees low use for the high-band spectrum.
He even believes that Verizon could soon “deemphasize” its mmWave 5G project as its mid-band 5G gains momentum.
Verizon’s mmWave 5G Investment is Big and Profit Maybe Wishful
Verizon has started its mmWave 5G in parts of 82 cities across the US. Talking to Sdxcentral, Lum said, “They had nothing else so they went all-in on it and they couldn’t back out.”
“Verizon has the largest mmWave footprint of any U.S. operator, but it spent heavily to earn that designation and it’s unlikely to ever get a return on that investment,” he added.
The high-frequency While mmWave 5G can lure in the customers its own shortcomings will hold it back to the economic vitality is minimal. This is why it risks falling out of favor by operators across the world.
“At some point, it gets crazy and not realistic,” Lum says. “You’re never going to get full coverage across a city unless you deploy like 10,000 of these things.” This is even more so with large cityscapes.
Coverage, the biggest issue with 5G mmWave
The issue with high-band 5G is its less coverage potential. Lum ran the survey of 40 mmWave small cells in the city and 34 in Chula Vista with the average proximity per small cell site being 500 feet. This was where he had direct access to the signal without physical obstruction. And it is highly unflattering of such a promising cellular standard.
“Once you start going out into the real world where a building, a tree, whatever is going to shadow that signal, then all bets are off. You’re never going to get ubiquitous coverage. It just can’t ever be achieved because it would take so many sites to do,” he said.
“These beams only go so far because of the frequency band and your phone only has enough juice to go back to the network,” Lum said further. He also made it known the smartphone falls back to sub-6 GHz (mid-band frequency) when the mmWave loses strength.
He said, “In one case, I walked 50 feet away from the cell and I already dropped off the mmWave coverage.”
Lum believes that the hype of mmWave doesn’t correspond in real life with its use cases. He observed that one small cell served for just 11 families and one church. Nothing that great, really!
5G mmWave Just Not Prospective
The allure of 5G mmWave falls further short when taken into account the costs to set up the equipment. A mmWave cell radio comes for $7,500 and $10,000 as per Lum. Most spots also incur geological surveys, fiber trenching, etc.
Meanwhile, Verizon has limited its Ultrawide Band 5G to urban settlements. But even then, in areas where the small radio throw was a signal to a dozen homes, “we won’t live long enough to make enough to pay for the pole, let alone the radio equipment,” Lum said.
He went to say that anyone who owns or buys a 5G phone to access the mmWave broadband “will be severely disappointed in any of the cities that [they] go to,” he emphasized. Home broadband service is great, where it’s available and reliable.”
Through his observation, Lum said that he doesn’t expect a much brighter path for mmWave 5G. He believes the high-band 5G can be of use to open factory floors where cells can suspend from the ceiling.
He concludes, “It was never really meant to be everywhere on a small cell pole, in my opinion, because of the limitations of the reach.”
5G’s best performance is realized on mmWave aka high-band or in Verizon’s own Ultrawideband. But it suffers from physical obstructions, high cost, and incredibly narrow coverage.
What is your view on mmWave 5G? Should the operators go for a mid and low band for the mix of performance or coverage, or they should be more audacious with the mmWave 5G? Do leave your opinion in the comments below.