5G Firsts come together before MWC Americas

5G Firsts come thick and fast as industry assembles in Los Angeles

Mobile World Congress Americas 2018 starts on 12 September, and there have been a host of “5G First” announcements in the two days leading up to the event.

Most of these have come from or via the US carriers for whom MWCA (the event is held by the GSMA and CTIA)  is very much a “home show”.

You could certainly say that these announcements seem to mirror and/or overlap with each other. With only three RAN vendors really in the mix in the USA that’s inevitable, but it seems to lead to a situation where “5G First” announcements from one operator or the other look remarkably similar. Or we can have a vendor trumpeting its leading work with one operator one day, and another the next.

One further issue is that they all seem to be “Firsts”. That’s because it is easy enough to claim a specific “5G First” as there are so many variables: spectrum band, NSA/SA mode, pre-commercial/commercial equipment, test/commercial spectrum, location or geography, form factor or status of test terminal, architectural mode, ng Core/EPC and so on.

So, here are the week’s announcements so far, with some attendant judgement on the “5G First” nature of the event.

Is Verizon the first to launch commercial 5G services?

Verizon launched its “5G” fixed wireless access services with the headline “5G Is Here”. Customers in four cities can start to order this home broadband service. Is it 5G? It’s not mobile, it’s not built to 3GPP 5G NR standards, it doesn’t use a modified OFDM waveform as per 5G NR So does the operator get to say it’s the first 5G operator? Only if you count equipment built to 5GTF *5G Technical Forum specs as 5G.

Pointers to the future? The operator included in its FWA launch reminders of work it is doing in 5G NR (ie real 5G) and the “firsts” it has attained there. That slightly conflates the two efforts, and creates a sense that 5GTF (ie FWA) is a marker on the road to 5G NR commercialisation, whereas in fact it is a fork in the road.

2. Sprint and Nokia say they will be demonstrating 5G NR using Nokia’s dual mode capable AirScale base station and active antenna operating Massive MIMO (no further details) at the 2.5GHz band. The companies said they will show 3.5Gbps connectivity using 120MHz carrier. This, they say,  is the first such demo in the US. Thus is the geographic variation, allied to spectrum specificity,  deployed to achieve a 5G First. 

3. Ericcson, Qualcomm, AT&T form mmWave support to the reference device

This announcement was of “the world’s first wireless 5G data transfer over millimeter wave using standards-based, production equipment with a mobile form factor device.” The main differentiators here are the use of Qualcomm’s smartphone sized demonstrator device – which includes its X50 5G modem and RF subsystem – in combination with Ericsson’s 5G NR ERS.

It came as AT&T said it would be adding five more cities to its 2018 launches of mobile 5G.

4. But just as AT&T, Ericsson and Qualcomm were celebrating that announcement, there came this from Verizon. This announcement heralded the first end-to-end call with a smartphone form factor test device on a commercial 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR). Once more this was the Qualcomm device and the Ericsson 5G NR. Sound familiar? Yes indeed. There was slightly more specificity on the spectrum band (39GHz) as opposed to the more general mmWave.

But can we call this one a dead heat?

Also in 5G:

AT&T announced Nokia, Samsung and Ericsson as vendors, without putting a value or scope of contract on those deals. T-Mobile said it had signed a £3.5 billion agreement with Ericsson, matching the deal value it had previously announced with Nokia for 5G network and related deployments.

AT&T also said it would be testing CBRS equipment and supporting services from Samsung and Commscope. It described these as 5G-ready, because why not? But do note: “we will start by using LTE in CBRS Spectrum”.