At the start of 2016, few could have predicted some of the major events that would impact the Internet connectivity industry. For example, a big surprise was AT&T’s launch of its DirecTV Now streaming service, which helped to release the binds that tie cord-keepers to the traditional linear TV service. In addition, the sudden pull-back of Google Fiber and other similar fiber deployments represented a sea change, shifting momentum to new fixed wireless technologies. Google, Facebook and the cellular 5G industry have been quick to support these innovations as the new alternatives for broad-spread, fiber-fast speeds.
Here’s what to expect during what will be an exciting year in telecoms:
Tech investment shifts priority from apps to infrastructure
With the results of the U.S election surprising so many, from pollsters to the tech industry, it’s important to examine whether the technology sector is really focusing on the compelling technologies that will resonate in the face of rapidly evolving consumer preferences. While we can all appreciate the appeal of smartphone apps, driverless cars, and Internet of Things devices, innovations like these will seem inaccessibly distant to a large proportion of the population which barely has access to affordable, fast Internet.
Much of the rhetoric in the U.S. presidential campaign was about new infrastructure, so it’s easy to imagine how the tech industry could pivot towards solutions that ultimately improve quality of life and stimulate the economy more broadly. Improvements in traditional infrastructure such as roads, bridges and transportation may be welcomed, yet the tech industry’s equivalents, including advancements in fiber-fast wireless for Internet access in rural and suburban areas, will have broad reaching benefits for industries such as agriculture and healthcare. Subsequently, in 2017 we can expect there to be greater investment in the broadband infrastructure that is key to supporting most technological innovation across the U.S.
New spectrum sharing and licensing approach proves successful and expands
The long-awaited Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5GHz band will launch early this year. It offers 150MHz of mobile and fixed wireless spectrum, along with the new Spectrum Access System (SAS) database to allow new spectrum sharing. However, the bigger development to follow might be how this new approach to licensing and coordination might expand into other bands to open up significant additional chunks of spectrum.
Almost all useful wireless spectrum has been allocated, so the important next step is to identify underutilized spectrum that could be re-allocated or shared, to keep up with demand for mobile and fixed wireless Internet. The SAS has two critical functions that can enable this to happen: it can keep track of current incumbent use of spectrum so that it can be protected, and issue new licenses or access in the band. Completely clearing out existing use by government and other wireless applications can be extremely expensive, so we can expect that if the SAS is successful, we’ll see it proposed as a solution to add new fixed and mobile applications into a variety of underutilized bands. These could include the licensed 24GHz band, and the adjacent bands (3.1-3.5GHz and 3.7-4.2GHz) to the 3.5GHz CBRS.
More TV providers will jump into the online TV game, not just Apple
Despite new entrants into the online TV space, such as Apple, the usual suspects continue to retain their lead. AT&T has cut its own cord, recognizing the value of a TV service for the growing population that prefers Internet-only plans. The stage is now set for Comcast and other ISPs to respond and start a true TV content arms race to complement Netflix and Amazon Prime. This is fantastic news for consumers and even better news for ISPs investing in new fixed internet infrastructures, which can support TV services, such as live sports, for their customers.
It is understandable that major fiber and wireline players, such as Verizon and AT&T, are now focusing on 5G for fixed wireless so they can also start offering fixed Internet services nationwide. Abandoning the physical and geographic limitations of wireline Internet and selling content to a much broader audience makes perfect sense.
mmWave again proves to be over-valued
In 2016 we saw a concerted push to raise the profile of the high-frequency mmWave spectrum to prove its viability, especially with 5G cellular players. The FCC Spectrum Frontiers freed up significant swaths of spectrum in the 60GHz bands, which reaffirmed the value of 70GHz for the infrastructure market and cleared the way for 28GHz licensing for Verizon to conduct 5G tests. But let’s not forget our physics lessons, or our actual real world experience in the mmWave band, and confuse what these very large spectrum allocations can be successfully used for.
We’ve seen 70GHz work incredibly well for point-to-point infrastructure links that have total Line of Sight (LOS), utilized by companies such as Webpass, that was acquired this year by Google Fiber last year. In the growing urban multi-dwelling building internet market, it’s a highway for 10Gbps links that can be scaled with little fear of interference.
However, when we look at the suburban, single family home market, where the majority of the population resides, it’s almost entirely a Non Line of Sight (NLOS) market. Countless ISPs that have deployed mmWave frequency technologies have demonstrated exactly what physics suggest - that shorter propagation, environmental absorption and foliage loss make the spectrum unusable for NLOS environments. The only exception to this may be at extremely short distances with extensive beamforming technologies, and reflective surfaces in cities, perhaps making it viable out to about 500 feet.
While there’s clearly value in using mmWave for LOS infrastructure links in the middle mile of the network, it will prove not to be a good license investment if it’s expected to be a multipoint solution to deliver internet in the last quarter mile to reach consumers. Subsequently, this year the value of low frequency spectrum will be realised, due to its incredible propagation characteristics through foliage and construction materials, which will make it ideal for suburban and urban NLOS environments.
About the Author
As Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Mimosa, Jaime is driving a disruptive wireless alternative solution for gigabit fixed Internet and Wi-Fi applications. With his prior experience as CTO of 2Wire (acquired by Pace), Jaime pioneered delivering IP services to the home over Fiber and xDSL.
At Mimosa, he now aims to surpass the capacities of legacy wireline technology and deliver multi-gigabit wireless access solutions at a fraction of the cost. Previously, he headed Product Management at Polycom, and Zhone Technologies. Jaime holds a BSCE from the University of California, Irvine, USA.
Edited by Alicia Young