The 5G Conundrum

Christopher Mims has a good post on the 5G headaches that are in store for those of us in the US as we roll out 5G:

While getting to wireless speeds that are close to the fastest wired speeds is important, it also begs the question why are we doing it this way.

Jessica Rosenworcel, who is one of the FCC Commissioners, explains why the US approach to 5G is different than elsewhere in this opinion piece:

I was in a meeting earlier this year and there were some execs from the big wireless carriers in the room. They were complaining about how difficult local governments are being on the 5G rollout. I asked them if 5G is really going to work with this network architecture that requires so much infrastructure buildout. They were confident. I am not.


Comments (Archived):

  1. David C. Baker

    That was a good article. I learned something. About six months ago we moved from Nashville to Lascassas, to a 61-acre farm on top of a hill. It’s six miles from the city center of Murfreesboro, but I was pleasantly surprised (thrilled, actually) to see that Google could get me a 1GB connection for $70/month, and no long-term contract. It’s on a half-mile dead end road and our driveway is 1,800’ long! But it enables me to continue a vibrant business that is so dependent on online access. I could have had one of those Verizon pucks, but it wouldn’t have been as viable. I’ve come to see how relevant high speed access is to rural America.If you aren’t sure how 5G will transform transportation in flyover country, just think about farming equipment and the possibilities there. Staggering.At some point you have to realize that flyover America’s two biggest advantages over the citified progressive cities comes down to two things: a higher birth rate and access to water in spades. 🙂

    1. Jon Smirl

      Don’t drink the 5G coolaid. Those tractors run just fine on 4G in the few places where they can receive a 4G signal. It will be several decades before the carriers will even consider wiring rural America for 5G, if ever.

    2. jason wright

      The rowover states will be here soon enough. You’ve staked out some prime real estate for populating with climate change refugees.

    3. sigmaalgebra

      My Web site sends pages for 400,000 bits per page. One user might get on average 10 pages for 4 Mb (million bits). At an average of 1 user a second, I should be able to get revenue of about $250 K per month. So, one user a second would generate an average upload data rate of 4 Mbps (million bits per second). With a peak of two users a second, I would need upload data rate of 8 Mbps.Uh, now, let me check at Speed Test:Download: 205 MbpsUpload: 36 MbpsSo for my $250 K a month in revenue, I need a peak upload data rate of 8 Mbps but have full time rate of 36 Mbps.And my ISP has offered me faster speeds, maybe also faster upload speeds.So, how interested am I in 5 Gbps? For now, not very.Lets see: Can get a movie in an MP4 file of 1 GB (gigabyte, billion bytes).Assume that on the Internet, one byte sends for 10 bits. Then at 205 Mbps a 1 GB movie would take10 * 10**9 / ( 205 * 10**6 )= 10 * 10**3 / ( 205 ) = 49seconds to down load, pretty fast for a 90 or so minute movie!Okay, okay, we will have mobile phones on a network with 5 Gbps download speeds.Sooo, what will people do with that much data rate? Watch 20 movies at once, each movie in 3D, drive their car by remote control, watch their kids play in the pool, shop at Amazon with high quality interactive video, etc., all at the same time?Okay, but then they will need to carry around a screen about, what, 2 feet by 3 feet? Or, of course, borrow from Darth Vader and get a helmet with special glasses inside?Now, just envision that future!!!! All the young women looking like Darth Vader and bonding 16 hours a day in remote kitchen table gossip sessions: Another big punch to the gut on our already fatally low birth rate!!!

      1. paramendra

        Postal service or email?

    4. sigmaalgebra

      Just now I’m moving. I can go anywhere I want that has a good Internet connection. My brother’s part of the family is in TN, in Knoxpatch. Since you have such good Internet access, maybe I should consider going to TN???

    5. TRoberts

      Can you imagine the infrastructure & economic boon it would be if we had a national push to run fiber everywhere and make the US the leader in data connectivity?

      1. David C. Baker

        It might be as impactful as our interstate system was.

        1. paramendra

          Times 100.

  2. suntzu

    What are the long term health hazards involved in 5G?

    1. jason wright

      Wait and see.

      1. suntzu

        If we wait – we won’t be able to see it

    2. kidmercury

      5G health risks are substantial, as many scientists will agree:…risks include: brain cancer, heart cancer, male infertility, depression, migraines, alzheimers, fatigue……it would be nice if the tech industry honestly addressed this issue. refusal to do so will only make the popular backlash against tech companies grow in strength and legitimacy.

      1. suntzu

        Time horizon of the continuous exposure to cell’s health has never been studied properly

  3. Matt Zagaja

    The crazy thing is that existing LTE technology that I have on my iPhone XS today can support up to Gigabit speeds. In Portugal I was getting 200Mbps down via LTE which was more than I would likely ever need on an iPhone. The real win in Internet technology today is the roll out of fiber optic service. The new apartment I spent yesterday moving into has FiOS from Verizon and I get 300Mbps up and down. It is much faster than Comcast at a better speed. However the real limiting reagent on my speed is WiFi. If I’m in the same room as my router and connected to 5GHz than I can pull 300 down. 2.4GHz is around 50Mbps in real world scenarios. They were trying to sell me a full Gigabit for 20 more a month but unless I buy one of those fancy mesh setups or hard-wire in, I would never achieve gigabit speeds over wireless.The truth is most users are ok once you get to 50Mbps or so. As a power user the only time I’ve ever felt my connection was not up to speed was when uploading large videos or datasets, but that was when I had Comcast that limited my upload to 8Mbps or so. I chose Verizon because I moved and as a technical user I understand that fiber optic service is better and that Verizon was a better deal cost-wise. However Verizon has to do a ton of advertising to acquire users despite being a better deal because Comcast for them is good enough.

    1. Andrzej Michalski

      I agree, albeit with one exception: bullishly pushing for higher data speeds with mobile platforms provides fuel for innovation – the likes of which we might not yet be able to imagine.It wasn’t many years ago that I couldn’t comprehend why certain entrepreneurs were starting companies thinking they could stream audio to mobile phones – I couldn’t imagine that a mobile network could get anywhere close enough and handle contention load to boot. How wrong I was!

  4. Jon Smirl

    High band 5G is the result of the dreams of the wireless carriers to replace cable in urban areas with fixed wireless.Personally I think the whole rush to 5G is pointless. I drive from Boston to Miami along I95 a couple of times each year. Over about 15% of that route I can get a 4G signal. About 70% of the route is 3G. And the last 15% has no cell service. This is the busiest long distance interstate highway in America and it only has 4G over 15% of the route. What is going to happen along this route when they turn off 3G a few years (2022) from now? Is 85% of the busiest interstate in America going to have no service?I would much rather have the carriers focusing on expanding 4G coverage to more areas, but they have lost much of the incentive to do that. Almost everyone is on unlimited plans, or fixed plans large enough that they don’t get overages. Because of this the wireless carriers’ revenue is constant no matter what they do with expanding coverage. And low and behold, they seem to have stopped caring about expanding coverage.So what do they want? They want new revenue sources, hence the rush to urban 5G as a cable replacement. That gives them a new thing to bill for.

  5. jason wright…”This rollout could mean three or four different carriers will be arriving at your street, each trying separately to dig to bury fiber. (And yes, fiber-optic cable almost always has to be buried.)”Is this a Monty Python sketch?

    1. Jon Smirl

      The carriers want access to the large, monopoly revenues of the cable ISPs. The only way currently to access that customer base is to run multiple service options to every home. We tried that a hundred years ago and this was the result:…A much saner ISP system is municipal owned or regulated last mile networks back to POPs concentrating about 25,000 customers. That allows for customer connections to any ISP who runs a wire to the POP. Now you’d have 20-30 choices for service. In this model the last mile network is a regulated pipe and does not offer any services. All services are purchased from providers at the POP.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        By the TLA (three letter acronym) POP you mean “point of presence” or as is in e-mail “post office protocol” or something else?I thought that in the Internet, point of presence meant a connection to the Internet backbone and likely using BGP (border gateway protocol) instead of just IP (internet protocol)?

        1. Jon Smirl

          Point of presence, these locations where 25,000+ last mile connections come together would be serviced by multiple providers. For example you might have connections to Verizon, Level3, Comcast, Amazon, Google backbones all available at the POP. Routers installed at the POP would sort all of this out.We already have this model currently, but the POPs are closed. Only the cable ISPs can run interconnect lines into them since they own the POPs. This forces anyone who wants to compete with the cable ISP to build an entire last mile overlay. And we really don’t need four or five overlay builds all trying to service rich neighborhoods.The basic idea is that you buy dumb pipe connectivity to the POP from your town or a regulated provider. Once your data arrives at the POP anything goes — you can buy ISP service from any provider with a presence. Downside — the cable ISP is no longer a monopoly.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            Sure. I just thought that with the usual terminology a POP was on the backbone and handled much more than just 25,000 users.

      2. Michael Elling

        Close, but no cigar. How do you ensure that government owned last mile stays up to date? What are the incentives for them to stay ahead of the technological obsolescence curve?

        1. Jon Smirl

          It does not have to be government owned, it can also simply be regulated and privately owned. In exchange for regulation you get a monopoly license and regulated rates of return (like gas, water, etc). This is a dumb pipe that only goes to the POPs. The POPs then provide free interconnect for all comers (paid via the regulated rates, interconnect is free but customers pay for the services).Building overlay networks is pointless, I have two available at my house. And what’s the competition? They both have exactly the same high price and there are bunches of wires all over the poles. Fixed 5G would add more wire and a pizza box on every fourth pole. It is truly pointless.Control by elections, taxes? My town has the only town owned electricity utility in state and we have the lowest rates by far. Four wholesale supply lines come into the town and there is an electronic bidding system that automatically switches between suppliers.

          1. Michael Elling

            Don’t confuse 1-way regulated networks with 2-way (or 2-sided) networks (or marketplaces). That said, what happens with your utility example if one of the endpoints wants to start producing electricity? Who tells the single provider to modify the transmission to accept 2-way?Back to the 2-way communications model; demand can source centrally or from the endpoint. Think of all the “intranets” that terminate to your house or any location. What if they paid for the access? What if their buying power drove the total cost down? That said, how is pricing determined in your model? Average rates? How do we handle outliers or those where marginal cost is through the roof?Lastly, with rapidly changing technology (supply) and demand (which can be sourced from anywhere), how do we know what is optimal pricing and ROI to ensure that the network is being continuously upgraded.I very much like the horizontally scaled and vertically complete, shared model; I just think that a single sourced provider won’t cut it. Consider, also, that if we are SO dependent on digital ecosystems, do we truly want to rely on a single provider? Redundancy already calls for two, no?Let’s consider instead a more complex system of incentives and disincentives all the way out to the end points that make the networks far more fluid; resembling living organisms than the current siloed, vertically integrated oligopolies.

          2. Jon Smirl

            We can sell power back into the town grid, but I don’t believe there is any infrastructure to allow for the entire town to become a net generation source and push power back into the regional providers. We are no where near doing that so I don’t believe it has been looked at. Everyone’s house has a smart meter which supports dynamic pricing and two way generation.For internet you would pay a flat fee set by the town (or whoever is regulating) for a basic dumb pipe to the POP. If you want a bigger pipe you’d pay a surcharge. Construction costs would be shared like they are with the water or sewer supply.Once at the POP you would than have to subscribe to ISP service from one of the available providers at the POP. Once you have ISP service then you can add on video from any of the various providers. Note that this can be made very efficient if the streaming providers install hardware at the POP.One thing I’ve always wondered about, what happens to the existing infrastructure if the town ceases to renew cable licenses? I guess the ISP would have to remove it, or maybe they might sell to the town??

          3. Michael Elling

            Jon, I understand all that. You are missing my points about various incentives/disincentives along the way and ensuring that the entire system is sustainable and generative over the longer term. I’ve been studying networks for 30 years (going back not only to the digital stone-ages of the 1840s, but all the way back to Roman times) and you’re not addressing things like technological change, constantly growing and bifurcating demand, marginal costs, etc…BTW, it would be great if the cable networks get repurposed by a myriad of supply/demand clearing solutions; especially starting with redundancy and backup. Not sure if you track the 4G failover market for SMB and enterprise WANs, but it is quite robust. And if we have a lot more telework/education/medicine, we will certainly want backups to the homes.

          4. Jon Smirl

            It doesn’t seem that difficult to me. We have two existing build outs in my town and applications pending to do a fixed 5G build out. Why? Because the average house price in my area is over $2M and these subs are extremely valuable. But there is no competition, all of the rates are are identical and expensive. Comcast in my area is fifty percent more than the price other friends of mine pay for identical service.Why do we have three last mile providers? Because it is so valuable to monopoly capture the high income subs. But there is little difference between the three last mile offerings. I am voting against the fixed 5G deployment, but it will happen anyway. I’m tried of the telephone poles looking like equipment Christmas trees. And, of course, thirty miles west of me there are large areas with no service at all.Maybe there is a venture opportunity to help towns not renew their cable franchises, acquire the last mile plant, and then hire this new company to run it on a regulated basis. Seems like a large market, there are 20,000 towns in America.BTW, if you want to upgrade the last mile network, you put it on the ballot and if it passes you get a tax surcharge to pay for it. My town is looking at building a solar farm as a fifth electricity source. That will be on the ballot sooner or later. My town will issue bonds to pay for it, and then the rates will be adjusted off pay off the bonds. This model works for water and electricity, it should work for dumb pipes too.

  6. William Mougayar

    Canada has chosen the 600 Mhz option and is almost finished rolling it out.It’s interesting that Huawei is a major supplier of 5G equipment, given the political turmoils around them.

  7. sigmaalgebra

    There’s the old idea in economics of supply and demand. The economists present the idea in a crude way; big counterexamples are common; but for something simple and crude it often works significantly well.One common result is, if the supply is way too high, then the price per unit falls. Well, for nearly every end user on the Internet, 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) is a LOT of supply which would mean that the price per bit per second would fall, maybe fall enough that on average for each user their costs would also fall.E.g., my pizza recipe (better, cheaper, and faster than frozen, carry-out, or delivery) for one pizza for one lunch uses 9 cents of flour. If US farmers produce a lot more wheat and flour and the price falls to 2 cents per pizza, I will won’t eat more than just the one pizza. In particular for Internet data rate of 5 Gbps, I have no idea what I will do with it.Or, broadly we use the Internet for information, but information just doesn’t need 5 Gbps, even for 3D video.

  8. Guy Lepage

    There are companies on the fringe, former c-suite folks, who have a pretty good 5G system ready for scaling. You just need to look on the fringe. Technically 5G has already been rolling out but it’s coming from places that no one is talking about. We’re very lucky to be involved.

  9. Michael Elling

    The law of wireless gravity holds that a wireless bit will seek out fiber(wire) as quickly and cheaply as possible.In other words, wireless is merely access to wired infrastructure.Lastly, all networks clear supply and demand by tradeoffs across layers and boundaries. Wireless merely adds a dimension to the layer 1-3 tradeoffs that exist across the DAN/PAN/LAN and MAN, And sometimes even the WAN.DAN = Device area networkPAN = Personal area networkLAN = Local…MAN = Metro…

  10. Michael Elling

    To understand 5G, we need to really understand the forces behind 4G (and 1-3G as well). The first 4 were about getting to 100% penetration. 5G doesn’t really add to that, and in fact, makes it more expensive; at least the way it is currently configured.That’s a “demand-side” perspective.The other demand side perspective is that 4G would not have happened without the iPhone. But unlike conventional thinking, it was the equal access part of the iPhone and the breaking down of the carrier silos that really created the demand-driven application ecosystem that was reliant on ubiquitous (indoor) access; aka wifi. As the application ecosystem exploded the performance drawbacks of 3G for data became readily apparent.Had it not been for the iPhone, I posit that we would still be mostly reliant on 3G access. Instead we saw a demand-side pull through of 4G.Where’s the iPhone for 5G?Everything else is supply side nonsense and gobbledygook. And I can point out all the technical, economic and strategic flaws in the 5G playbook.

  11. Nilesh Trivedi

    5G, both architecturally and functionally is quite different from it’s previous generations. While, up until 4G, it was always about the bandwidth (read: speeds and feeds), 5G is about latency, latency < 10ms that changes the game entirely for many industries. The things you could not do because your data’s round-trip time trips the application using the network. #2- The 5G architecture, for the first time ever in mobile telecom history, is about softwarization of the network and that softwarization is happening via open-source technologies. Right from the Radio Access Network (RAN) to Core Network and beyond into the Internet Protocol (IP)/Data Center layer, everything could eventually be software driven. This is why an e-commerce player like Rakuten is building an entire network from scratch in lesser time and lesser Capex, and hopefully much lesser Opex.