Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Thinking VERY hard about the rollout of early 5G services

The likely repeal of net neutrality got many of us thinking about the rollout of early 5G services and how that might be affected by the ending of Title II rules, as such next-generation networks are a likely place where operators can start experimenting with brand new pricing structures and more.

At a high-level, 5G -- especially high-band millimeter wave 5G -- is going to exacerbate the digital divide. Initially, that's because it will be rolled out only in dense urban pockets and will likely never be deployed in rural areas. This is no surprise; the same was true of 4G and 3G before it. If the operators don't think they can make enough money off by deploying it, they probably won't. (See Islands in the Stream: Don't Expect Full mmWave 5G Coverage in US, Says Nokia and Nokia Bell Labs & Verizon Stretch Fixed 5G to the Home.)

Now, this might affect more than a rural user's access to a fast broadband connection. The low-latency 5G network is supposed to be a technology that underpins self-driving cars. So if you can't get 5G in your rural town, will connected cars actually be viable? Meanwhile, a rural business might find itself at a significant disadvantage if it can't take advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT) support coming in 2019's Phase II 5G specifications.

I'm sure that the deployment of low-band (>600MHz) 5G from the likes of T-Mobile US Inc. and beyond could help to alleviate some of those issues. Much wider area coverage with the lower bands, you see. But it's a solid bet that some rural areas in the US and Europe will find themselves at a disadvantage, possibly for years, maybe even forever.

Beyond that, new features in the 5G core architecture make segregating network access and services much easier than ever before. Network slicing has mostly been marketed as a way to provide low-latency localized services with a far lower data rate, for dedicated IoT sensors and so on. But that, of course, means that slices could be set up to offer, let's say, much higher data rates for -- oh, let us say -- streaming 4K and eventually 8K video services from specific providers.

So, you can see what I'm suggesting here, right? If net neutrality gets canned, I think we can assume that operators will start experimenting with different content packages at selective data rates and pricing schemes.

Now, forthcoming 5G is the nearest thing the US has to a greenfield market for wireless right now. The expectation is that 5G users will consume at least ten times the data they do currently on 4G. If operator executives know how they will price such services yet, they ain't saying. I've asked!
So, 5G seems like an ideal testing ground for the new rules of a post-net neutrality world.

So it is high time for us all to Buckle up!

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