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What can we expect from 5G?

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In this third part of our series, which explains what to expect from 5G, we'll focus on how deploying 5G can affect rural and underserved areas.

A quick refresher: what is 5G?

If you haven't read the first article in the series, you may need a refresher on what 5G actually is – and what isn't. The term "5G" itself does not refer to a specific frequency range; It only indicates the communication protocol used, e.g. B. 2G, 3G and 4G. Sometimes you'll also see the term 5G NR, which simply means "new generation fifth generation" – the two terms are interchangeable. Fortunately, unlike previous generations, there are no competing standards – 5G is just 5G.

Common frequencies used by consumer-facing wireless devices. Check out the entire mmWave spectrum! "Src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Radio-Frequency-Spectrum-Diagram-0-55GHz-640x211.png "width =" 640 "height =" 211 " srcset = "https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Radio-Frequency-Spectrum-Diagram-0-55GHz.png 2xEnlarge /. Common frequencies used by consumer-facing wireless devices. Take a look at the whole mmWave spectrum!

Jim Salter

Even so, much of what you've heard about 5G is likely related to specific frequencies that it can operate at. For 5G, three general bands are assigned, which are further subdivided and rented to individual airlines. These are the low, medium, and high bands. The lower and middle bands are 600 MHz to 900 MHz and 2.5 GHz to 4.2 GHz, respectively. These bands have similar radio characteristics as existing 4G LTE low and high bands. Collectively, you can also hear the pair called "Sub-6GHz" or "5G FR1".

The most dramatic claims – and boring predictions – you've heard about 5G are actually not about the protocol itself. They are roughly the third tape it can work on, known as mmWave (short for "Millimeter Wave" ) or "5G FR2". The millimeter wave spectrum ranges from 28 GHz to 52.6 GHz and offers incredibly wide channels – each up to 800 MHz – but also has very different high-frequency properties than the sub-6 GHz bands. Millimeter waves generally don't penetrate outside walls or bend around obstacles – but the "echoes" they create when bouncing off hard obstacles like glass or concrete are usable, so you don't necessarily get a direct, clear line from need to see a nearby tower for mmWave to work.

That's enough information to understand the rest of what we're going to cover today. However, if you are interested in more hairy details, you can return to the first article in the series. it goes into considerable additional detail.

Sub-6GHz and rural communities

This OpenSignal graph shows the average speeds for mmWave, mid-band, and low-band deployments from US carriers. "Src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/opensignal-5g- chart-640x360.png "width =" 640 "height =" 360 "srcset =" https: / /cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/opensignal-5g-chart.png 2xEnlarge /. This OpenSignal graph shows the average speeds for mmWave, mid-band, and low-band deployments from US carriers.

We suspect that in rural communities, mmWave is unlikely to be deployed anytime soon. While the extremely high throughput and low latency of mmWave is exciting, it has some significant drawbacks for rural areas: its range is significantly shorter than bands below 6 GHz, and things are much harder to penetrate, including but not limited to on wooded areas.

The biggest obstacle to mmWave's use in rural communities is the same reason these communities are primarily underserved – their lower population density and larger areas make them less profitable to invest in. We suspect that for the next few years 5G deployments in rural communities will be largely similar to previous 4G deployments – mostly in the very far-reaching low band below 1 GHz.

Verizon's 5G deployments are mmWave, Sprints are mostly mid-band deployments, and AT & T & # 39; s and T-Mobile & # 39; s are low-band deployments. All bands show a significant improvement over 4G. "Src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/opensignal-5g-vs-4g-640x360.png "width =" 640 "height =" 360 "srcset =" https : //cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/opensignal-5g-vs-4g-1280x720.png 2xEnlarge /. Verizon's 5G deployments are mmWave, Sprints are mostly mid-band deployments, and AT & T & # 39; s and T-Mobile & # 39; s are low-band deployments. All bands show a significant improvement over 4G.

However, that doesn't mean these communities won't see improvements. Although the difference between 4G and 5G in the lower and middle bands isn't as noticeable as the difference between sub-6GHz and mmWave, it's still pretty big. OpenSignal tested the average US 5G download speeds from Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T on each of the three bands. The AT&T 59.3Mbps and T-Mobile 47.5Mbps low-band download speeds, while not setting your hair on fire, are significantly better than the speeds seen on similar 4G Ribbons currently offers.

These 5G low-band improvements are particularly attractive in high-density environments. You might think that doesn't apply to rural communities – after all, the whole problem is they don't have enough people to attract communications companies to invest in them. However, these communities are usually served by relatively few towers and for the most part with narrow, low-band channels. There is less airtime on these low-band channels, and in many rural areas, service has declined sharply since the quarantine efforts began, with more people staying at home and competing for airtime on the same low-range, low-bandwidth frequencies.

These areas are likely to see two main benefits of the 5G rollout: the higher efficiency due to the tighter timing makes more airtime available in both the lower and middle bands, and the need to upgrade the equipment on the towers to support 5G the likelihood that the growing "inner cities" of these small communities will have at least some low-band towers fitted with new mid-band equipment. The mid-band doesn't go as far as the low-band – but it does offer several times the bandwidth per channel, which means that any mid-band tower can serve more users at higher speeds than just low-band towers.

In many rural households, these improvements don't just extend to phones and tablets – household Internet access via cellular broadband is becoming more common. This trend is likely to increase as 5G deployments increase the speed and quality of cellular internet connections. We expect a wide range of devices like the upcoming MR5200 Sub-6GHz 5G modem from Netgear to make it easier to provide Wi-Fi for the entire home bridged over a 5G internet connection.

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