Figuring out 5G seems to be a prominent theme this summer. Network operators and wireless equipment vendors are looking to 5G as a telecommunications panacea. More interesting though is that major integrators like HPE and Dell EMC are developing technologies for the 5G stack to get in on what is speculated to serve as the underlying foundation for newer technologies – think driverless cars and augmented reality. We can speculate all we’d like, but 5G won’t come to fruition for some time. Most slate 2020 to be its true “launch year”, but AT&T just boldly proclaimed their 5G Evolution service. Ericsson put forth a prediction that 15% of the global population will be covered by 5G in 2022. But before anyone can operate in accordance with 5G, the standard has to be finalized. This month, technical and policy experts met at EUCNC 2017 in Finland to discuss outstanding issues and standards prior to its finalization in 2018. In late June, top executives from the four mobile giants had met with President Donald Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai along with other administration officials to garner some executive level support for their rollouts.
In order for 5G standards to be met, once they are sorted, there will have to be a closer marriage between wireless infrastructure, such as cell towers and small cells, and fiber leading to compute-rich data centers. A telltale sign of this is Crown Castle’s $600m purchase of California fiber provider, Wilcon. The pickup adds 1,900 route miles, increasing Crown Castle’s net fiber assets to 28,000 route miles, complementing its 40,000 cell towers and small cell deployments. T-Mobile also shed light on its partnership with dark fiber providers to support its growing network of 15,000 small cells rather than building its own fiber network, which Verizon is doing. Projections of small cell deployment are aggressive, with some expecting deployments every 200 meters, which will further drive dark fiber investment. Fiber isn’t the only medium that will be in play, microwave and millimeter frequencies are actively being explored as critical transport mechanisms for 5G adherence.
Major M&A speculation is heating up. At this month’s eMerge Americas conference, Sprint’s CEO, Marcelo Claure, spoke fondly of the theoretical merger, pointing to the many snuggeries. It also seems the new “will they, won’t they” merger chatter involves Charter Communications and Cox Communications, respectively the second and third largest U.S. cable MSOs. Rumor has it that Charter is considering bidding on privately held Cox. Shutting down the speculation, Cox strongly asserted it is not for sale and rather focusing on organic growth.
The major carriers have been rather busy working to expand their existing capabilities, while the industry pundits are consumed reading the telecom tea leaves. AT&T extended its joint venture with China Telecom, which includes a pledge to develop new services to meet the needs of IoT, cloud-based bid data, VoLTE, and SDN. T-Mobile launched LTE-U across six cities in the U.S., allowing customers with compatible headsets to utilize 20MHZ of unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz band. Verizon shed light on how its digital media assets (particularly AOL and Yahoo) will fit into its telecommunications portfolio that reaches over one billion users. Lastly, Sprint is exploring way in which it could boost Charter Communications and Comcast’s wireless offering, akin to the way Verizon already works with Comcast to provide customers mobile hotspots.
That’s all for now. Don’t forget to stay tuned for up-to-date news and views from the Vertix team. Until next month…