What path convoluted path will 5G take in Houston before we can call it full-blown 5G?
The city of Houston, Texas will have full-blown 5G network service by 2020, reported the Houston Chronicle on Monday. The article reassures frustrated readers who suffer slow connectivity, that 5G is on the way.
Trying to parse exactly what full-blown 5G means in Houston is complicated. Obviously 5G will be in Houston at some point, and probably sooner rather than later — there is already 5G testing going on in that market. It’s the tween stage — what happens between now and the city’s goal of 5G in 2020 — that is hard to describe.
AT&T and Comcast are the biggest broadband suppliers in Houston, says the Houston Chronicle. Mobile users are served by Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile as well as smaller carriers.
Network infrastructure company Castle Crown is helping to build 5G service in Houston. The company, which is headquartered there, says Houston is one of the easier cities in which to get right-of-way access for underground cables and above ground antennas, according to the Houston Chronicle. Houston proper has about 2,000 towers and three times that much in the larger Houston metro area, Castle Crown says.
The 2017 Super Bowl at Houston’s NRG Stadium inspired carriers to install network improvements in and around the stadium. Carriers added DAS (distributed antenna systems) using 4G.
Sprint plans to put its “split mode” massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) radios in Houston, along with eight other U.S. cities, starting this year. The split mode supports both LTE and 5G on the same radio, enabling a quicker, cheaper upgrade to 5G involving software only. Sprint calls this multi-year effort its “Next-Gen Network.” The Next-Gen Network includes upgrading to a triband service for Sprint’s 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz spectrum as well as adding new sites and further densification through small cells.
AT&T will put its 5G Evolution into Houston. 5G Evolution is based on LTE Advanced Pro features rather than 5G New Radio. AT&T specifically named Houston, among 140 other cities, where the company will add 5G Evolution technology in 2018.
Houston was one of 11 markets where Verizon deployed and tested its 5GTF technology. Consulting firm Signals Research Group (SRG) tested Verizon’s 5GTF network in Houston earlier this year. “Although the 5GTF specifications are not compatible with the 3GPP 5G NR specifications,” said SRG in a preview of its testing report, “we believe the performance characteristics of millimeter wave are very similar between the two sets of specifications.”
Verizon does have plans to launch fixed 5G residential broadband service in four cities in 2018, and Houston has not been named yet as one of those markets. As of May 15, Verizon has named only two cities — Los Angeles and Sacramento — both in California, as the first cities to get Verizon’s fixed 5G wireless implementation. Verizon will eventually use 28 GHz and 39 GHz millimeter wave spectrum.
“Beyond Los Angeles and Sacramento, we haven’t announced any additional markets where we’ll deploy our 5G residential broadband service,” a spokesperson for Verizon told RCR Wireless News by email. “That launch will happen in the second half of this year. We’ll deploy residential broadband service initially, but it’s just the first of many 5G use cases we see for our customers, including a mobile 5G solution.”
Verizon does say it intends to be the first company to deploy a 5G fixed wireless broadband network in the U.S., in its 10-K filing with U.S. Security and Exchange Commission. The company ran pre-commercial trials in 2017 (its 5GTF) and committed in November 2017 to commercially launch 5G wireless residential broadband services in three to five U.S. markets in 2018.
You can hear Verizon’s CEO Lowell McAdam talk about plans (or avoid talking about) in this video interview. No mention of Houston, Texas.
This story was updated to add Verizon’s comments.