5G Is Finally Coming to American Homes

Verizon has announced the first rollout of 5G in US homes, starting next month. And other carriers aren't too far behind. But are we seeing 5G's full potential yet?
A 5G small cell deployed by Verizon in a neighborhood in Indianapolis. (Image source: Verizon)

If there was one takeaway from Mobile World Congress Americas (MWCA) 2018, it's that companies are very excited about 5G...very excited. Carriers like Sprint and Verizon are ready to provide the connections, while suppliers like Ericsson and Nokia are ready to roll out small cell hardware for broadcasting 5G signals. There's a legislative push happening. And companies of all sizes, ranging from automakers to small AI startups, are ready to leverage the enhanced speeds and low latency promised by 5G.

But the question for most consumers here in the states has always been: When are we finally going to get to try it for ourselves?

During a keynote presentation at MCWA, Ronan Dunne, group president of Verizon Wireless, surprised everyone in attendance when he announced that, starting October 1, Verizon will be rolling out the first 5G home network in the United States. It will begin with rollouts in select areas of Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Houston, and Sacramento. As of this month, potential customers can check the Verizon website to see if they're eligible for service.

Verizon put several of its 5G Home products on display for demonstration at Mobile World Congress Americas, including its indoor and outdoor routers. (Image source: Design News)

A Verizon representative told Design News that the new service, Verizon 5G Home, will offer download speeds from 300 Mbps to up to 1 Gbps (at burst speeds). Current Verizon Wireless customers will have access to the service at a price of $50 per month for the first three months. Non-Verizon customers will have to pay $70 per month. Verizon has also promised no annual contract and that there will be no “throttling”—the controversial lowering of data speeds during peak usage hours or for customers with heavy data use.

A single small cell installed in a neighborhood can provide coverage for multiple homes. From there, customers will have two options for a 5G router: an indoor or outdoor version, depending on their needs and type of dwelling. Because the 5G signal does bounce fairly easily, the routers do not require a line of sight with the 5G small cell radio or with devices around the home. The routers are supplied by Samsung, which earlier this year unveiled a line of 5G products including radios and routers, as well as enterprise level products—ASIC-based 5G modems and millimeter-wave RFICs.

During his keynote, Dunne said that Verizon targeted home deployments because they will allow consumers to truly understand and experience 5G in a way that they might not get to in commercial applications. He was also quite evangelical about 5G, calling it an “enabler” and a job creator. "[5G] will enable artificial intelligence, deep, deep analytics, [and] the ability to have ubiquitous connectivity,” he told the audience.

He likened the rise of 5G to the Italian Renaissance. Dunne also touted the usual rhetoric, with which anyone familiar with the artificial intelligence vs. jobs debate will be all too familiar. 5G means better, faster AI and robotics, which means being able to automate even more mundane and repetitive workforce tasks. In theory, this will create new types of jobs and open up possibilities for humans to take on more creative and rewarding tasks.

The Race is On

While Verizon is the first to market in the US, other carriers are not too far behind. During MWCA 2018, AT&T announced a planned rollout for mobile 5G sometime later this year in Houston, Jacksonville, Louisville, New Orleans, San Antonio, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Raleigh, and Waco, Texas. The carrier said it has plans for 2019 rollouts in Las Vegas, LA, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose, though no specific dates have been given. AT&T also has plans to conduct trials of 5G in homes in pilot programs in Waco, Texas; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and South Bend, Ind.

T-Mobile is still waiting on approvals for a planned merger with Sprint to go through. But the company has inked a $3.5 billion deal with Ericsson, under which Ericsson will supply 5G radio hardware and software for T-Mobile's networks. Prior to this, T-Mobile closed a similar equipment deal with Nokia. The company plans to begin its 5G rollout in 2019, which could see an aggressive push if the T-Mobile/Sprint merger is allowed to happen.

But Not So Fast

If anyone noticed that Verizon's promised 5G speed of 300 Mbps is just as fast as what's offered by most fiber-based Internet today, they would be correct. Verizon's own Fios service offers download speeds ranging from 100 to 500 Mpbs with up to 940 Mpbs if customers upgrade to a “gigabit connection.” Average consumers who just want to check the Internet and watch Netflix and YouTube without any annoying buffering issues will probably wonder what the big deal is.

5G's potential is expected to peak somewhere in the 10 to 20 Gbps range. Later equipment updates will probably bring in-home 5G up to the level that speed manufacturers and carriers have been promising. Tests from Ericsson have clocked 5G download speeds at up to 3.6 Gbps. Qualcomm's internal tests with its modems have yielded speeds up to 4.29 Gpbs. And back in 2014, Samsung conducted tests that reached speeds as high as 7.5 Gbps.

Analysts are speculating that home-based (or fixed) 5G won't really take off without a killer app. Verizon's 5G Home services likely come packaged with Apple TV 4K for this very reason. Perhaps once device makers start rolling out 5G-enabled smart home products, gaming systems, or VR/AR devices, the needle will move more on the consumer end.

There's also the question of access. It's understandable that 5G Home is only coming to select cities at first. But it's unclear just what areas in those cities will have early access to 5G. One would hope that Verizon and other carriers are making the technology available in a variety of areas, and not just the most affluent regions. This is something Dunne addressed in his keynote: “We need to make sure we create the conditions, work with civil societies, governments, and local authorities. Democratizing access to 5G is an essential ingredient in that…It’s about ensuring all boats rise on a 5G tide.” A look at the installation sites once they are completed in October should reveal just how democratic Verizon's initial rollout will be.

Verizon seems excited to get 5G into consumers' hands in whatever ways possible and as quickly as possible—hence the fixed/home rollout ahead of mobile. But what Verizon and other carriers understand is that the real game changer will be mobile 5G. Verizon hasn't announced any concrete plans for a rollout here, but said that 5G Home customers will be the first with the option to sign up. It's looking like AT&T will be the first to push out mobile 5G in the US, but time will tell how consumers respond. Mobile or otherwise, the best bet for consumers and enterprises will probably be to wait until 5G reaches more of its full potential before jumping on the (millimeter) wave.

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, and robotics.

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