5G is not the “Silver Bullet” for the Digital Divide

From the beginning of the discussion around 5G, I have not been sold on the prospect of 5G networks being the panacea to solve connectivity challenges in the United States (and, in other parts of the world).

In 2007, I remember my enthusiasm for LTE, and the prospect of bridging the digital divide using this technology.  Now, 10 years later the same enthusiasm is there for 5G.

There are two reasons I don’t trust this trend:

  1. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The on-the-ground realities always difer signficantly from the labs. The telecom industry (and, especially players marketing the potential of 5G) have an incentive for the markets to believe this idea.
  2. The middle mile and the last mile still require significant investment. The middle mile will still need fiber, and the last mile is still complicated — i.e. line-of-sight and obstructions will still be there.

This article in FierceWireless “Editor’s Corner—Fixed 5G was tested by the cable industry, and it came up a bit short” describes some key areas to consider:

I’m going to dig into some of the more interesting findings, including a cost comparison between fiber deployments and fixed 5G deployments, a little later, but first let’s cut to the chase: “We have come a long way in the drive to 5G—but as the saying goes—there is still a long way to go,” concludes the report. “As cable operators move Fiber Deeper going to an all passive coax network, the ability to deliver multiple Gbps of capacity to a single home, seems an easier path than building out a FWA [fixed wireless access] millimeter wave architecture.”

Basically, the report concludes that fixed 5G can deliver pretty fast speeds, but that it’s significantly hampered by interference issues, coverage challenges and backhaul and deployment obstacles. It predicts that fixed 5G services might initially be used to deliver services into apartments and other so-called MDUs (multi-dwelling units), and that cable operators might consider using it to reach specific locations more quickly while they build out fiber connections. But Arris and CableLabs definitely don’t present fixed 5G as the panacea that some in the wireless industry have—and they’re not recommending that cable operators immediately switch over to 5G.

So, what do we do?

We do the hardwork and make the long-term descisions to put fiber in the ground. The last mile will be a hybrid solution of fiber, cable, and wireless for years to come. Let’s embrace it fully.

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