Small and rural US operators are scrambling to get 4G LTE and voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) deployed as quickly as possible as the industry lurches toward a challenging 5G fight.
Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) CEO Steven Berry told Mobile World Live regional operators have ambitious plans for 5G, but are rushing to get 4G rolled out before handset changes make their 3G networks obsolete.
“It’s imperative they get the 4G LTE because in another 18 months or so it will be difficult to find devices that have a fall back capability on a 3G, CDMA type network,” he explained.
Berry said small and rural operators are cognisant of the fact their 4G builds will lay the foundation for 5G and IoT deployments and are moving forward carefully to be ready for the future.
5G work under way
Like their tier-one counterparts, Berry said regional operators have already started testing 5G, with an eye to overcoming the challenges unique to covering rural areas. By way of example, he pointed to recent fixed-wireless 5G tests from Mississippi-based operator C Spire, which yielded multi-gigabit speeds.
Though mmWave has notoriously poor propagation characteristics, Berry said the spectrum is still valuable to rural operators to provide targeted high-speed coverage in common gathering spots.
“You have football stadium, conventions, small towns that are economic hubs for a small county and that’s where you want to make sure you have a millimetre wave capability to do high-speed connectivity. Then when you go out of that town, you have your LTE network with VoLTE and LTE-Advanced and because there are fewer people out there, you’re hopefully going to be able to sustain significant speeds out there.”
But Berry noted gaining access to prized 5G spectrum is a problem for many financially and geographically constrained operators.
Getting the spectrum
CCA vocally opposed both Verizon’s Straight Path acquisition and AT&T’s FiberTower deal, noting the transactions handed those operators 80 per cent of mmWave spectrum currently available on the market. Berry added such a move allows one or both to hone in on certain spectrum bands and corner the market.
In the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed 28GHz spectrum auction (due in November), Berry warned the operators would likely “outbid everybody and it will be a disincentive for smaller carriers” to even try to bid on those airwaves. Instead, Berry said CCA has suggested the Commission auction all the spectrum it has earmarked for 5G at once using smaller geographic area licenses to give smaller operators a fair shot.
“We’re trying to make sure that the competitive carriers have an opportunity to get a slice of the spectrum.”
He continued: “I think these smaller carriers have a great opportunity in the 5G world to be the providers for niche markets in rural America. That’s what these smaller carriers will be able to do, reach areas that wouldn’t otherwise be considered a positive capex investment for the largest carriers.”