KPN launches 5G trials alongside 3.5 GHz moan

KPN has announced the launch of four new 5G trials in the Netherlands, while also giving the government a bit of a nudge to grant access to the 3.5 GHz frequency band.

Although the 3.5 GHz frequency has been marked as a priority for 5G by the European Commission, Dutch regulators have not included the band in any spectrum auctions to date, or the auction scheduled for 2019. This has been a point of frustration for the telcos, who seem to be taking it in turn to urge regulators to rethink plans. While this is seemingly KPN’s turn, VodafoneZiggo made a similar plea towards the end of 2017 which fell on deaf ears.

“Where 4G connects people, 5G will connect the whole society. It is therefore very important that we, together with customers and technology partners, investigate how 5G can optimize business processes and improve the customer experience,” said Jacob Groote, Director of Product Management Business Market at KPN.

Right now the band being used for defence and intelligence at a satellite monitoring station in the north of the Netherlands, and closed broadband networks elsewhere. Regulators have said the issue will be cleared up in time for the 2019 auction, but there has seemingly been little progress to date, much to the frustration of the telcos.

Despite the confusion, KPN has also confirmed it will begin four new 5G trials focusing on Massive MIMO in urban areas with Nokia (Amsterdam), connection of drones for precision agriculture (a farm in Drenthe), virtual reality in industry (Rotterdam Harbour) and self-driving vehicles (motorways near Helmond).

In terms of the applications in agriculture, the team will work with Wageningen University and ZTE, to test out various precision agriculture practises based on drones. The trio will also be using millimetre wave with the aim of generating speeds greater than 1 Gbps. Over in Rotterdam Harbour, network slicing is the focus of the trial. Working with Huawei, the aim is to effectively demonstrate network slicing techniques for business critical applications using virtual reality.

We’ve been doing it for two years so of course we’re the best – AT&T on 5G

AT&T has offered a bit of insight into 5G trials which have taken place over the last two years, suggesting it will be the best because of them. Of course, no one else has been doing trials so we can fully understand the logic.

“It’s no coincidence that AT&T is aiming to be the first US carrier to launch standards-based, mobile 5G services to customers this year,” boasts Melissa Arnoldi, President of AT&T Technology & Operations. “We’ve been ‘practicing’ for this moment for almost two years.”

The brag comes off the back of three trials which took place in Waco, Texas, Kalamazoo, Michigan and South Bend, Indiana. After these trials, the team is now confident it has all the answers necessary to deploy a 5G network that ‘works for people all over the country’. We’re sceptical, but here are the findings.

In Waco the trial focused on small and medium sized businesses, providing 5G mmWave service to a retail location more than 150 meters away from the cell site. Speeds hit 1.2 Gbps in a 400 MHz channel, with latency rates at 9-12 milliseconds, supporting ‘hundreds’ of simultaneous connected users.

In Kalamazoo the team observed no impact on 5G mmWave signal performance due to rain, snow or other weather events, while the signal can pass through foliage, glass and even walls better than initially anticipated. The team also observed 1 Gbps speeds under line of sight conditions up to 900 feet.

Finally, in South Bend the team created a full end-to-end 5G network architecture, including the 5G radio system and core, demonstrating extremely low latency. Gigabit wireless speeds on mmWave spectrum in both line of sight and some non-line of sight conditions were also demonstrated.

While it does seem like a bit of an ego-boosting back-slapping exercise from the team, each of the trials did demonstrate takeaways when it comes to deploying a network. These are of course very limited exercises, the real world will pose a significantly greater challenge, though it is a good starting point. Now it is down to doing not just preaching; the telcos need to prove that they are capable of creating the network and experience which they have been promising for so many years.