FCC casts an eye north of 95 GHz

The FCC has unveiled plans to create a new regulatory framework for spectrum above 95 GHz.

While these bands have largely been considered outside the realms of usable spectrum, progress in radio tech has made the prospects much more realistic. And, dare we say it, such a regulatory framework could begin to set the foundations for 6G…

“Today, we take big steps towards making productive use of this spectrum,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We allocate a massive 21 gigahertz for unlicensed use and we create a new category of experimental licenses. This will give innovators strong incentives to develop new technologies using these airwaves while also protecting existing uses.”

The Spectrum Horizons First Report and Order creates a new category of experimental licenses for use of frequencies between 95 GHz and 3 THz, valid for 10 years. 21.2 GHz of spectrum will also be made available for use by unlicensed devices. The team envision usecases such as data-intensive, high bandwidth applications as well as imaging and sensing operations.

With this spectrum now on the table, the line between science fiction and reality could begin to blur. Data throughput rates will become almost unimaginably fast, meaning computational power in the wireless world could start to replicate the kind of performance only seen in human brains.

“One reason the US leads the world in wireless is that we’ve moved quickly to open-up new spectrum bands for innovative uses,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr. “We don’t wait around for technologies to develop fully before unlocking spectrum so that entrepreneurs have the incentives to invest and experiment.”

While such a statement suggests the FCC is doing a wonderful job, flooded with foresight, the industry tends to disagree.

In 2017, the mmWave Coalition was born. Although this is a relatively small lobby group for the moment, it does have some notable members already including Nokia and Keysight Technologies. This group has been calling for a regulatory framework above 95 GHz for 18 months, pointing to developments around the world and stating the US risks falling behind without amendments.

A good example of other initiatives is over in Europe, where the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ESTI) has created the ISG mWT working group which is looking at how to make the 50 GHz – 300 GHz band work. This group has already been running trials with a broad range of members including BT, Deutsche Telekom, Intel, InterDigital and Qualcomm.

While the US is certainly taking a step in the right direction, it would be worth noting it is by no-means the first to get moving beyond the 95 GHz milestone. Europe is leading the charge at the moment.

However, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel believes the FCC is being too conservative in its approach.

“I believe that with these way-up-there frequencies, where the potential for interference is so low, we should flip the script,” said Rosenworcel. “The burden should be on those seeking exclusive licenses to demonstrate the interference case and justify why we should carve up an otherwise open space for innovation and experimentation.”

Rosenworcel points to the incredibly short-distance this spectrum will offer, as well as the creation of new antenna designs, like quasi-optical antennas, to ensure efficiency. With the shorter distance and better control of the direction of signals, interference does not pose a threat and therefore an unlicensed approach to spectrum should be prioritised.

Commissioner Michael O’Reilly is another who also supports this position.

“While I strenuously advocate for both licensed and unlicensed spectrum opportunities, I understand that it may be a bit premature to establish exclusive-use licenses above 95 GHz when there is great uncertainty about what technologies will be introduced, what spectrum would be ideal, or what size channel blocks are needed,” said O’Reilly.

Both of these messages effectively make the same point; don’t make assumptions. Taking the same approach to spectrum allocation will not work. The traditional approach of licensed spectrum allocation is perhaps unnecessarily rigid. It might be necessary in the future but granting innovators freedom in the first instance would provide more insight. Perhaps it would be better to react to future developments than to try and guess.

“Better that than being forced to undo a mess later,” said O’Reilly.

While it is of course encouraging the FCC is taking such a long-term view on industry developments, the team needs to ensure it does not over-complicate the landscape right now with unnecessary red-tape. Future regulation needs to protect innovation and grant the freedoms to experiment; a light-touch regulatory environment needs to blossom.

TRAI reveals Jio is the only Indian telco in growth

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released its monthly report on the state of play in India, and it’s a pretty gloomy picture for everyone aside from Jio.

Across the country, the message is relatively positive. Wireless subscriptions have grown once again this time by 2.4 million, not as glorious as previous months but growth is still growth, but to add a slight dampener to proceedings, broadband declined, this time by 70,000 subscriptions. Once again we reiterate the fixed broadband segment is one which is bursting with opportunity.

Sustained growth in India, while commendable, is not necessarily an interesting development as we have been saying the same thing for more than 18 months. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is who is capturing the additional subscriptions. Stating Jio has collected the lions share will surprise no-one, but September saw everyone else shrink.

Subscription growth Total market share
Reliance Jio 13.02 million 21.57%
MTNL -9,435 0.3%
Reliance -16,349 0.004%
BSNL -536,407 9.67%
Tata -1.01 million 1.88%
Bharti Airtel -2.36 million 29.38%
Vodafone -2.62 million 18.97%
Idea -4.06 million 18.23%

Reliance Jio has now firmly established itself in second place in the market share rankings, which has been a long-time coming, though it is starting to make genuine in-roads against Bharti Airtel. Each month new figures are released and while Bharti might have been able to maintain its position, recent figures have shown the eroding impact of Jio.

The issue for those who are trying to resist the Jio revolution is what is around the corner. Jio has made no secret of its plan to capitalise on the ridiculously low broadband penetration across the country, and you have to wonder what will happen when a more established network can be developed. The company recently purchased controlling stakes in Den Networks and Hathway Cable, offering it a foot through the door, though expect some big developments over the coming months.

Predicting what will happen is a simple task; Jio will take the same low-cost approach to broadband as it has with mobile, though the potential of a convergence product portfolio could further pile the misery onto competitors. How many customers might be tempted to switch over to Jio’s mobile proposition when a cheap broadband bundle is thrown in as well? This is what will be the most interesting development.

Jio has done an absolutely wonderful job of revolutionising the Indian digital economy, but what can be done on the fixed broadband side of things remains to be seen. Just as the story is starting to become repetitive, Jio is about to start on a new chapter.

Verizon reworks the corporate jigsaw puzzle in the name of 5G

Verizon has unveiled a new corporate structure in an attempt to make a lean, mean, money-making machine at the dawn of the 5G era.

While many of these announcements are usually coupled with some form of job cuts, there doesn’t seem to be one in this case. We’ve been unable to locate the relevant forms on the Securities and Exchanges Commission website, though considering there have been numerous ‘streamlining’ initiatives already announced, it might be a case of fitting the business around the new headcount.

“This new structure reflects a clear strategy that starts with Verizon customers,” said CEO Hans Vestberg. “We’re building on our network transformation efforts and the Intelligent Edge architecture to deliver new customer experiences and optimize the growth opportunities we see as leaders in the 5G era. We’re focused on how our technology can benefit customers’ lives and society at large.”

The new Verizon business will be organized into three business functions (Consumer, business and Media), supported by a network and IT organization, and corporate-wide staff functions. The consumer group will feature both the wireless and the broadband business units, as well as wireless wholesale, led by Ronan Dunne, who is currently President of Verizon Wireless. The business unit will include the wireless and wireline enterprise, small and medium business, and government businesses, as well as wireline wholesale and Verizon Connect, the company’s telematics business, headed up by Tami Erwin, the current EVP of Wireless Operations. The media unit will essentially be the Oath business, with current CEO Guru Gowrappan in charge. Kyle Malady will lead the network and technology department, while there will no changes to the management team on the corporate side.

While job losses have been an unavoidable topic in the telco world over the last couple of years, Verizon made a pretty weighty announcement last month. In an effort to trim the number of lifers and dead-weight in the management layer, Verizon offered 44,000 staff a redundancy package of three weeks of severance pay for every year worked, though it is not entirely clear how many heads the telco want to count rolling out the front door.

As it stands, Verizon currently employs 153,000 people across its various markets, though this figure was as high as 183,400 in 2012. What is worth noting is that it would be unfair to point the finger of destruction at Verizon alone, the trend is clearly visible across an industry rocked by OTTs, and a North American market which has consistently and aggressively sought to undercut rivals.

With many telcos around the world attempting to take advantage of the convergence trend, perhaps this new structure will offer Verizon a leg-up. The launch of its 5G fixed wireless access business certainly gives the business something to talk about, though with both the consumer wireless and broadband units now on the same branch of the family tree, a more consolidated approach on products, tariffs and marketing can be taken. How this impacts the Verizon message remains to be seen, though an aggressive 5G assault is almost guaranteed with new devices promised over the next 12 months.

Research from RepeaterStore suggests only 41% of US consumers were aware 5G is just around the corner, and while the conversation for many telcos is now focusing on the enterprise side, in the US the 5G p*ssing contest appears to be circling the consumer. With such low consumer knowledge of 5G, the telcos will have to do a considerable marketing push to communicate the benefits of 5G.

Will you grow an extra ear from too much Snapchatting?

This week Telecoms.com has 16 year-old Shannon O’Connor joining the team for work experience, and today she looks at the potential for damage of radio frequency radiation on society. Here are her thoughts.

Telecommunications has been evolving significantly in recent years. With an increased pressure for increased connectivity in major cities, many people in the suburbs and poverty stricken areas are at risk of being left behind. However, it can said that the major issue surrounding wifi, and wireless on the whole, progress is the lack of care being taken to support the healthcare of society’s vulnerable.

The US National Toxicology Program tested on lab rats and mice to find what affects radio frequency (RF) energy used in cell phones could have on individuals in the long term. The lab animals were exposed for approximately to 2G and 3G frequencies nine hours a day, starting before birth and continuing for up to two years on large groups of rats and mice.

A draft of the final results was published in February 2018. It showed that an increased risk of ‘malignant schwannomas’ (rare heart tumours) was found in the male rats open to RF radiation. Interestingly, the majority of exposed male rats lived longer than rats who were not open to RF radiation. While these are shocking results, the two conflicting statements call the validity of the research into question. What results like these could mean for people is questionable, but there clearly is an impact on the health of living organisms.

When speaking to Tiago Rodrigues, (General Manager) from the Wireless Broadband Alliance earlier this week, questions began to arise from the innovations suggested by the company in exposing a larger amount of people to wifi radiation signals. He began to explain the larger concept of the company’s work but failed to mention the safety checks carried out.

In response to questions regarding the impact of RF radiation on people, Rodrigues stated the organization had not done any specific research and was not on the charter of the Alliance. On a personal note, he suggested that the industry needed some common level of agreement on assessing the radiation impacts. A concise and collaborative approach needed to be taken as there were no consistency in the way results were actually developed.

It has become apparent through speaking to Rodrigues and taking up further research into this matter that someone needs to take the lead and a conclusive decision needs to be made in standardizing how to measure the health risks attached to radiation from our networking devices.

While there does seem to be some concerns regarding the health impact today, with 5G on the horizon, the number of cell towers is certainly going to increase. In Germany for example, Deutsche Telekom’s CFO Thomas Dannenfeldt has suggested the number of towers could increase to 50,000 from 28,000 today. And this is just DT’s towers, what about the other German companies?

There is an increased need for answers, perhaps something which the World Health Organisation, European Commission or the United Nations could kick start? These conclusive tests could finally provide an explanation as to how this may impact those in the future such as myself.