5G Mobile Network Research

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5G Rollout

The major carriers in the U.S. each have developed strategies to deploy their 5G networks by 2018 at the earliest, and 2020 at the latest. Through press releases, personal statements, and third parties, the carriers have revealed their intentions to provide 5G mobile and fixed services nationwide.

Below I will elaborate on my findings. Due to the substantial amount of information I found on the topic, I have started each subsection with the terms |How|, |Vision|, or |Comment| to indicate the subject.


|How| Verizon showed its intention to work on 5G connectivity after it purchased XO Communications in preparation for a focus on fixed wireless and gigabit speeds. The company’s initial comments on rollouts occurred in November 2017. The ISP announced to the public that it would be the first to launch its wireless residential broadband services in a minimum of three U.S. markets with Sacramento leading the way and scheduled a launch date for the second half of 2018. Furthermore, the company used a press release to elaborate on the technology behind the network-to-be, explaining that it would rely not on copper or fiber optics, but on radio signals that would result in faster wireless speeds. The same year, Verizon tested its 5G residential applications in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Sacramento, and six other major cities. “Customer experience and Verizon’s confidence in new technology powered by millimeter-wave spectrum” are what the company claims the commercial launch is about. On top of these releases, Verizon disclosed through CES that it would begin limited-scale 2018 rollouts of 5G cellular services, and separately announced commercial service over 5G fixed wireless networks by the year’s end 2018; they revealed a partnership with Samsung as a hardware provider for the latter. However, they are first planning to offer 5G through hot spots called pucks at first due to phones being unavailable for the 5G network launch in 2018.

This year saw Verizon divulge more information regarding its 5G technology. The company officially acknowledged that it was working with Qualcomm and Ericsson to improve network speeds and connectivity via simultaneous multi-antenna technology. One test was conducted using the Nokia 5G network technology on a Qualcomm 5G NR prototype device, and another test succeeded in hosting a 5G video call between Minneapolis and Seoul.

|Vision| As I have thus far discussed, Verizon plans to launch its 5G services in major U.S. cities. According to their estimates, they are looking at a market size of 30 million homes throughout the nation to bring 5G residential broadband services to. Their strategy is to set up a strong framework for 5G services at launch in order to accelerate the technology’s deployment to the global stage. The executive VP and group president of Verizon Wireless, Ronan Dunne, believes that in the next two decades 5G technology will support 22 million jobs driven by industry digitization and will enable $12 trillion in global revenue.

|Comments| So far, the carrier has made few, but significant, comments regarding its position in 5G technology. One such example is the following statement from Verizon Chief Technology Architect Ed Chan, “We are encouraged to hear that other wireless providers are beginning to adopt our strategy toward unleashing the full potential of 5G mobile technology.” He would later add that Verizon has a “tremendous lead in executing on [their] 5G strategy.”


|How| AT&T made its first announcement on its 5G rollout plans at the beginning of 2018, in which they reported that their launch date would be at the end of 2018. In 2017, however, the company did reveal that it was in the process of determining the trial locations for the Project AirGig wireless gigabit internet service. Project AirGig itself was announced in September 2016, when it was introduced as an approach to multi-gigabit wireless internet that operated on antennas, which president of AT&T Labs and CTO Andrew Fuetsch said represents “a key invention in our 5G Evolution approach.” In January 2017, the company announced plans for a trial in Austin, Texas for DirectTV Now customers, with a specific focus on 4K video streaming, IoT deployment, and mobile video. The carrier also used CES to announce its limited-scale rollouts of 5G cellular services.
For the most part, AT&T remained quiet about the scope of its 5G mobile deployment. In fact, the company apparently decided to rebrand some of its late-stage LTE technologies as “5G Evolution” so that it could market its enhanced LTE services in 23 regions. Moreover, AT&T conducted fixed 5G tests in four U.S. cities, which relied on smaller cellular units to offer 5G to residences, small businesses, and educational facilities. The carrier announced in February that Waco, Dallas, and Atlanta would be the first cities to receive its 5G services, though one city will have to wait until 2019 for coverage and devices that users prefer. Additionally, AT&T signaled its intentions to be the first U.S. carrier to deploy 5G ready for mobile phones in twelve U.S. markets. Like Verizon, AT&T announced that it will first offer 5G through pucks, which CEO Randall Stephenson introduced during a company earnings call in 2018. The company also says that its mobile 5G service will be based on radio standards adopted by 3GPP.
|Vision| The carrier believes that Project AirGig will provide more rural areas (Source 5) with internet access. In a press release statement, Melissa Arnoldi, president of AT&T Technology and Operations, stated that they are racing to deploy mobile 5G (Source 6) in 2018. What’s more, the company has a vision of wall-to-wall 5G service for VR, vehicle A.I., TV applications (Source 7) and everything in between. Also, AT&T is planning to add to its selection (Source 8) in 2019 as it expects new devices from phone makers this year.
|Comments| So far, AT&T has challenged Verizon in being the first carrier (Source 20) to offer 5G mobile services to U.S. cities. The carrier has also committed to continuing work on fixed 5G solutions, which Verizon has lagged.


|How| Sprint made its announcement in 2017, informing that it was working with Softbank and Qualcomm to develop a 5G solution in the 2.5 GHz range. CEO Marcus Claure revealed the planned 2019 launch date during a conference call on quarterly earnings. Other than a late 2019 deployment date and a plan to implement a Massive MIMO solution in the 4G-to-5G problem, not much else has been announced by the carrier. Nonetheless, a salient point to note is that Massive MIMO is not 5G , rather it is a technology to bridge a gap. The antennas that Sprint plans to deploy should facilitate rollouts of gigabit-speed LTE and 5G networks, and a software update should suffice when its 5G network launches. Sprint acknowledge that it is relying heavily on Massive MIMO to carry its customers over to 5G. What is more, the carrier has partnered with Qualcomm and other device manufacturers to provide 5G mobile devices in the first half of 2019.
|Vision| Sprint wants to build the next generation’s network by targeting the first six cities for its Massive MIMO rollout plan. These cities are Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. By the first half of 2019, the company wants to operate the first mobile 5G network, believing that this will position it at the forefront of innovation.
|Comments| The carrier expects its Massive MIMO solution will put it ahead of its competitors by being the first to offer a 5G mobile network.


|How| T-Mobile intends to use its newly acquired 600 MHz radio spectra to provide a 5G rollout by 2020. The company’s primary focus is to provide technology that works on smartphones instead of fixed routers. CTO Neville Ray claims that T-Mobile’s LTE Advanced work is comparable to 5G, thus they are leading the nation in LTE technology. Currently, T-Mobile is partnered with 3GPP, device manufacturers, and chip makers to deliver the first 5G handsets in 2019. Further, the carrier plans on re-purposing its 4G/LTE spectrum to 5G . Perhaps more important, T-Mobile announced “pathway to 5G”, a $6/year IoT plan debuting in 2018. As opposed to its competitors, this carrier is planning to start its launch with a fully-functioning 5G mobile service.
|Vision| T-Mobile wants to use low, mid, and high-band spectrums to build an outdoor and indoor 5G network. Moreover, the carrier plans to commence its 5G network in 2018 by working in 30 cities across the U.S. The company has committed to a launch date of 2019, so that it may offer nationwide coverage.
|Comments| CEO John Legere has referred to AT&T as “Dumb and Dumber” for attempting to deploy 5G networks via pucks. Neville Ray agrees with this assessment in a tweet stating, “Even with today’s news, still waiting on @ATT @Verizon to commit to a real 5G experience for mobile consumers.


In conclusion, each major carrier wants to be the first to provide a functioning 5G network in the U.S. Each carrier has developed their own strategy to achieve this, and have revealed so in recent years through press releases, personal statements, and third parties.
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3G to 4G Transition

Public perception of the 3G to 4G transition was primarily one of confusion coupled with eagerness for the technology. It should be noted that, of the Big Four carriers, only Verizon has LTE technology. Sprint uses a different 4G technology; and both T-Mobile and AT&T simply called their upgraded 3G networks '4G' during the main period of the 3G to 4G transition (2010-2011). Multi-media advertising channels were extensive for all carriers, including heavy television advertising; at the time, AT&T was involved in marketing battles with two other major carriers. Please note that, in order to provide the most relevant information about this topic, the majority of information is sourced from media and industry publications circa 2010-2011. Due to time contraints, it was not possible to research more deeply into historical 4G buildout results for each carrier within the scope of a single request. However, if you'd like us to research that more deeply, please let us know. We'll be happy to continue forward with a separate request. Below, you'll find a deep dive of our findings relative to the 3G to 4G transition.


The 4G launches for the Big Four occurred between 2008-2011. Sprint was the first to announce its 4G network, in 2008; AT&T was the last. Ironically, none of the Big Four actually had 4G capacity, as per the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standards, when they first deployed the technology they described as '4G.' This deception created a significant amount of confusion among consumers, which was further exacerbated by the AT&T/Verizon marketing battle that preceded, and continued through, the 3G to 4G transition. "For consumers, the marketing wars can be very confusing as they try to decipher whose claims are accurate." Consumer confusion occurred on multiple points, including the true availability of 4G coverage for each network and which devices were 4G enabled. Moreover, the majority of respondents surveyed in a 2011 Nielsen report, and in other market research, didn't understand what 4G was. This confusion is reasonable, given that multiple executives from different companies are on record equating the 'consumer perception' of 4G with 'speed' (ex: here and here); when, in fact, the definition of 4G is more about the structure of the network and its data capacity.

However, this lack of understanding and clarity didn't decrease consumer demand. Market research in 2011 found that 75% of respondents "listed 4G as one of the features that an "ideal" phone would include." One industry analyst noted that "the industry has done a great job of associating 4G with the things a customer wants to do, but haven't been able to accomplish with 3G...Marketing has focused on what you can do with it, rather than on technology for the sake of technology."


At the end of 2010, all of the Big Four minus AT&T were falsely claiming 4G (AT&T had not yet announced its 4G offering). However, they were collectively so successful in creating the consumer perception that 4G was commensurate with upgrades which "provide a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed," that the ITU was pressured to redefined its official definition of 4G to include this marketing position.

The advertising competition among three of the Big Four was fierce, notably between AT&T and Verizon, but also between T-Mobile and AT&T. An AT&T spokesperson is on record in 2010 criticizing T-Mobile's marketing of its HSPA technology as 4G, though AT&T later employed the same marketing sleight of hand in 2011 with its own HSPA technology. T-Mobile responded with an advertising campaign that spoofed AT&T's iPhone service, which had received sharp criticism and poor reviews.

Verizon's print advertising specifically targeted AT&T, with the tagline "Verizon now has 4G service. AT&T doesn't." This campaign, which was misleading due to Verizon's limited 4G coverage at the onset of deployment, continued the AT&T-bashing theme from its 2009 'There's a Map for That' campaign, which AT&T had unsuccessfully challenged in court. At the 2011 CES conference where AT&T announced its 4G 'rebrand,' Verizon's COO noted, "People are discovering quickly that all 4G is not created equal."

Our collective research indicates that each company spent heavily on advertising leading up to, and during, its 4G deployment (or rebranding). Multi-media channels included high-profile television ad placement and outdoor marketing, as well as digital and print advertising.


Verizon's primary claims during its 3G to 4G transition were that it is the 'most advanced 4G network' and the 'fastest 4G network,' the latter of which was intended to be directly competitive against AT&T. Its LTE technology was built for data transmission, unlike the upgraded AT&T network which was built primarily for voice transmission. For this reason, Verizon launched its 4G capacity as '4G LTE,' to distinguish it from the 3G technologies being used by AT&T and T-Mobile, and the different 4G technology employed by Sprint. Its video advertising during this launch reinforced the image of its campaign to position itself as the best, the fastest and the most advanced.


Not only was Sprint the first company to launch a 4G network, it was also the first to launch a 4G mobile device. Leveraging this unique position, it differentiated itself as the 'first in 4G' using a 'Firsts' campaign: "The first commercial, "Firsts," will be a significant launch for the carrier and positions the Evo [device] as the latest technological first along the spectrum of previous innovation landmarks, starting from the wheel through the space shuttle and mobile phones."

In addition to the marketing channels noted above in the 'Big Four Overview,' Sprint also employed experiential marketing strategies aimed at "demonstrating to people what 4G can really do for them." Lastly, it highlighted its unlimited data plans in its 4G advertising; this gave it a significant edge over AT&T at the time, as AT&T had just announced its data usage cap.


T-Mobile's 2010 MyTouch 4G campaign specifically spoofed AT&T, playing off a then-current 'PC vs Mac' advertising campaign. It claimed to be the 'largest' network by the simple expedient of rebranding itself "America's Largest 4G Network." Like AT&T, however, T-Mobile didn't have a 4G network in 2010; it had simply upgraded its voice transmission network to allow for faster data transmission. Its claim of having the largest network was based on this upgraded 3G reach, which was denounced in tech publications as widely misleading. T-Mobile defended its use of '4G' by noting that the speeds of its upgraded 3G network were compatible with its competitors using 4G technology. However, as its data transmission speeds were routinely found to be lower than all three of its other competitors, this focus on reach over speed is understandable.


Relative to its 4G rebranding, "the carrier changed its marketing campaign from 'the world’s fastest 3G network' to 'the world’s fastest mobile broadband network.' However, our research discovered significantly less information about AT&T's 4G deployment than it did for the other three carriers, which is possibly due to two reasons: AT&T's 4G deployment trailed Sprint's pioneering rollout by three years; and its 'deployment' was essentially just a rebrand, similar to that of T-Mobile. Unlike T-Mobile, though, AT&T did have plans to upgrade its rebranded 3G network to LTE, commensurate with Verizon's timeline for completing its 4G LTE transition. Like T-Mobile, AT&T defended its use of 4G by referring to the commensurate speed of its network with its competitors 4G networks.


To wrap it up: the transition from 3G to 4G generated significant confusion for consumers, due to the laxity in the definition of 4G in the telecom industry and in the advertising campaigns that the Big Four carriers used to promote their 4G transitions. However, consumer demand was strong for 4G, despite industry marketing wars, misinformation, and less-than-stellar initial performance.

From Part 01