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With 5G LTE, is cutting the cable of home Internet on the horizon?

Posted by on Dec 21, 2015

5g lte cell phone service

Many have switched to wireless-only calling at home by "cutting the cord" of their home phone service in favor of the convenience of cell phone service for all their calling needs. This has occurred despite the higher average cost of approximately $20 for home phone service versus approximately $40 for cell phone service. The new 5G wireless broadband networks are on the horizon and it seems they will perform well when compared to wireline alternatives, like DSL, coax and fiber optic. Many have disconnected their home phone lines to go totally wireless for calling features. However, the question is how much will it cost an average consumer in wireless data transfer costs, if they were to disconnect their high speed internet service too? What must these new 5G networks look like, to offer sufficient broadband capacity for such a large number of customers; one that allows them to disconnect their wired broadband connection, if that should be their decision?

The Best Place to Start Is to Review the Various Broadband Offerings and Their Capabilities.

The gold standard is fibre-optic cable. With just one single strand of fibre, companies have demonstrated over 100,000 billion bps. By comparison, spectrum-based networks were only able to reach 100 Gbps of theoretical throughput, even with a wide radio channel of 10 GHz plus 10 bps/Hz of ultrahigh spectral efficiency - which is 1000 times less than the fiber value. In addition, fiber cables are made up of multiple fiber strands; meaning that if you run out of capacity on one strand there’s another one right there. Coax cable, which is used for cable broadband, only carries a small percentage of the capacity of a fiber-optic cable.

Broadband architects are pushing fibre as far out as financially affordable, because extending fibre to every home or other building would not be practical. They’re then completing the last 100 yards (or last mile) with technologies such as coax cable, DSL, and wireless.

Current cellular data transfer speeds, and how fast will they increase to surpass cabled broadband?

With the ever increasing advance in wireless technology, wireless will continue to be competitive with coax and other wired technology. Realistically, though, American customers generally don’t need hundreds of gigabits per second of throughput to secure their broadband applications. Surveys on usage show that most people are happy with the 50 Mbps and higher that they currently get with their 4G LTE connections, thanks to 4G LTE Signal Boosters that also perform well as a 5G signal booster. Newer cutting edge phones can reach speeds of 100 Mbps and even up to 300 Mbps with LTE Advanced or LTE Plus network speeds being offered by few carriers worldwide including within USA and Canada.

Of course this throughput will continue improving, even though it may not be up to par with fiber until the near future. Allowing for roughly a 10 times throughput increase each decade in network speeds, a reasonable target for 2020 might be atleast 500 Mbps. Remembering that even 4K Super HD only needs around 150 Mbps.

Capacity appears to be the most important factor when considering wireless as an alternative to wired broadband. Today we see that just a few simultaneous 10 bps LTE connections are capable of consuming sector capacity in a 10 MHz LTE download radio channel, and this is just one reason why general service plans for mobile broadband vary between 1 and 10 GB each month. A user is capable of consuming a gigabyte of data in 15 minutes at a continuous throughput of 10 Mbps while reading, etc., and that is why mobile broadband network operators are concentrating on increasing their network capacity. Organizations, like 4G Americas, are now calling for a 1000X capacity increase.

In order to increase capacity per user, it is necessary for the wireless network to reduce the number of users on that channel and increase the capacity of the radio connection: In mathematical terms, this means combining a higher numerator (the capacity) with a low denominator, meaning the number of people.

The numerator is a simple issue: because operators require more spectrum they must continue with the deployment of spectrally efficient radio technologies. Perhaps the question to be answered is – where does this spectrum come from? The largest lines of contiguous spectrum that are suitable for expanding capacity lie in the multi-GHz range, which is found in higher bands – starting above 10 GHz, and particularly in mmWave frequencies (between 30 GHz and 300 GHz). However, using very high-frequency spectrum will be a challenge, because higher frequencies have reduced ranges, and are not capable of penetrating obstructions, like walls, very well. Both these issues will be resolved by advanced beamforming, however the mmWave frequencies currently being considered for 5G will be most suited for small cells.

Small cells mean less people in each coverage area, while high frequencies increase capacity in the numerator. Combining the higher capacity value in the numerator with the lower number of people in the denominator will result in much higher capacity per person.

An added bonus of the development of mmWave technology is that this technology can also apply to backhaul connectivity, which is currently a major challenge for small-cell.

In order to understand the capacity and capability of a hypothetical next-generation network, consider using 5 GHz of spectrum (as compared with todays 5 MHz of licensed mobile spectrum) and receiving spectral efficiency of 4 bps/Hz from the advanced smart antennas; which is twice that of LTE-Advanced. The result is that these values increase to a whopping 20 Gbps of capacity. Having this amount of capacity in a small-cell coverage area would be competitive with wireline alternatives because it would support 200 simultaneous users at 100 Mbps.

Today we see the industry very focused on exploiting more spectrum, deploying more cells, and enhancing smart antennas. What will differ in future networks is the extreme application of these items, possibly becoming available five years from now.

For many people, wireless can be a competitive form of broadband. Perhaps one day in the future we will see fiber extending to every home or building, but until that time we just need it to come close enough to enable wireless to do the rest.

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