UScellular, Nokia, Qualcomm stretch 5G mmWave 10 km in new record

rural 5G
Pushing the distance helps tee up fixed wireless access (FWA) service in rural areas using licensed 5G mmWave spectrum. (Getty Images)

UScellular continues to push the reach of 5G millimeter wave spectrum, hitting a new record of 10 km (about 6.2 miles) in new tests with Nokia and Qualcomm.

Pushing the distance helps tee up fixed wireless access (FWA) service in rural areas using licensed 5G mmWave, which bring a lot of bandwidth but is known for propagation characteristics with short signal reach and often viewed as best suited for dense urban areas.

The field trial was conducted on the regional carrier’s network in Grand Island, Nebraska, over spectrum in the 28 GHz band. Using Nokia’s AirScale mmWave radio and 5G CPE powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System, the demo attained average download speeds of about 1 Gbps and upload speeds around 57 Mbps. It used 400-megahertz of spectrum in total, with 4CC of 100 MHz for downlink and 1CC of 100 MHz uplink, according to a Nokia spokesperson.

(Credit: UScellular)

Multiple locations were tested and additional line-of-sight results were able to record 748 Mbps downlink and 56.78 Mbps uplink at an even greater distance of 11.14 km.

RELATED: UScellular extends mmWave reach for rural areas in 5G FWA trial

Results bested UScellular’s tests in May with Ericsson, Qualcomm and Inseego, which recorded 1 Gbps speeds over 7 km in Janesville, Wisconsin. In 2020, the carrier reached 5 km using mmWave with speeds above 100 Mbps.

As to whether the new record distances can make it out of field tests and in real-world situations, Nokia noted that it’s possible to achieve commercially, “however operator deployment strategies will dictate how coverage, capacity or throughput objects are achieved.”

The demo utilized a macro tower deployment scenario, with a tower/rooftop mounted Nokia radio and higher power CPE for FWA, the Nokia spokesperson said. Beaming 5G mmWave from a macro tower is one deployment scenario, and Chicago-based UScellular serves many smaller and rural markets. The other strategy the vendor typically sees for mmWave is a street-level set-up, such as a light pole, which uses medium power and a small cell type base station.

USCellular owns around 4,300 macro towers, which it uses for both its own network infrastructure and to lease to others.

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At the end of the first quarter the carrier counted 4.96 million total connections. Trials for 5G FWA in a few markets are teed up for this year, with a commercial launch to follow. It’s looking to address “last-mile” connectivity challenges, meet growing data demands and serve both residential and business customers.

“These latest trial results reinforce the important role that fast, reliable wireless service plays in keeping people connected no matter where they live or work,” said Mike Irizarry, CTO at UScellular, in a statement.

UScellular has said it would deploy Nokia’s AirScale portfolio with the addition of 5G mmWave capabilities using spectrum in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands for enhanced mobile broadband.

“These results demonstrate what 5G mmWave will bring to consumers, enterprises and industries. By extending the distance for 5G mmWave technology without sacrificing speed or latency, we will deliver an incredible 5G experience to even more areas,” said Nokia President of Mobile Networks Tommi Uitto in a statement.

RELATED: Is FWA from big carriers different than FWA from WISPS?

Commenting on UScellular’s extended-range 5G mmWave test with Ericsson last month, Joe Madden, principal analyst at Mobile Experts, said he believed there is real opportunity for mmWave in this kind of rural FWA scenario. That's in part because the high-band spectrum offers enough capacity to serve a few hundred people within a few square miles, and tests demonstrated fundamental physics don’t get in the way over long distances.

“This is a non-urban use of it, this is for long-distance rural use and connecting people who don’t have internet,” he told Fierce at the time. “That’s a good thing, that’s a whole new business area” and one that could be very profitable.