Barclays: U.S. carriers and regulators set to lead transition to 5G

U.S. carriers and regulators are paving the way for "what could ultimately be a very promising technology evolution" with the deployment of 5G networks, Amir Rozwadowski of Barclays said in a research note this week. But, he warned, that transition won't be painless.

Citing recent comments from FCC Chair Tom Wheeler as well as last week's approval of the Mobile Now Act by the Senate Commerce Committee, Rozwadowski said there appears to be strong support for next-generation technologies across the mobile ecosystem, federal legislators and the FCC. While Barclays believes "the industry is at the start of the hype cycle with years of debate, conjecture, testing and standard-setting still ahead," the foundation is being laid for a solid transition beyond 4G.

"The passage of the Mobile Now Act by the Senate Committee last week seems to suggest that there is strong support for the technology," he said in a research note. "The bill targets the buildout of 5G mobile broadband, freeing up more federal spectrum, bringing more licensed and unlicensed spectrum to market. In addition, the FCC seems to be enabling the necessary developments for the U.S. to advance towards deploying 5G."

Rozwadowski also noted Wheeler's apparent willingness to unlock spectrum even before 5G standards are set in place.

But some controversies over potential 5G spectrum have already surfaced, he said, indicating much work must be done before services can be deployed over those airwaves.

"The FCC has been specifically examining the 28 GHz, 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 64-71 GHz bands, though some resistance has emerged from other parties," Rozwadowski said. "Companies such as Google and Microsoft took issue over the 37 GHz band for example, pushing for a Spectrum Access System or similar mechanism to enable spectrum sharing. In addition, satellite companies argue that other millimeter wave bands should be identified and used instead of the 28 GHz band."

While all the major U.S. carriers have signaled their eagerness to deploy 5G services, much disagreement remains over just when such offerings could come online. Verizon maintains it hopes to begin to deploy 5G as early as next year regardless of whether standards are in place, while T-Mobile has indicated it won't transition to 5G until 2019 or 2020, once standards are adopted. For its part, AT&T has scheduled 5G tests for later this year.

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