Editor’s Corner—These are the 5 worst problems facing next-generation wireless networks

spectrum (pixabay)
These are the issues that CTOs are wrestling with today and in the future.

The wireless industry is clearly going through a period of major upheaval, and not just because Sprint and T-Mobile might not merge (Or will they? Hard to keep track…) In the networking realm particularly, there is a wide range of issues facing mobile network operators and vendors that could have significant consequences for industry players and the wider business market.

Listed below are five of the biggest problems that need to be addressed in the next-generation wireless networks arena. These are the issues that CTOs are wrestling with today and in the future.

And these are also the hot questions we’re going to be addressing at FierceWireless’ first stand-alone, daylong event, taking place in Dallas on Nov. 29. Called the Next Gen Wireless Networks Summit, this event is going to cover all the stuff you need to know about in wireless networks, from IoT to 5G to CBRS to edge computing. And, as we typically do at our events, we’ve collected a stellar lineup of speakers, including:

  • Top representatives from all of the nation’s biggest wireless carriers. AT&T’s Melissa Arnoldi, Verizon’s Nicola Palmer, T-Mobile’s Karri Kuoppamakia and Sprint’s Günther Ottendorfer will join other top wireless operator executives like C Spire’s Craig Sparks and Boingo’s Derek Peterson.
  • Leading vendor executives like Qualcomm’s Durga Malladi and Nokia’s Mike Murphy.
  • But more importantly we’re also going to have representatives from outside the traditional cellular industry. Charter’s Craig Cowden will be on hand, as will Facebook’s John Morgan and Sinclair’s Mark Aitken, among others.
  • We’re also going to have some of the industry’s leading analysts there too, like iGR’s Iain Gillott and Mobile Experts’ Joe Madden.
  • And of course Fierce will be covering everything in full force. I’ll be joined in Dallas by my capable colleagues Monica Alleven and Colin Gibbs.

We’ll kick off the show with a networking night on Nov. 28 (drinks!), and then starting first thing on Nov. 29 we’ll dive into 5G, the digital divide and more with keynote presentations from all of the Tier 1 nationwide wireless network operators. In the afternoon we’ll cover topics ranging from small cells to MIMO to artificial intelligence.

We’ll wrap things up that night with a quick awards ceremony followed by our “2018 Wireless Predictions Dinner,” which will feature unfettered, unvarnished and definitive forward-looking commentary by some of the top analysts in the industry, moderated by yours truly. Plus, drinks!

Register for our event here (make sure to check for discounts), and don’t hesitate to email me with questions. We hope to see you there!

So, now that I’m finished with that shameless plug, let’s get on to the five worst problems in next-generation wireless networks:

5. Small cells: This is a pretty obvious problematic issue in the wireless industry—one that we’ve written extensively about—and there doesn’t seem to be a quick fix to it in the near future. The small cell problem boils down to the fact that these little mini cell towers work best when placed close to users, like on city light poles. But there’s a ton of red tape that players have to wade through in order to get these things installed, which is creating a big headache for network planners tasked with densifying networks in advance of 5G. (Shameless plug: Mike Alt from ExteNet Systems and Mike Hughes from Crown Castle will be among those talking about this at our event.)

4. Unlicensed spectrum and CBRS: After decades of lobbying against unlicensed spectrum, the cellular industry has recently come around to embracing it through technologies like LTE-U and LAA. But the spectrum sharing scenario proposed for the 3.5 GHz CBRS band raises even more questions, including whether enterprises, venue owners, cable operators and others will be able to build their own, neutral-host LTE networks and then provide roaming services on those networks to the big carriers. Will the big carriers reject or embrace this business model? (Shameless plug: Iyad Tarazi from Federated Wireless and Neville Meijers from the CBRS Alliance will be among the executives talking about this at our event.)

3. Millimeter-wave spectrum: Both AT&T and Verizon have made millimeter-wave spectrum (spectrum that sits around 28 GHz and above) a core element of their next-generation wireless network strategies. But most observers agree this long-ignored spectrum still presents a wide range of problems, including the fact that propagation can generally be measured in hundreds of meters, and that a tree or moving van could easily disrupt a signal. There’s opportunity here, clearly, but questions remain. (Shameless plug: Charles Cheevers from Arris and others will be discussing this topic at our event.)

2. New entrants: Remember how NextWave was going to disrupt the established wireless industry? That didn’t really pan out. But in 2017 the ghost of NextWave is likely smiling considering the wide number of companies that are hoping to use both licensed and unlicensed spectrum to unseat the industry’s leading wireless providers. These upstarts span the gamut, from Starry in the millimeter-save space to Sigfox in the IoT sector to OneWeb in the satellite arena. And this doesn't even include the cable companies like Charter and Comcast that are expanding their wireless businesses. The big question, though, is: Will these newcomers be able to disrupt the status quo? (Shameless plug: Jeff Kohler from Rise Broadband, Doug Smith from Ligado Networks and Zach Brock from Common Networks will be among those on hand at our event to explain how this disruption might happen.)

1. 5G: No wireless list is compete without a mention of 5G. And it’s a technology that can be referenced for both sides of the argument: It’s going to provide a 10x upgrade to wireless network performance and flexibility, but at this point it looks more like a technology in search of a business model than anything else. Will it be worth the estimated $56 billion that will be required to properly deploy 5G? That’s a question that everyone at our event will be talking about.

These are substantial problems facing wireless executives. But each one also represents a considerable opportunity. It will certainly be interesting to see how each one gets ironed out. – Mike | @mikeddano