Industry Voices—Mun: Diffusion of wireless expands 5G and CBRS market horizons

Verizon talked up its 5G commercial rollout at Mobile World Congress Americas. (FierceWireless)
Kyung Mun

As expected, 5G was a key theme at this year’s MWC Americas show in Los Angeles. Major operators talked about their 5G network plans and the different approaches in their initial 5G services. Verizon was first to get out of the gate with its 5G Home service launch leveraging its millimeter wave spectrum for “5G” fixed wireless service in four cities. 

Not to be outdone, AT&T announced multiple cities where it will be activating standard 5G NR for mobile use cases by the end of the year. Meanwhile, T-Mobile and Sprint focused on their 5G-ready network expansion over their core spectrum assets in the 600 MHz and 2.5 GHz bands. 

While the initial market focus and spectrum choice for 5G appears all over the mapranging from fixed wireless to mobile across the millimeter wave and sub-6 GHz bandsthe practical leadership where underlying demands are served through ecosystem development, culminating in commercial deployments, showcases the vibrant U.S. wireless industry.  

The momentum of the CBRS ecosystem was another key highlight at the show and further exemplifies the practical leadership of the U.S. wireless industry. When we published our CBRS market study a year ago, we were bullish about the CBRS outlook. Our thesis was partly based on lower economics of shared spectrum and breadth of new market segments and new players that it would attract. 

In fact, this year’s CBRS launch proves that these factors are strong drivers. AT&T announced that it will leverage the CBRS band for fixed wireless service in some of its markets next year. Despite regulatory uncertainties around PAL licensing, we are learning that a diversity of CBRS use cases from fixed wireless to private LTE, neutral host, and mobile network augmentation and offload is pushing the ecosystem forward in initial commercial deployments. 

At the show, we observed several mobile network solutions targeting applications beyond mobile broadband and service providers. Several companies showcased in-building wireless solutions targeting indoor cellular challenges at many commercial buildings. Others promoted small cells incorporating IoT sensors for lighting, security cameras, and other industrial applications. 

The increasing breadth of wireless network solutions shows that underlying wireless demand is strong. Big players are targeting use cases beyond mobile broadbandsuch as 5G, CBRS fixed wireless, and Private LTE. Both broadband and IoT applications are driving CBRS deployment in the initial launch. The reality of Verizon’s 5G fixed wireless service and pending CBRS commercial deployments across myriad mobile, fixed and enterprise use cases are early indications of wireless expansion into broader market segments…it’s real. 

More variety of spectrum is coming to market, and technology innovations across semiconductor, radio and networks are opening new business models. The strong demand and competition in 5G and CBRS bode well for wireless network buildout in the next several years and will be great for infrastructure providers of all typestower companies, backhaul providers, equipment vendors, etc. As the saying goes, “if you build it, they will come.” It looks like some are already there with CBRS and 5G.

Kyung Mun is a senior analyst at Mobile Experts LLC. Mobile Experts is a network of market and technology experts that provides market analysis on the mobile infrastructure and mobile handset markets. Over the course of his 20+ years in wireless and cable industries in a dynamic range of roles from engineering to product management and technology strategy, Mun has contributed to the advancement of mobile communication while working at leading companies in the mobile value chain including Motorola, Texas Instruments, Alcatel-Lucent and a few startups in between. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and Georgia Tech, and studied finance and strategy at Southern Methodist University.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributorsoften industry experts or analystswho are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.