Plenty of skeptics question whether Verizon’s bet on millimeter wave for 5G will pay off and time will tell on that score, but one thing is for sure: Deploying mmWave indoors in a venue such as US Bank Stadium is a “no brainer,” according to Signals Research Group (SRG).
Verizon, which has been criticized for offering spotty 5G coverage because it’s using 28 GHz spectrum, is covering US Bank Stadium with “near ubiquitous” 5G coverage, according to SRG. It’s using that term because they can’t rule out an isolated seat or two that didn’t have coverage, but they didn’t find them in their testing.
Using test solutions from Spirent and Accuver Americas and two Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphones, SRG collected performance data on a day when they had access to the empty stadium and could walk around taking measurements. SRG observed that 12 Ericsson radios are located along the catwalk, which runs down the center of the field, and there’s a radio located somewhere near the Verizon Gate, covering the operator’s promotional booth and activation center.
To be sure, there’s nothing magical about the great coverage SRG observed in the stadium seating area during the test run last October. The stadium was empty—testing during an NFL game would have been logistically impossible—and given the low rate of 5G adoption thus far, that probably doesn’t make much difference.
“Although throughput (data speeds) is a metric that everyone understands and appreciates, we also analyzed several other metrics, which we believe are more indicative of millimeter wave performance,” wrote SRG founder Mike Thelander in a report summary published last week. Based on metrics like Channel Quality Indicator (CQI) and others, they concluded the 5G data speeds could have been higher.
What also became clear is the opportunity for improvement when it comes to 5G mobility, and that’s something that could be said regardless of the spectrum being used. Verizon has made a point of talking about how it wants to cover NFL stadiums with 5G using mmWave, which gives it great capacity, but the real benefits of the deployment will come when the operator deploys the standalone (SA) version of 5G New Radio (NR), notes Thelander.
All of the major U.S. operators first deployed 5G using the non-standalone (NSA) version of the 5G standard; NSA is anchored in a 4G LTE core and enabled carriers to launch services more quickly. The SA version does not rely on LTE and is seen as far more “revolutionary” than plain-old NSA-based 5G. Verizon has said it plans to go to SA mode in 2020.
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In NSA mode, the smartphone does handovers between 5G and LTE and if a user is moving around a stadium, it’s going to take a few seconds every time that handover is being done. Granted, Vikings fans who visit the US Bank Stadium aren’t necessarily going to be walking around the way Thelander and his colleague did during their tests, but they may get up now and then and expect their connections to be there.
Thelander said he can’t speak to coverage at any of the other NFL stadiums, but they seem like easy venues for 5G. Deploying 5G in a downtown area can be challenging, to be sure, but in a stadium, the obstacles appear to be few and far between. It’s not your typical indoor office space with a lot of walls and halls.
“It’s not like it’s rocket science. It’s a no brainer,” he said, noting that if you’re sitting in basically any seat in the stadium and look up, you’ll see a 5G radio. It’s easy to run fiber to it and “it’s about the easiest thing in the world.”
“Obviously, in a stadium like that, you have close to ubiquitous 5G coverage, so you don’t need the LTE network there as kind of the fallback, so if an operator like Verizon can put in the standalone [SA] architecture just within a venue like that, then they can start offering all of these, kind of what I’d call real 5G applications and services—VR, AR—anything that can’t be done today because you’ve got the LTE network bogging you down,” Thelander told FierceWireless.
In his report, Thelander, who resides in Minnesota, said with SA, the operator could offer new and compelling applications within the venue that enhance the fan experience and generate additional revenue for the operator, the NFL and the Vikings. (And he's willing to test any new applications even in the early stages when they're not quite ready for prime time.)
Without SA, operators are limited to LTE-like applications and services, which might run a bit faster but the benefits are incremental. "Only time will tell, but we wager those countries whose operators first adopt SA will have the clear competitive advantage when it comes to 5G," the report said.